Have you considered cross-training with your canine companion? It may sound rather intimidating, but it simply means engaging him in a variety of different exercises to ensure all his muscle groups get worked. It’s a great way to maximize his fitness while minimizing the risk of injury.

Participating in just one type of exercise, such as walking or running on fl at surfaces, only works certain muscle groups but not others. This can result in an overuse of some muscles and an under-use of others, causing an imbalance that may lead to injury. Cross-training aims to eliminate this.

Cross-training your dog doesn’t just reduce injuries; it also enhances his fitness and saves you time. Dogs, like humans, become conditioned to the same exercise routines. Unlike us, however, a dog’s conditioning takes place incredibly fast. He might become tired after his first long run, but by his third or fourth he’ll be completely conditioned to it. Without cross-training, the only way to advance this dog’s fitness level would be to run further and longer – but few people have the time or energy to run with their dogs several hours a day. With cross-training, you can keep your dog both physically and mentally stimulated by incorporating different exercises into his fitness regimen, without having to add extra time or distance.

It can admittedly be more challenging to cross-train your dog than yourself, since he doesn’t have access to the equipment human gyms offer. However, with some creativity and a little practice, you can find more than enough types of cross-training exercises. Here are five simple suggestions.

1. Run over different terrains

Walking or running your dog around the neighborhood works the same muscles every time. But going uphill works different muscles than going downhill, and both work different muscles than running on a flat surface. Vary the terrain your dog walks or runs on to hit different muscle groups.

2. Climb stairs

Climbing stairs is a great way to work your dog’s leg, shoulder, hip and lower back muscles. Each step requires the dog to lift his entire body weight through the height of the stair. Going downstairs involves negative contraction of the quadriceps, intensifying the workout considerably. Additionally, stair climbing helps the dog with coordination and agility.

3. Hike, hike, hike

Wooded areas provide a natural cross-training environment. Jumping over logs, rummaging through brush, scaling ridges and valleys, and climbing over rocks provide a full body workout.

4. Try a balance ball

Give your dog’s joints a rest by using a balance ball. This impact-free workout will increase his core strength, balance and range of motion. It’s an especially great exercise for elongated dogs like Corgis and dachshunds, which are prone to lower back injuries, as well as giant breeds such as mastiffs and great Danes, whose core and back muscles have to support a tremendous amount of weight. And since it can be done inside, inclement weather is no excuse not to do it!

5. Use a dog backpack

Adding weight with a dog backpack is a great way to intensify his workout. Dogs will often change their gaits to compensate for added weight and this works their muscles in a way they rarely get worked otherwise.

Check with your veterinarian before starting any new exercise regime. Once your dog has been cleared, he’ll be ready for a crosstraining program that will help keep him healthy and happy for years to come!