Cross-training is simply a training routine that involves several different types of exercise. While it’s necessary for an athlete to train specifically for their sport, cross-training is a beneficial way to achieve and maintain a higher level of overall fitness. But when it comes to losing weight, toning up, and getting fit, you’ll need to combine cross-training with strength training too. This helps to build the lean muscle that boosts the metabolism. Together, this pairing can produce powerful results.

Cross-training is a really flexible way to work out as you can incorporate a great variety of exercises into your workout. This can include running, cycling, or swimming. But it can also be done at the gym, or by using a few key pieces of equipment at home.

Cross-training at the gym: The gym is the ideal place for a cross-training workout routine. There’s a whole host of different equipment for you to use. These include elliptical trainers, treadmills, exercise or spin bikes, rowing machines, and lots of resistance machines too. This variety, along with group fitness classes, means you have a great choice of exercises to include as part of your cross-training regime.

Cross-training at home: If you can’t make it to the gym, you can still do plenty of exercises at home with minimal equipment. These include functional, bodyweight workouts such as sit-ups, press-ups, squats, lunges, and burpees. There are a few tools that can help you set up to cross train at home too

  • Skipping rope: Skipping is one of the best forms of cardio and HIIT (high-intensity interval training), providing a full-body workout and improved muscle tone. It also helps with balance and coordination, which is important for runners, cyclists, boxers, and lots of other athletes.
  • Resistance bands: Aerobic band exercises build strength and stability, great for helping runners avoid strains and sprains. It’s important to use a band that provides the correct resistance for your fitness. Also allow at least two to three minutes of recovery between exercises.
  • Push-up bar grips: Designed to save you from wrist pain while doing push-ups, and to enhance your workouts. They take the pressure away from your joints, so you can concentrate on strengthening your arms and upper body.
  • Kettlebells: These come in a variety of weights, and allow you to combine cardio training with muscle strengthening for a more complete workout. As a beginner, you will need to find a kettlebell you feel comfortable gripping, that provides a decent amount of resistance. An 8kg kettlebell is a good place to start.
  • Medicine ball: Medicine ball exercises emphasise full-body movements rather than isolated muscles. A 2.7kg or 3.6kg medicine ball is best for most people to begin with.
  • Gym ball: Also known as a Swiss ball, is an effective tool for improving posture and strengthening the core muscles. It will help you improve balance and stability, and it can aid recovery from injuries.

What are the benefits of cross-training for beginners?

Cross-training limits the stress that occurs on a specific muscle group because different activities use muscles in slightly different ways. It’s a great form of functional exercise and it conditions different muscle groups, develops a new set of skills, and keeps you motivated by varying your workout routine. 

If you spend months on the same type of training and movement, your body will become extremely efficient at performing those movements. That’s great for competition, but there is a limit to how much your overall fitness will improve. You’re likely to maintain a certain level of fitness, and be more prone to injury from repetitive strain or overuse. Here are some of the benefits of cross-training and varying your workout:

  • Conditions the entire body instead of just specific muscle groups
  • Improves skill, agility, and balance
  • Reduces the risk of injury
  • Allows you to be flexible in your training
  • Promotes functional fitness
  • More effective for time-conscious people
  • Improves posture and coordination
  • Boosts mental strength
  • Reduces boredom from doing the same exercise
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How can I build muscle mass through cross-training?

Cross-training is great for overall fitness, and a whole host of other benefits. But, if your goal is to bulk up and build some serious muscle, then you’ll need to incorporate strength training into your routine too. 

Building muscle mass through cross-training takes dedication to a steady workout routine in order to put on muscle, while eating the right diet to help the muscles grow. It takes a lot of discipline and commitment to stick to an exhausting workout regime and strict diet, so it’s a good idea to seek professional advice from a personal trainer and a nutritionist if you're just starting out. And you must remember to rest your body between sessions, to give your muscles time to recover and grow. 

You shouldn’t expect huge improvements over night, but muscle mass will slowly grow over time. It’s really important to have patience, to stick to your workouts and diet, and results will follow.

You shouldn’t expect huge improvements over night, but muscle mass will slowly grow over time. It’s really important to have patience, to stick to your workouts and diet, and results will follow.

Strength training at the gym: Exercise machines differ in terms of the effect they have on certain muscle groups, so it’s important to understand which machines work for building each set of muscles. The bench press is the ultimate chest builder, and it’s also an effective exercise for building your arm, and shoulder muscles. If you're new to bench press, work with a spotter. They can watch your form and will assist you if you need help with reps or to put the weight back. And for leg day, go for the squat rack. Squats are a complete leg builder and are arguably the best leg exercise.

Strength training at home: If you’d rather work out at home, there are some smaller pieces of equipment which will still give you good results. And you can workout anytime you want! Here’s some of the key equipment for building muscle at home:

  • Weights: Barbells are essential when it comes to building muscle, especially for a beginner. Get yourself a variety of weights, and you can do several different exercises with the same kit to work both your upper and lower body.
  • Work bench: The incline bench press is a version of the traditional bench press, in which the bench is positioned at about a 45-degree angle. The resulting inclined position targets your upper chest and the frontside of your shoulders more than the standard flat bench.
  • Bar rack: Perfect for working out at home, a weight-training bar rack is ideal for both exercise and storage. Extremely versatile, you can adjust both the height and the width of the rack so it can be paired with a bench press for the ideal upper-body workout.
  • Dumbbells: Including light weights in your routine will add to your strength and fitness. The weight of the dumbbells varies according to the muscle groups you’re working, as well as your fitness level. Start with lighter dumbbells and increase the weight as your strength and form improves.

There are pros and cons to working out at home or in the gym, so why not use both and enjoy the mix of equipment, the change in scenery, and the variety it brings. Do some weights at home before work, and then join a high energy HIIT class in the evening. It’s a great way to keep things interesting and to help you stay motivated, and you’ll be more likely to reach your goals.