Are you struggling to start an exercise program because you feel cardio is the only way to reach your goals - and you hate cardio?
Are you someone who has been exercising for a while, initially seeing results, but are now in a plateau?
Or maybe you don't mind cardio and have been working out for a while, without ever seeing results?
Cross training takes care of all three - Not to be confused with CrossFit.
What is Cross Training
Cross-training is periodically cycling between strength and endurance training. These cycles can be anywhere from 4 to 12 weeks, depending on individual need and goals.
It is the secret ingredient to balanced exercise programs. It prioritizes longevity, evades plateaus, and helps you maintain a prolonged habit of exercise so you get results.
It takes into account that hours of cardio, repeating the same strength training circuits, and never changing your movement patterns will always lead to loss of progress and motivation. It balances the approach to exercise in a way that helps your body burn body fat and build lean muscle.
Why We Need to Cross Train
It is well-known and thoroughly researched that the human body adapts to the strain that is placed upon it, be it endurance or strength training.
The caloric expenditure we use to maintain the basic functions of just being alive is called the Basal Metabolic Rate, or BMR.
This rate is different for different people depending on age, gender, fitness level, and some genetics. The BMR does not include any movement factors like exercise, sports, physical jobs or other activities.
This BMR measurement is strictly how much energy you use to breathe, maintain organ function, cell regeneration and so forth. When we add movement into the equation through exercise or other means, our metabolic rate goes up.
My BMR on days I am NOT active:
2100 calories per day
My BMR on days I exercise:
2100 calories per days +
450 Calories during exercise
Totaling 2550 Calories for the day
Because our bodies are quite efficient at adapting to stress, overtime the same exercises that burned an extra 450 calories will not require the same amount of output from the metabolic system. That same routine might start producing 400, then 350 calorie expenditure and so forth until the person hits a plateau in their fitness progress.
This adaptation is good on one hand because it means fitness level is improving. On the other hand, it's a signal it's time to introduce a new challenge or regimen to continue fitness progression.
This adaptation is the reason we hit plateaus. We have adapted to our routine, be it endurance, strength, or even nutrition programs.
And when we adapt, it's time to change things up to avoid or get out of the plateau.
How to Implement Cross Training Cycles
A few straight forward techniques used by fitness professionals with their clients are:
Switch from strength to endurance every 4 to 12 weeks. The length of the cycle depends on the person's fitness level and goals.
Increase your rep range and / or weight load in your strength cycle, referred to as progressive overload.
Add an endurance exercise to the end of your strength workout. Treadmill, stair step, elliptical - whatever you prefer. Just place this at the end of your strength session for 10 - 15 minutes.
Split your cardio and strength into separate workouts. For instance, strength training session in the morning, then go for a jog later that same day in evening.
Combine cardio and strength into a HIIT workout. This is a popular strategy because it helps when you are short on time. However, this style of workout shouldn't be done more than two time a week if it is a true HIIT.
Do a dedicated 10 week strength training cycle, followed by a 4 week endurance / mobility phase.
These are just a few examples. But the main take away is doing the same workout with the same level of intensity over and over, will stop producing results over time.
This is true for fat loss and muscle gain.
Thus, if you want to continue to improve your physical fitness you need periodization in your workout regimen.