Cross Training: Get Stronger and Leaner (cont.)

If you've been doing only weight lifting regimens, you'd be well served by adding a cardio workout -- like running on the treadmill -- to your regimen, he says.

But for people who are simply looking get the most out of their workout time, experts say, cross training doesn't require specific exercises. In fact, as long as you create variation in your activity, you're cross training!

"The point here is to vary activities between aerobic conditioning, strength training, endurance, and balance -- and you need to vary the workouts that emphasize each one of those areas," says Herrera.

For optimal success, he says, plan two to three days of flexibility and strength training, and three to five days of aerobic focus. But don't worry if you don't have that much time to devote to exercise.

"The most important thing is to make sure fitness is a priority in your life," says Herrera. "So if you're currently exercising twice a week, then simply finding time for one more workout during that week will help you burn more fat and make more progress."

In fact, experts say, you don't even have to do a specific workout to get the effects of crossing training if you live a varied and physically active life.

"Keep in mind, variety is the spice of life, so enjoying rock climbing, Rollerblading, cycling, hiking, jogging, or skiing with friends, which are also excellent ways to stay socially active and keep the body fit,' says Herrera.

How Cross Training Is Done

So what's the best way to achieve cross training?

It could mean doing two or more different types of exercises during a single workout session. For example, Herrera says, "a yoga or Pilates class will incorporate the components of strength development and flexibility in the same workout session, while an indoor cycling class will develop the musculature of the legs while improving aerobic capacity."

It can also mean performing a single type of workout during each session, but varying what you do from session to session, Schlifstein says.

"You can concentrate on cardio during one session, strength training and balance in another, and flexibility in still another," he tells WebMD. "Then just keep mixing up the combinations so your body has variety and you don't get bored with your routine."

Because variation is key to cross training, it's easy to confuse it with the rotating workouts involved in "circuit training" (in which participants move right from one exercise to another, like jogging for a few minutes in between different weight training exercises). But experts say the two aren't necessarily the same.

"Generally speaking, circuit training is just doing one exercise after another, but that doesn't always ensure that the routine is incorporating strength training, cardio, flexibility and balance," says Schlifstein.

For true cross training, Herrera says, you must "utilize many activities to ensure complete fitness gains."

Putting Cross Training to Work

Still not sure where to begin? We used advice from our experts, along with data from the journal The Physician and Sportsmedicine, to create the following sample cross-training routine.

If you have lots of time for fitness, you can do one session per day. If you normally work out only twice weekly, you can just do two of the sessions per week. Remember, however, to check with your doctor before you begin cross training -- even if you've been exercising regularly.

Session 1: Walk briskly for about 20 minutes, adding hand weights to increase the impact. Also do stretching for 5-10 minutes, then lift weights or use resistance bands for upper body strength for 20-30 minutes.

Session 2: Jog at a steady pace for 20 minutes; stretch for 5-10 minutes; do weight training or any other exercise that builds lower body strength for 30 minutes.

Session 3: Swim for 20-30 minutes; then do yoga, Pilates, dance, or another activity that enhances balance and flexibility, for 20-30 minutes.

Session 4: Use an exercise bike, rowing machine, or cross-country skiing machine for 20-30 minutes; stretch for 10 minutes.

Session 5: Walk briskly for 20 minutes; then train both your upper and lower body using weights or resistance bands for 20 minutes.

Session 6: Jog at a varied pace for 30 minutes; stretch for 10 minutes.

Session 7: Walk at a comfortable pace for 30-45 minutes; then do yoga or Pilates for 20-30 minutes.

Originally published February 24, 2006.
Medically updated February 16, 2007.

SOURCES: The Physician and Sportsmedicine, September 1996. Todd Schlifstein, DO, sports medicine rehabilitation physician, Rusk Institute, New York University Medical Center, New York. James Herrera, MS, CSCS, director of coaching,; premier coach, Carmichael Training Systems Inc., Colorado Springs, Colo. Jim Thornton, MA, ATC, NASM-PES, member, board of directors, National Association of Athletic Trainers; director of athletic training services, Clarion University of Pennsylvania, Clarion, Pa.

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Last Editorial Review: 2/26/2007