Want to learn how to run faster or jump higher? Augment your athletic prowess with complementary cross-training for running, cycling, tennis, and more

By Marnie Soman Schwartz
August 11, 2015
Corbis Images

Whether you love cycling, running, or playing tennis, it's tempting to do your favorite sport for all of your workouts. But switching up your routine is worth it, says trainer and exercise science professor Jessica Matthews. Not only does it lower your risk of injury, but cross-training helps boost your total fitness-and can even make you better at the activities you love most. Reach your fitness goals by choosing the right alternate workouts. (Then, check out The Best Sneakers to Crush Your Workout Routines.)

If you want to: Sprint faster


High intensity interval training, or HIIT workouts, will help you gain speed, says Matthews. (Try The HIIT Workout That Tones in 30 Seconds!) "Working at a high intensity improves your aerobic capacity and metabolic function," she says. And you don't always have to be running to make those gains-doing intervals on a bike or elliptical or in a HIIT class will help boost your velocity on the track.

If you want to: Jump Higher

Try: Pilates

Whether you're a dancer or a basketball player, if you want to gain more height, head to a Pilates class. Jumping requires power and a Pilates class will strengthen your leg muscles and also boost your ability to contract your muscles and quickly lengthen them-which is exactly what you need to leap into the air.

If you want to: Lift more

Try: Plyo

Whether you're a CrossFit regular or just looking to up the weights on your power lifts, plyometric training-moves like jump squats, burpees, and box jumps-will help you get there. "You train for power doing rapid movements," says Matthews. Quick, repeated movements (like the ones in a plyometric power plan) don't use any external resistance, but they'll have your muscles working hard-and making big gains.

If you want to: Go the distance

Try: Interval training

When you're training for an endurance event, like a 100-mile bike ride, you need a combined approach of increased steady-state distances as well as intervals for shorter times. If your distance event is a bike ride, get off the bike and do some shorter running workouts to prevent too much repetitive movement. If you're training for a 50-mile run, get on the bike for those interval workouts.

If you want to: React more quickly

Try: Sports conditioning

In sports like tennis, reaction time and agility are crucial. "Sports conditioning classes are a great option," says Matthews. "The exercises will boost your body's ability to quickly accelerate and decelerate, so you can turn on a dime." If you're working out on your own, do speed work and agility moves like ladder-based drills.

If you want to: Swim more efficiently

Try: Yoga

The steady, rhythmic breathing that swimming requires is part of what makes it really tough for otherwise fit people to do well in the pool. To get more control, try incorporating yoga into your routine. "The breathing emphasis in different mind/body disciplines translates well to any sustained aerobic exercise," says Matthews. "That steady breathing pace can really be helpful in the pool." Runners and cyclists, who often add swimming to tackle a triathalon, will also benefit from strength training, since swimming is a total-body workout.

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