Cross Training: Get Stronger and Leaner (cont.)

"The harder you train your body for just one activity, the more stress you put on all the muscles and bones involved in that one activity, so the more you do and the better you get, the more you risk overuse -- and the greater your risk of injury," says Schlifstein.

So what's the answer? Athletic trainers and personal coaches agree it's cross training -- essentially, alternating your workout routines in a way that will increase your performance and overall fitness without stressing your body to the max.

For a single-sport athlete, cross training can mean anything outside the athlete's primary sport, while for the fitness enthusiast, it means using many different activities to ensure total fitness, says James Herrera, MS, CSCS, director of coaching with Carmichael Training Systems and Trainright.com in Colorado Springs, Colo.

How Cross Training Can Help

While professional athletic trainers once believed it was most important to work on those muscles directly related to a particular sport or activity, experts now say cross training is a much better approach. All sorts of professional athletes, from ball players to golfers, tennis players to swimmers, make cross training part of their regimes.

Cross training is also making its way into the average person's fitness routine, with more and more "weekend workout warriors" discovering its benefits.

But exactly what can it do for you?

Professional athletic trainer Jim Thornton, MA, ATC, sums it up this way: "Cross training takes into consideration the fact that many muscles in different parts of the body contribute to a single activity. So to get the most out of any activity, and to do it safely, you must pay attention to all the muscles in your body that are involved, not just the ones directly related to that activity."

For example, while a runner needs to build strong leg muscles, he or she must also pay attention to the muscles that control pelvic movement, core strength -- even the upper body. "All these areas are utilized when you run," says Thornton, director of athletic training services at Clarion University of Pennsylvania and a member of the board of directors of the National Athletic Trainers Association.

But that's not all. Experts say cross training can also help us with the tasks of our daily lives.

"Implementing a variety of activity into your routines almost certainly guarantees that you will be much more functionally active ... and that you can complete day-to-day tasks with much more ease," says Herrera.

Climbing stairs, working around the house or yard, or taking the dogs for a walk takes much less effort when you're "functionally fit," he says. It's also easier to avoid injuries related to those everyday activities.

"You're much less likely to injure yourself bending down to pick a child or heavy box off the floor," says Herrera.

What Cross Training Involves