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Cross-Training for Injury Prevention and Management

Maximizing Your Body’s Potential

We idolize Olympic runners, professional football stars, top-ranked tennis players. Their bodies are strong, disciplined, well-oiled machines in peak physical health. Of course, these athletes spend hours training their bodies and mastering their sport. However, it takes more than repetitive practice to obtain the kind of physical perfection these athletes have achieved. In fact, any expert in the field of fitness will tell you the number one rule in training is avoiding burnout. In trying to maximize your body’s potential, you must be careful not to run it into the ground.

So how do you reach your maximum potential while avoiding injury? Many experts recommend cross training as a way for the casual athlete to remain fit and to keep a diversity of activities in the workout regimen.

What Is Cross Training?

Cross training incorporates diverse forms of exercise into a training regimen or workout plan. This is the ideal way to maximize and develop the various components of fitness. The benefits of cross training range from the obvious, such as injury prevention and rehabilitation, to the more subtle — for instance, maximizing the potential of a physical body. Cross training helps to:

  • strengthen different muscle group
  • allow over-strained muscles time to rest
  • reduce boredom
  • train and develop new skills
  • improve form

Without exerting your body in new and unfamiliar ways, you risk reaching a plateau and inhibiting yourself from attaining optimal fitness.

A cross training fitness plan can be tailored to anyone’s needs. A basic regimen includes cardiovascular exercise, strength training, and flexibility conditioning. A more thorough plan will add speed, agility, and balance drills. Advanced athletes will further improve strength and agility by adding circuit training, skill conditioning, and plyometrics. These are modes of training designed to produce rapid, powerful movements and improve the functions of the nervous system. By incorporating these diverse forms of exercise, a person challenges his or her respiratory and musculoskeletal systems while allowing a break from sport-specific activities. This helps limit the impact put on an athlete who continues to condition and strain the same muscle groups over and over.

As cross training plans have become more widely understood as an important part of an athlete’s conditioning program, diverse forms of exercise have been cropping up. The more widely recognized of these plans like swimming, cycling, and weight training have been joined by more unique and surprising exercises like:

  • yoga
  • Pilates
  • dance
  • kickboxing
  • virtual exercise

Indoor Bicycling and the Elliptical

Indoor bicycling and use of the elliptical trainer are great methods for engaging muscles and preventing injury. By altering the resistance and incline on these machines you can improve cardio endurance, build muscles in the legs, glutes, and hips, and reinforce cartilage in the joints.

The impact of pavement on the joints that occurs during outdoor running causes wear and tear of the body over time. Low-impact training machines like stationary bikes and the elliptical can alleviate this problem. Long-distance outdoor running jars the body — the feet and joints of the legs absorb an excessive amount of impact. The low-impact machines offer the same benefits of long-distance running, while avoiding the detrimental effects of pavement pounding.

Free-Weight Training

Free-weight training has long been regarded as an integral component to many athletic training plans. Repetitive practice of a specific sport doesn’t offer enough excess strain on the muscles to allow them to reach peak development. Weight training allows for continual increase in weight and resistance. This way, the muscles are constantly broken down and rebuilt to become stronger and more durable. Lifting weights helps to cultivate the muscles in the back, arms, chest, and legs.

Strength training is especially important for distance runners and helps to prevent:

  • shin splints
  • lower back pain
  • knee problems
  • hip injuries
  • stress fractures

In general it offers the following benefits.

  • maximizes and enhances performance
  • minimizes tissue trauma
  • improves muscle strength
  • develops joint flexibility
  • increases cardiovascular endurance and basal metabolic rate


Yoga has emerged as popular cross training techniques for everyone from tennis, football, and soccer players to runners, divers, and skiers. Not only does yoga help build strength and muscle mass by utilizing one’s own body resistance, it also increases flexibility and loosens the joints. This eases injury and helps prevents overexertion muscles and tendons.

Yoga works out more than just the body. It cultivates mindfulness and concentration. The focus, mental presence, and stress management required during both the asana and meditation portions of yoga practice can be translated to most any type of sport.


Pilates focuses primarily on building core muscle and strengthening the body from the center out. Many injuries can be traced back to the muscles situated in the core. A strong and stable center, appropriately termed the "powerhouse," begins at the bottom of the ribs and extends down to the hip line. It includes:

  • the abdominal
  • lower back
  • hip muscles
  • the Kegel muscles within the pelvic floor
  • the glutes

A strong core aids in energy, stability, and strength and aids in performing other exercises.

Virtual Cross Training

Virtual outlets provide surprising but still effective forms of cross training for all ages. The Nintendo Wii Fit offers a variety of training options including:

  • yoga
  • dancing
  • boxing
  • balancing
  • step aerobics
  • strength training

Aerobic videos are easily available online and offer new and unique ways to improve cardiovascular endurance. Short bursts of jumping jacks, jump rope, and boxing moves exert the body in quick and beneficial ways.

Content licensed from:

Written by: Eloise Porter
Medically reviewed on: Nov 06, 2014: George Krucik, MD, MBA

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your health care provider. Please consult a health care professional with any health concerns you may have.
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