CROSS-TRAINING IS SUCH a well-known fitness principle that it has its own shoe line. It’s also so well-known that we’re prone to forget about it and just. Lift. Weights.
That’s changing. Classic cross-training—which pushes you to address multiple fitness traits, like cardio, mobility, and agility—is set to make a comeback. More and more, trainers are understanding that, yes, you need muscle, but you also need a healthy heart and other qualities. And if you mix up your training just enough, you enhance recovery, minimize injury—and still build plenty of muscle.
We forget this largely because of a gym culture obsessed with big weights. From Instagram to bro science to Hollywood (ever watch Pain & Gain?), fitness is often associated only with dumbbells and barbells—and 4 sets of 10 on the bench press seems like the answer to everything. “There’s nothing wrong with spending time in the weight room getting bigger and stronger,” says trainer and MH advisor DeVentri Jordan. “But it has to be in conjunction with power, speed, and mobility training.”
None of this needs to be complicated— or get in the way of your biceps curls. Once or twice a week, simply swap the final 10 to 15 minutes of your workout with something outside your regular regimen. Not sure where to start? Well, it takes out-of-the-box trainers to shape new fitness experiences, which is where a trio of innovators from our Men’s Health/Women’s Health Strength in Diversity Initiative comes in. Each was once preoccupied with muscle building, too, before discovering the necessity of more training variety. Now they have the formula you need to build muscle—and much more.
How to Hone Shoulder Mobility
It takes strength to grab a heavy box of the floor. D.J. Gibson wants you to understand that it takes something else, too. “A lot of people hurt their backs because they don’t have the necessary mobility,” he says. By mobility, he means the ability to be strong at your end range of motion.
Gibson, 32, learned that in college. Throughout high school, he was focused on building his arms, chest, and abs. “The pressure of competing with my friends for respect and toughness fogged the importance of pain-free movement,” he says.
In 2016, while working at a physical-therapy clinic, he realized how flawed the approach was. “What’s on people’s radar is the size of the man and his strength feats,” Gibson says. “But doing the mobility allows you to get into these different shapes to create strength.”
Kettlebell Arm Bar
Try the kettlebell arm bar, a Gibson favorite that builds mobility in your hips and shoulders.
How to Do It:
- Lie on your back, a light kettlebell in your right hand directly over your shoulder.
- Keep your eyes on the bell as you lift your right leg and rotate your hips to the left, aiming to touch your right knee to the floor. Pause.
- Rotate back to the start.
Sets and reps: Do 2 or 3 sets of 3 or 4 reps per side.
How to Create Rotational Power
David Pegram knows exactly why boxing can feel intimidating. Show up to one of his classes at Grit Bxng in Manhattan and he’ll teach you how to throw a perfect punch. You likely won’t nail it on the first try. “Boxing teaches you the value of doing something that, at first, is ugly,” he says.
Pegram, 35, grew up in the sport, learning it as a child from his grandfather. He began coaching in 2021. He believes boxing is a modality that hones total-body coordination and athleticism. “It’s connecting the power from the tip of your feet all the way through your body and then releasing it out through your hands,” he says. “That’s something beautiful.”
Med Ball Step Throw
Try Pegram’s med ball step throw, which builds abs and rotational power.
How to Do It:
- Stand with a heavy med ball held with both hands at your left shoulder, knees bent.
- Plant your right foot, throwing the ball at a wall hard.
Sets and reps: Do 3 sets of 10 to 15 per side.
How to Build Stamina
Joe Seeley’s earliest fitness memories involve calisthenics. His father and his uncle served time in prison. When they were released and met up with Seeley in Harlem, they introduced him to basic bodyweight strength.
Years later, Seeley went to prison on gun charges and adopted a similar regimen. “We did regular yard shit in prison,” he says. “Squats, burpees, pullups, dips.”
Shortly after his release in 2018, Seeley landed a job working the front desk at a gym. Often, he’d watch clients beg to lift heavy weights, even as they struggled to survive five minutes on the StairMaster. “It’s not all about lifting heavy,” Seeley, 39, says. “It’s about taking care of your body.”
Fan Bike Intervals
Try the fan bike, which can redline your heart rate in just minutes of serious effort.
How to Do It:
- Pedal your hardest for 30 seconds, then rest for 30 seconds (either pedaling lightly or not at all).
- Alternate until time’s up.
“That’s a total-body burn,” says Seeley.
A version of this story originally appears in the September 2023 issue of Men’s Health, with the title “CROSS-TRAINING’S COMEBACK”.