“Training is everything. The peach was once a bitter almond; cauliflower is nothing but cabbage with a college education.” - Mark Twain
Of all the sporting activities in the world, cross training, sometimes wrongly referred to as CrossFit, is one of the most complete workouts you can do.
The Necessary Equipment for Cross Training
Whether it's for getting back into shape, achieving a healthy body weight, doing upper body strength training, or to build muscle, cross-training combines a number of different sporting disciplines and workout routines in order to work on various aspects of your physique including your weight, flexibility, endurance, and strength.
The principle of cross training is very simple, it focuses on HIIT (highly intensity interval training) which involves doing high-intensity activities for a short period of time and then resting for a short period of time.
In order to do this type of activity, often called workout of the day, you won't need very much equipment. In fact, the best thing about this interdisciplinary activity is that you can do it from the comfort of your own home and at your own pace.
While it's recommended that you enlist the help of a personal trainer since they'll be able to create a program that is tailored to your needs, you can also do cross-training in gyms. However, you don't need to invest in expensive equipment like the treadmills, rowing machines, or weights that they have at health clubs.
There are a lot of muscle training activities you can do just by using your own body weight for resistance. You most certainly don't need chemicals like growth hormones or anabolic steroids.
To lose weight, tone, or sculpt your body, you can use simple equipment such as a skipping rope, a pull-up bar, or kettlebells.
The main goal of cross-training is to increase your VO2 Max, which is the maximum amount of oxygen your body can use during aerobic exercise, which occurs during light or moderate intensity exercises. This will limit the amount of lactic acid in the muscle tissue when you pass the anaerobic threshold.
Kettlebells are round balls with a flat bottom and a large handle on the top and can be used for a number of different activities during cross training. By using kettlebells, you can increase your strength and muscular endurance.
You can also use a pull-up bar during your sessions. This will allow you to utilise your own body weight and work out your back muscles, your biceps, your triceps, your abs, and your pecs, for example.
Resistance bands are also another useful item for doing cross training and you can take them almost anywhere.
Other useful equipment includes dip bars, punching bags, dumbbells, etc.
Is that everything?
For a beginner, yes. Let's have a look at a typical cross-training session for gaining muscle mass and losing fat.
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A Cross Training Session for the First Week
You should always be wary of programmes that promise almost miraculous results.
However, intense physical activities burn calories at a higher rate and, when coupled with a balanced and healthy diet, can be very effective. In fact, there are plenty of reasons to do cross-training.
Your training sessions in the first week will include three rounds of three exercises that last 30 seconds each with a 30-second rest at the end of each round.
- Exercise 1: jumping jacks
- Exercise 2: Kettlebell deadlifts
- Exercise 3: Core strength
Jumping jacks and designed to improve your cardiac rhythm. Start by standing with your feet together in your arms by your sides. Jump into the air and open your legs and raise your arms horizontally before bringing all your limbs back to their starting position before you land. Repeat this activity at a moderate rhythm. Make sure that you breathe in at the start position and exhale as you jump. It'll also help to contract your abs as you do it.
This next exercise can strengthen your hamstrings, your buttocks, and your back. Grab your kettlebell - a lightweight one to start, raise it to thigh level and as you stand back up raise your arms towards the sky.
The final warm-up exercise, core strength works your abs and oblique muscle.
The session consists of five rounds of the three following exercises:
- 15 Russian swings: stand with your legs bent at a 90° angle and your feet apart. Swing the kettlebell from between your legs up to your eye line. Breathe out as you lift the kettlebell.
- 15 knees to elbow: While hanging from your pullup bar, raise your feet to the bar or your knees to your armpits. breathe out as you raise your legs.
- 15 push presses with kettlebells: do 1/4 squat and breathe out as you go back up.
You can cool back down while lying on your back with your arms by your side and breathing with your stomach.
A Cross Training Session for the Second Week
During the second week of training, the exercises will become more intense and you work more with the pullup bar and a resistance belt.
You can also wear a weighted vest if you really want to push yourself to work harder.
- Jump strap training: lower your buttocks below your knees. Make sure you feel it as you go back down.
- Dynamic core exercises: to tone your pecs and triceps, support yourself horizontally using your feet and hands. You can also use your knees if you find the former too difficult.
- Row strap training: with your arms relaxed, move the resistance band along with your body as if you were rowing.
Now that you're all warmed up, there are three exercises you have to do during the session:
- Five pull-ups: for working on your back and biceps. While hanging from your pullup bar, lift your chin up to the height of the bar, breathing out as you do so.
- 10 push-ups: either from your feet or your knees, breathe in as you go down and out as you go up.
- 15 squats: lower your buttocks to below your knees, breathing in during the descent and breathing out as you go back up.
Make sure you do your stretches at the end of the session to avoid aches and pains the following day.
To keep things fresh, you can also add the following exercises:
- Kettlebell snatch: with the kettlebell between your knees, swing it up to over your head and stop there.
- American swing: stand with your legs bent at a 90° angle and your feet apart. Swing the kettlebell from between your legs to over your head.
- While hanging from your pullup bar, lift your chin up to the height of the bar, breathing out as you do so.
- Kettlebell press: This involves lifting the kettlebell from the ground to your shoulder and then up over your head.
Don't forget to give yourself 30 seconds or so between each set.
A Cross Training Session for the Third Week
To avoid muscle damage, coaches tend to recommend that you leave 48 hours between sessions.
A typical session during the third week will include 21, 18, 15, 12, 6, then 3 reps of each of the following exercises on a Tuesday :
- Kettlebell goblet squats.
Kettlebell goblet squats include holding the kettlebell with both hands against your chest and doing a squat.
When doing a push-up, you can either do them from your feet or your knees and use your arms to lower your chest to the floor, breathing out as you extend your arms to push yourself back up.
Your second session of the week on Thursday, 48 hours after the first session, will include a warm-up session of 30 jumping jacks and 10 sets of row strap training.
There are the main exercises for the session:
- 10 burpees
- Two pullups, adding two each set.
Burpees were adopted by the American army in 1942 to train soldiers for combat and then taken on board by those fighting in Europe during the Second World War. They consist of two main movements that are good for cardio.
Start by standing up with your feet shoulder width apart, jumping down into a plank position, then walk your feet up to your hands.
Without stopping, jump up while raising your arms in the air before landing back in the starting position.
A Cross Training Session for the Fourth Week
The final week of intensive training focuses on your legs, at your buttocks, and your abs.
Warm up with three rounds of the following exercises:
- 10 suspended lunges with the resistance band for each leg.
- 10 pelvic tilts with your feet attached to resistance bands.
- 10 resistance band jumps.
The final week increases the intensity even more. You'll do the following exercises:
- 50 kettlebell lunges, alternating between your right and left legs.
- 50 situps.
- 50 kettlebell deadlifts.
Kettlebell lunges involve standing with your feet together holding the kettlebell against your chest. As you step forward with one leg, stretch your arms out as though proferring the weight you're holding before returning it to the starting position. Alternate between each leg.
Sit-ups involve lying on your back and, as the name suggests, sitting up. As you lie down, your arms should be by your side. However, some prefer to place their hands behind their ears.
A note of caution, here. Recently, there has been some debate about how effective sit-ups are versus how dangerous they can be. Before vigorously pumping your torso up and down, make sure you are aware of the risks and the limitations of this exercise move.
To warm up for your last sessions of the month, start by doing 20 mountain climbers (get into a squat position and bring alternating knees up to your chest as quickly as possible) and 20 squats during 4 minutes.
Rest for 60 seconds and do another 4 minutes of exercise by doing 10 kettlebell presses and 10 situps.
Are you ready for even more exercise?
Here is what you need to do:
- 10 kettlebell thrusters: a complete squad with the kettlebell on your shoulders.
- 10 toes to bar or knees to elbow: suspend yourself from the pullup bar and bring your feet up to the bar.
Beyond the First Four Weeks
It is no secret that, by this time, most people would have given up on working out – generally, drop-outs occur within the first nine days of any such regime. The reasons for this phenomenon are varied.
Some feel their workout has not gotten them where they thought they should be by that time; they’ve lost neither inches nor weight – yes, there is a difference!
Others who have started working out for a short-term goal such as losing weight or because of a health scare soon abandon their resolution because getting fit was not their overall goal.
Still others are tempted by their lifestyle: a night out with friends, the call for overtime at work, the impatience with repetition... there are also those who rapidly get bored and those who have no clear direction in their fitness plan.
If you have stuck with your workout for four weeks, you are to be congratulated: a large percentage of fitness hopefuls don’t make it even this far into their lifestyle change!
So, now that you are well on your way to becoming a lean machine, what should you do next? That’s what we now take a look at.
Even if you are burning with passion for your personal fitness, you are not immune to feeling the crush of repetition. In other words, you are at risk for boredom - not through any fault of your own, you can rest assured on that.
As you well know, physical exercise releases endorphins in the brain that makes us feel so good! In part, that is what keeps people working out in the early stages of establishing a regimen.
However, your body soon hits a balance: the amount of those feel-good chemicals in our brains is evened out so that we don’t quite get the rush that we experienced when we first started our routine.
Also, after the initial ‘water loss’, that period early in one’s regimen when those who exercise are bound to see inches and possibly weight melt away, your body’s metabolism adjusts to its new level of activity and those losses taper down to about a pound or two per week.
Note: losing a pound or two per week is a healthy amount; any more than that would be a cause for concern.
You can see why some would quit exercising, don’t you?
Increasing your reps and adding resistance to your workout does not make for a brighter burn; in fact, dramatic increases could actually damage your muscles and connective tissues!
That is why experts recommend diversifying your workout.
Once you have your body conditioned to working out through the outlined routines above, it is time to take your physical training to a new level.
The Aerobic Workout
While it is true that any workout will work your heart to a certain extent, activities specifically designed to speed up your heart rate with get your body’s most important muscle in optimal shape.
You may consider adding an aerobic class such as Zumba or step aerobics to your fitness repertoire.
If you have no time for an extra session at the gym for such a class – or, now that warmer weather is here, you wish to take your workout out of doors, you might like to walk, jog, run or dance your way into heart health.
You might even consider cycling to work and back!
To avoid the issue that plagues every workout, namely burnout, try to switch your activities up. You might go biking one day, dance the next, and try out Nordic walking before the week is up.
Note: swimming is also a great workout for your heart and it comes with the added benefit of being no-impact, meaning your joints won’t suffer while you work your muscles!
While building endurance and gaining muscle tone are important to weight loss and fitness goals, equally important is flexibility.
If you lack the range of motion necessary to perform such manoeuvres as a squat, plié or even a sit-up, you may injure yourself rather than help yourself get fit.
It is therefore vital to warm up before any workout. Such a warm-up should include stretching.
Even before you engage in the jumping jacks or deadlifts mentioned above, make sure your joints and muscles are properly conditioned by stretching them before you get started.
A good stretching routine may include:
- Arm lifts: feet shoulder-wide apart, raise your arms above your head while inhaling. Hold for a slow count of five; exhale on the release. Repeat 10-20 times
- Spinal stretch: with feet planted, lace your fingers behind your head; elbows out. Gently turn from side to side for a count of 10 per side.
- Alternately, you may place your hands on your hips with your knees slightly bent. Pitch forward while releasing your arms, allowing them to hang down. Pull yourself back up to standing position; repeat 10-20 times.
- Leg stretches: these warm-ups may include hurdler’s stretches, leg lifts and calf muscle stretches.
- Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, hands on hips. Raise yourself on your tip-toes, release. Repeat 10-20 times.
Another great way to work on your flexibility is through yoga.
You may enjoy a particularly vigorous Bikram yoga workout, opt for a more relaxing Hatha regimen or sweat it out in a hot yoga session.
Whichever type of flexibility training you choose, make sure that it becomes an integral part of your workout!
A Word on Nutrition
You have revolutionised your entire life: working out is a vital part of your lifestyle and your health – perhaps an area of concern before your turnaround, is now better than it’s ever been.
As your body becomes leaner and burns more efficiently, the next step in your fitness crusade is to consider and, if needed, change your nutritional intake.
Obviously, you will not have the same nutritional needs as when you started your fitness regimen; in fact, you may need to eat more in order to maintain your target weight and muscle mass.
Furthermore, depending on what your fitness goals are, you may need to adopt one or another food plan.
The essential guidelines for Crossfit are 40% carb intake, 30% protein and 30% fat.
You may have heard of The Zone diet or the Paleo diet; both of those plans approximately reflect the recommended diet for those who are intent on optimal fitness.
The key to these nutrition plans’ success is avoiding processed foods and high-glycemic carbohydrates.
You might wonder about the 30% fat. Isn’t fat touted as bad for you?
Indeed, certain fats are bad for you and counterproductive to your fitness goals. However, not all fats are bad fats; in fact, we need fats to keep our bodies functioning properly.
The fats you should incorporate into your diet come from oily fish, coconuts, olive oil and avocadoes, just to name a few sources.
Crossfit, Nutrition and Weight Loss
Let us say you have decided on a Crossfit plan to lose weight and get in shape. Obviously, by this regimen’s very nature, you will lose a certain amount of weight but, here again, it all comes down to what you eat.
The simplest weight loss solution is to take in fewer calories than you expend. That simplistic assertion is rooted fact but omits one critical aspect: what kind of calories are you taking in?
Not all calories are the same, nor do they burn in the same way.
Protein, for example, increases how much energy your body uses to break it down and absorb it. By contrast, it takes only a little energy for your body to crack open and absorb carbohydrates.
So, if you eat the equivalent of 100 grams of protein, you will have consumed around 75 net calories that will need to be burned off.
Eating 100 hundred grams of carbs, on the other hand, results in about 94 net calories to burn off.
Applying the philosophy above - take in fewer calorie to lose weight, can you see where it is more difficult to burn carbs than protein?
If your short-term workout goal is to lose weight, you may consider shifting the 40/30/30 guidelines mentioned above into higher protein and fats intake while lowering your carbs.
Eating more protein will help you feel fuller for longer, causing you to not feel hungry as quickly and to reduce your overall food intake at mealtimes.
Please note that this is not a permanent arrangement! As soon as you’ve hit your stride in weight loss, you should revert to the more healthy balance of protein, carb and fat intake.
Crossfit, Nutrition and Muscle Mass
If you are interested in gaining muscle mass, here too your food intake will play a large part in your success in achieving your goals.
By dialling back on your fats intake and increasing protein and carbs proportionately, you will soon see gains in your musculature.
Bear in mind that this too should not be a permanent condition.
After years of touting low-fat diets as healthy, both medical and fitness experts stress that a certain level of ‘good’ fats intake is necessary for optimal health.
In fact, low-fat diets have been proven to reduce testosterone in males which could lead to muscular atrophy – the exact opposite of the condition you are working towards.
So, once you’ve kick-started your performance, you should go back to the optimal 40/30/30 ratio mentioned above.
This short guide is by no means a complete digest of everything you need to know. For more information about CrossFit and cross training, don't hesitate to get advice from some of the coaches or tutors on Superprof.