Cross-training—using a variety of workout types to work different body parts, learn novel movement patterns, and exercise pain- and injury-free—is one of the best tools for staying consistent with your exercise routine. Rotating a group of workouts and types of exercises gives you flexibility when your situation, moods, level of motivation, or workout environment changes. Because it’s such as great option, I’ve created a Cross-Training for Women Over 40: How-To Cheat Sheet so you can add cross-training routines to your schedule.
Don’t have time for a trip to the gym’s elliptical? You can go for a 30-minute hill walk and do a short circuit of kettlebell swings at home. Cross-training allows you to grow with your workouts too. When that elliptical feels stale or too easy, you can move on to outdoor jogging or try a boxing class, building confidence as your fitness level progresses.
The Amazing Benefits of Cross-Training for 40+ Women
I’ve written about the amazing benefits of cross-training for women over 40. Here’s a recap of those benefits:
- Active recovery days: mixing up higher and lower intensity workouts through the week gives muscles, joints, bones and tissue a chance to repair. For example, if you do a high-intensity cardio workout using the major muscles in your legs (spin class), the next day, you might do a lighter workout (walking) or a workout that targets other muscle groups (upper body strength training).
- Total body conditioning: a variety of workouts will work a variety of muscles in various movement patterns, which can lead to greater overall total body conditioning.
- Great for generalist exercisers: cross-training is ideal for dabblers (people who want to try a variety of exercises without necessarily working toward mastery). Sometimes, knowing how to do a wide variety of exercises comfortably suits your personality better than mastering one sport or workout type.
- Holds your interest/motivation: for exercise to become an everyday habit, you’ll have to commit to doing it even when you don’t want to. Make it easier to get a workout in by developing a more extensive repertoire to choose from.
- Builds confidence: knowing that you can do various exercises and build up stamina and ability boosts your ego and builds confidence. Women over 40 can feel down on themselves as they get older; mixing things up and trying new workouts is empowering.
- Helps you age with grace: I think you could make an argument that exercise is even more important in your 40s, 50s and beyond than it is in your 20s. Staying agile, strong and coordinated is essential to age with grace and live well.
- Helps you accept your body’s limitations (while making the most of its strengths): Our bodies change as we age, and our workouts need to change with them. As you age, it’s essential that you listen to your body and then choose exercises that complement what it needs. Do your muscles feel too tight and achy to do another strength workout today? Perhaps a soothing swim would feel better and give your body time to repair. Cross-training helps you tailor your workouts to your body’s needs.
I hope I’ve convinced you that cross-training is a 40+ woman’s best friend. To get started, let’s look at the four main types of exercises that you should put in your workout rotation and how to set up a schedule for doing your workouts.
Cross-Training Fitness Recommendations: 4 Types of Exercise for Aging Well
The National Institutes of Health recommends four types of exercise for aging well: endurance, strength, balance, and flexibility. We’ll look at each one separately, but they overlap. For example, you can build muscle strength and flexibility simultaneously with a yoga or pilates workout or work on endurance and strength with indoor rowing. One of the beauties of cross-training is that you get the benefits of all four types of exercises through various workouts. It’s never dull, and you can be assured that you are working on multiple fitness goals throughout the week.
Endurance: Endurance exercise, also called cardio or aerobic, works the all-important heart muscle by increasing its workload and rate. These exercises are needed to keep your heart, lungs, and circulation working well.
- Brisk walking/jogging
- Indoor rowing (my favorite)
- Spin workouts or biking
- Cardio machines: stair climbers, ellipticals and treadmills
Strength: Strengthening your muscles helps build endurance for functional movements for daily living, including carrying heavy groceries, climbing stairs, hill walking, or doing yard work.
- Strength training workouts with dumbells, kettlebells, resistance bands, circuit training equipment and group classes
- Body-weight workouts that use your bodyweight to build strength (e.g., push-ups, planks, lunges, squats and weighted carries)
- Functional exercises such as carrying heavy bags, stair climbing, hill climbing
Balance: Strength training also improves your balance and prevents falls, but you can work directly on it with other movement patterns. Research shows that exercises like Tai Chi and Pilates are beneficial for fall prevention. “It’s the focus on precise body movements and strengthening the hip and leg joints and the body’s core—the abdominal and back muscles—that seem to make tai chi and pilates better suited to lowering the risk of falling.” Whether you choose tai chi, pilates, or yoga, you’ll get some protection from falls. Don’t forget that it’s important to choose exercises that you enjoy doing, so choose something that suits your personality and that you’ll want to do over and over again.
My balance isn’t as strong as it was in my 20s and 30s, so I make sure to work a variety of muscles to support my body movements. I also do a post-workout series of stretches that directly works on my balance. I rarely do yoga, pilates, or Tai Chi (although I have tried all of them) because I prefer stretching and dance. It’s a personal preference.
- Tai Chi
- Stretching(especially exercises where you have to balance on one foot or side of the body)
Flexibility: Stretching muscles (which can also work on balance) is vital to maintaining a good range of motion. We tend to lose our flexibility and agility with age, and muscle groups can get overly tense. Tense muscles don’t allow for a complete range of motion, and as a result, it can limit your ability to do functional tasks like reaching for objects, bending over, and getting in and out of squat or seated positions.
- Tai Chi
- Pool exercises/Water resistance
- Stretching routines
Cross-Training Workout Cheat Sheet: (Infographic)
How do you start cross-training? Remember those old Chinese food menus (of course, I come up with a food analogy)? You would choose an item from columns A, B and C. Here, we’ll swap out the food for exercise. 😁. Pick one from column A (cardio), one from column B (strength training), and one from column C (balance/flexibility). Once you have a combination that works with your body’s strengths, mix things up by swapping out one cardio workout for a new one or one strength training exercise set for another. For example, here are my go-to exercise options in a given week.
*Note: this is a guide, not a prescription. I’ve built up to this level of exercise over the years. I use specific workouts (walking to commute) or (dancing to reduce stress). Working out has become an important part of my life. Also, I don’t do all of this exercise every week. I listen to my body and add more rest on certain weeks.
Indoor Rowing (3+ times per week for 30 minutes)
Spin Class (1-2 x per week, weekends)
Walking (1 hour per day; weekends 1.5 hours per day) I commute to work; weekend walks to/from the gym
Strength training circuit (2-4 times per week) I do a mixture of circuit training, body-weight exercises (weighted walking lunges, modified push-ups), cable machine upper-body supersets
20-min kettlebell workout
Stretch machine or freestanding stretches (after every workout)
Dance (freestyle dancing at home for fun. Yes, I’m a child of the disco era!)
20-minute floor stretching routine (full disclosure: sometimes I fall asleep) 😉
Set Up Your Cross-Training Routine: How-To Cheat Sheet
Get started with your own cross-training routine. Choose your workouts using the infographic below, and get started. To begin, rotate one cardio, one strength, and one balance/flexibility workout during the week.
For example, choose a 30-minute workout on the elliptical (cardio), a 30-minute strength training full-body workout (strength), and a beginner’s yoga class or online workout (balance/flexibility). If that’s too much, focus on the cardio and strength workout and do 5 stretches post-work to improve flexibility.
The idea is to find a manageable routine to start with and build from there. Ideally, you want to work up to a weekly schedule of 5 30-minute cardio workouts and 2 strength-building workouts. You should aim to do balance/flexibility exercises on most days, but that doesn’t necessarily have to be a complete workout. You could do 15 of stretching as a post-workout routine. If you do a Pilates or yoga workout, you would be getting balance/flexibility work during those sessions (along with some strength building).
What will happen is that after a few weeks of this routine, you’ll start to feel stronger, more steady on your feet, and more motivated to get your workouts done. Perhaps a new exercise/sport will pique your interest, and you’ll have the confidence to try it. After a few months of consistent workouts, you’ll move with more ease and agility. By then, you’ll be hooked on cross-training!
Let me know how it goes. Also, drop a comment with other fun workouts that you use in your cross-training rotation.
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