The Case for Cross Training
Moji’s fitness expert overturns all your cross training excuses.
Sean Lee, NASM, ACE – CPT, NSCA – CSCS
Restoration Fitness, Barrington, IL
- Incorporating cross training into your lifestyle can help avoid injury, improve conditioning, and keep your body strong and healthy.
- The benefits of cross training are extensive, and often surprising.
- Cross training can be treated as an opportunity to improve attitude, mental freshness, and physical health.
WHAT IT IS AND WHY WE DON’T DO IT
We hear about it all the time, but the concept of cross training remains elusive. Cross training is a form of training that uses different activities to achieve a fitness goal. Examples of cross training include runners going cross-country skiing in their off season or cyclists using the elliptical machine or treadmill on rainy days. You’re still reaping the benefits of a workout but you’re engaging some different muscles and giving your body a rest from its usual demands.
As athletes, we tailor our workouts to perfect our stride, find our cadence, improve our race times or finally reach that 10K goal. And it’s no secret that to be better you have to practice. But what if cross training made you better at the sport you love? What if it made you healthier, stronger, even faster? The verdict is in: cross training can help you prevent and rehabilitate injuries, improve conditioning, and even make you better at what you love to do. So read on as we overrule some of the common cross training objections and tell you why it’s in your best interest to expand your athletic repertoire.
SINGLE SPORT ADDICT V. OVERUSE VICTIM
There’s nothing wrong with doing one sport.
Let’s face it: this is a big one. You like to run, so you run; you like to bike, so you bike. And whether you do it for fun or are in the midst of a training program, part of you defines yourself as someone who does that one thing. “I’m a runner.” “I’m a swimmer.” But the main problem with this line of thinking is that doing too much of one thing often rears its ugly head in the form of an overuse injury. This injury normally presents as muscle strain or inflammation and can set athletes back for weeks, months or even years. Athletes who have a history of previous injuries are even more likely to develop problems again in the future. It sounds simple, but if you want to stay active it’s important to not get hurt in the first place.
In doing one thing over and over you may build cardiovascular strength and develop certain muscle groups, but it’s also possible to develop muscle imbalances as a result. And sometimes those muscle imbalances can lead to injury. Repetition not only places wear and tear on your body, but also causes some serious mechanical problems if left unchecked.
Up to half of all sports-related injuries are said to be overuse injuries. This means that you could dramatically reduce your risk of injury simply by adding some variety to your workouts. By integrating other activities into your regular workout schedule you give the bones, muscles, and ligaments that are most susceptible to overuse injuries a break. Even the strongest muscles need time to recover, and time between workouts is sometimes not enough.
Too much of a good thing can be a bad thing.
READY TO RUN V. READY FOR IT ALL
I am in shape already. I don’t need to cross train.
You may consider yourself in shape. But you’ve got to consider that you might be in shape to do only certain things. If you are a regular runner who goes cross country skiing one weekend with some friends, you might find that you don’t feel as hot to trot on your next run as you normally do. Runners and cyclists can hardly strap on a harness and be instantly good at rock climbing. If you stay fit by doing the same thing day after day, you could be setting yourself up for a mental and/or physical burnout. Many people who think they’re in great shape lack an understanding of what they are in shape to do – they are in sport-specific shape but in overall shape. Cross training can improve overall fitness – it’s a great way to make sure you’re ready for anything.
You’re not as in shape as you think you are.
STATIONARY BIKE V. ULTIMATE FRISBEE
Cross training is boring
If you love what you do, then what’s the point of doing something else? Engaging in cross training does not mean your only two options are the stationery bike or the elliptical machine. For people who crave the outdoors, using an elliptical machine may indeed be boring. But cross country skiing? Rollerblading? Swimming? Tennis? Ultimate Frisbee? It’s pretty much guaranteed the list of activities you can use to cross train is a lot longer than the list of activities you find dreary. So open your mind, find a buddy if you need to, and try something new.
Cross training can be fun and exciting.
MILES LOGGED V. MENTAL FRESHNESS
I have to train for an event and don’t have time to cross train.
It’s true that you’re not going to swim across the finish line for a 10K, but you can still use swimming to get there faster. Training is as much about your mental attitude as it is about your physical fitness. For those athletes who easily get bored or feel like they have to slog through a run or bike as part of their training program, cross training can keep them on their toes. If you get bored, you get lazy, and if you get lazy you lose your form. Once you start to compromise your form, injury is likely to follow. Sometimes, replacing your regularly scheduled run or bike with something new will help you get back on track with a fresh attitude.
Cross training can benefit your training program.
SIDELINES V. POOLTIME
I am coming back from an injury, so I can’t do anything.
No one wants an injury to set them back. Injuries keep you from doing what you love, and sometimes it is only natural to want to start up again before your body is ready. Hitting the roads, water or ski slopes too hard, too quickly, is a surefire way to set your recovery back. Cross training is a great way to maintain your fitness while an injury keeps you out of your primary sport. If you can’t run or bike, it’s often possible to swim or do the elliptical machine. Doing low impact cross training in particular can help keep you in shape while giving the muscles, tendons, and ligaments in your body the time they need to heal—completely.
Cross training can help you rehab from an injury.
CASH V. CROSS
Cross training is too expensive.
You do not need a gym membership to cross train. Sometimes, creating a cross training workout can be as easy as borrowing someone’s old tennis racket and hopping on a community court. You could hit the trails for some hiking almost anywhere free of charge, minus the cost of a parking fee at most state and national parks. If you don’t have spare cash to shell out for memberships or equipment, then just get creative.
Cross training can cost nothing.
ELITE CYCLIST V. ELITE ATHLETE
Cross training won’t make me better at what I do.
One benefit that many people do not understand fully, is that cross training can actually improve your overall fitness and performance. You might think that to be a better runner, you should only run. And that is, in part, true. But your body is smart, it will respond to increased exertion over time and, at some point, it will get used to your workouts if they stay the same. Your body takes the path of least resistance and at some point, your conditioning plateaus. Your body has followed the SAID Principle.
The SAID (Specific Adaption to Imposed Demands) Principle means that your body will adapt specifically to the stimulus that you give it. As a runner training for your first 5K, you ramp up your mileage and improve over the months. Your body is specifically adapting to the demands of running—to your stride, the impact on your body your foot makes as it hits the ground, etc. However, if all you do is run, at some point simply running won’t yield the same benefits that it did when you first began. As you improve, your body becomes more efficient. But that also means that your performance can level off over time. Cross training can give you a jump start and provide you with a new stimulus that lets you come back to your primary activity stronger and more rested. By engaging in motions in your cross training workouts that are similar to your primary sport (cross country skiing for runners, elliptical workouts for cyclists, etc.), you can train your muscles to increase their capacity for a certain motion or activity, and improve overall performance.
Cross training can improve performance.
NO MORE EXCUSES
Cross training doesn’t mean that you have to give up what you love or compromise performance. You don’t feed your body the same foods day in and day out, so think of cross training as another element to your varied athletic diet. Cross training can be seamlessly integrated into your lifestyle to serve your active interests and priorities. Cross training as a set of complementary activities that go hand in hand with your primary activities can help you perfect your stride or find that cadence—injury free.