We’ve all been there: We find a workout we love and get in the groove of doing it all the time. Then we begin to notice certain aches and pains creeping up or our progress stalling. While committing to exercise consistently is the best way to maintain our health, there’s a strong argument for mixing it up when it comes to the types of activities you are incorporating into your routine.
Enter: Cross training.
“Cross training is typically defined as an exercise regimen that uses several modes of training to develop a specific component of fitness,” according to the American Council on Exercise (ACE).
True cross training takes this the idea of simply mixing up your routine one step further. Instead of choosing seemingly random activities, you are designing a fitness routine that includes activities that complement each other in order to improve your performance.
And there are notable benefits beyond improving your athletic performance that can be reaped from adopting a cross-training mentality.
A recent study published in The British Medical Journal found that mixing up your activities and getting the minimum recommendation of aerobic and strength exercise each week can actually add years to your life. Cross-training can also reduce your risk of injury, aid in weight loss, improve your overall fitness, and make it more likely that you stick with an exercise routine, according to ACE.
Cross-training “adds variety so we don’t get bored of doing the same thing all the time, which helps keeps workouts interesting,” said personal trainer Christina Dorner.
Even those who engage in a low-impact, accessible workout like walking can benefit from incorporating cross-training into their routine. Strength exercises lead to a stronger body and improve balance, posture, and coordination, which will make your walks easier and more efficient, said Dorner. “Walking uses the same muscles over and over, so cross training helps prevent overuse injuries,” she added. ”Having a stronger body will promote better recovery after a walk.”
Cross-training exercises walkers can do at home
- Why are they good for walkers? This exercise is a unilateral move like walking that works the hamstrings, quads, glutes, calves, core said Dorner. They will help with faster and longer walks and hills, improve posture and balance and help with hip flexibility, she added.
Stand with feet hip width apart. Step one foot forward and bend down into both legs, forming a 90-degree angle with both knees. Focus on the front foot, keep chest tall and be up on the back toes. Push the ground away to extend both legs straight and take a step forward, immediately sinking into a lunge with the opposite leg forward. Continue walking forward and alternating legs.
Weighted upright rows
- Why are they good for walkers? “Walking works a lot of lower body, it is important to have upper-body strength as balance,” said Dorner. “When your upper body is stronger it can propel you forward using your arms. This specific move is great for posture and making sure you are standing up straight.” Weighted rows work the lats, traps, rhomboids and rear delts (upper back).
Grab a set of dumbbells, holding one in each hand. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Bend at the hips while keeping the back straight and knees slightly bent. Think of sitting back slightly (moving your tailbone behind your feet) — this helps with positioning for lifting. Your body should be bent forward at about a 45-degree angle. Grasp the dumbbells, palms facing each other, and pull your elbows up close to your body, squeezing your shoulder blades together. Keep your back straight and core strong. You can modify this move by doing one arm at a time with the other hand on a chair for balance.
Cross-training exercises you can do during your walk
There are some ways to weave cross training into your walk. Dorner recommends utilizing things you commonly pass, like park benches, as equipment.
- Why are they good for walkers? This works the quads, hamstrings, glutes and core, and is a great way to strengthen the lower body and core.
Sit on edge of bench, press feet into ground and stand. Sit back down with control. Imagine balancing something on your head. You can modify this move by doing bench leg extensions, which helps strengthen muscles around the knees.
Pushups on a bench
- Why are they good for walkers? Pushups strengthen the upper body and core, working the chest/pecs and the anterior delts and triceps.
Place both hands on the edge of bench, a little wider than your shoulders. Come up on your toes and have your body in a straight line. Lower your chest toward the bench and then press the bench away to contract the chest. Modify by just working on holding the plank position. You can also adjust the angle by starting with the back of the bench, and then progressing to the seat and then the ground.
- Why are they good for walkers? This exercise works both the back of the arms and the entire core.
Sit on a bench with your palms on edge, fingers pointed down and your elbow crease facing forward. Lift your butt up off the bench. Lower your body down a few inches then press your palms into the bench and press yourself back up. Modify by just holding the position until you are able to slightly lower yourself down.
Walking “I spy”
Turn your walk into a game by assigning certain strength moves to markers you see on your walk. “You can do this with anything!” said Dorner. Some of her suggestions include:
- Stop sign: Every time you reach a stop sign, do 10 squats before moving on.
- mailbox: Every time you see a mailbox do calf raises on the curb. (If you walk in a neighborhood with lots of mailboxes, pick a specific color as your marker!). This strengthens the calf muscles and helps prevent issues with the Achilles and feet, said Dorner. You can modify by doing it on the ground or holding onto the mailbox for balance.