Cross-training refers to a combination of different methods of exercise. Specifically, cross-training refers to the combination of strength training and cardiovascular training in your overall exercise program. Whether you're a 14-year-old just starting out on your first fitness program, or whether you're a 74-year-old who hasn't exercised in more than 40 years, cross-training will provide optimal results for the time and effort you spend on exercise.
In cross-training, it's not that you're doing aerobic and strength-training activities simultaneously. Rather, you're incorporating both methods in your weekly exercise regime. One week you might do three sessions of strength training and two sessions of cardiovascular activity. The next week you could do three sessions of aerobic exercise and two sessions of strength training. The result is that, overall, approximately half of your exercise time is devoted to each of these two methods.
The remarkable outcome of combining two distinctly different training modes is that both sets of results are enhanced.1,2 Doing cardiovascular exercise on alternate days makes you stronger. In other words, your muscular strength and size are greater than they would be if strength training were your only form of exercise. Correspondingly, doing strength training on alternate days provides you with heightened cardiovascular gains. Specifically, your stroke volume (the amount of blood pumped on each contraction of your heart muscle) and vital capacity (the amount of air you can take in on each breath) are greater than the results you would have obtained by only doing aerobic exercise.
The benefits of cross-training are automatic. There's nothing you need to do intentionally to achieve these gains, other than engaging in your cross-training program five days a week. When you train your heart and lungs by doing cardiovascular (really, cardiorespiratory) exercise, your skeletal muscles automatically participate in your walking, running, biking, or swimming activity. When you do strength training, exercising your chest, back, shoulders, arms, and legs (on different split-training days, of course), your heart and lungs automatically participate, pumping the extra blood and breathing in the extra oxygen required for any vigorous physical activity.
The synergy created by the cross-training format potentiates the results obtained from each method.3 The improved performance of your heart and lungs, derived from aerobic training, enables greater strength training gains. A stronger musculoskeletal system, derived from training with weights, causes your heart and lungs to become more efficient to meet new demands. A positive feedback loop is established from which you obtain improved health and enhanced wellness and well-being.
The best time to begin your new cross-training program is today. Start slowly, increase duration and intensity gradually, and evaluate your gains at 6- and 12-week intervals. Your chiropractor is experienced in exercise rehabilitation and will help you design a cross-training program that works for you.
1Fournier SB, et al: Improved Arterial-Ventricular Coupling in Metabolic Syndrome after Exercise Training. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2014 May 27. [Epub ahead of print]
2Kolka C: Treating Diabetes with Exercise - Focus on the Microvasculature. J Diabetes Metab 4:308, 2013
3Dos Santos ES, et al: Acute and Chronic Cardiovascular Response to 16 Weeks of Combined Eccentric or Traditional Resistance and Aerobic Training in Elderly Hypertensive Women: A Randomized Controlled Trial. J Strength Cond Res 2014 May 19. [Epub ahead of print]