Count on Cross Training
Forget complicated routines – here are eight easy rules for great cross training.
Sean Lee, NASM, ACE – CPT, NSCA – CSCS
Restoration Fitness, Barrington, IL
- 1-2 days of cross training can reduce your risk of developing overuse injuries
- It’s important for all athletes not to increase the intensity of their workouts too quickly
- Advanced athletes should fit in 2 cross training days/week
HOW MUCH AND HOW OFTEN
So you’re sold on cross training but don’t know where to start? The number of cross training workouts you should include in your weekly regimen depends on your current training schedule and the demands you are already placing on your body. For most athletes, one to two days of cross training can dramatically reduce your risk of developing an overuse injury. Cross training with the goal of improving performance should be a regular part of your weekly program.
It’s important for all athletes not to increase the intensity of their workouts too quickly—never by more than 10% per week. Advanced athletes should fit in two cross training days/week. However, if you’re just ramping up, you might start with one day of cross training per week.
EIGHT EASY GUIDELINES
All cross training routines should follow these general guidelines:
- Do what you like. This might seem obvious, but if you don’t enjoy it, you won’t do it.
- Try something new. Avoid overuse injuries by including an activity that is different from what you are currently doing. To figure out what activity might work well, take a good look at the sport you usually do. Swimmers are more likely to develop shoulder injuries; for runners, up to 50% of all injuries occur in the knee, calf, or shin. So when you incorporate cross training, think of what parts of your body you use the most, and let them have an extra day off, or use them in a different way – e.g., if you’re a runner, swim or try the stationary bike.
- Pay your workout a complement. Choose exercises that complement your primary sport. If you are training for an endurance event, do not start power lifting. If you are a swimmer, rock climbing will not necessarily help improve your performance. You want cross training activities to be transferable to your primary activity.
- Mirror, mirror. Try to mimic the muscular actions and do things that have the same mental demands of your sport. Runners can use the elliptical machine, swim, or go cross country skiing.
- Keep it simple. Focusing on too many different activities can result in only partially adapting to each one. If you engage in five different sports a week, you generally will not improve quickly at all of them. Cross training should complement your sport, not detract from it. Samples of some fun pairings include: yoga and rock climbing, biking and swimming, running and the stair-stepping machine.
- Enjoy the seasons. The off season is prime time for cross training. When there are fewer races or competitive events to train for it is easier to integrate cross training activities that are more suitable to the weather, daylight, etc. into your training routine.
- Save time. If you think you don’t have time for cross training, think again. For athletes training for major events or elite performers, cross training can help you recover from an intense workout or competition. Cross training can be used as a cool down tool in the same way that icing or stretching is often used after workouts to shorten recovery time. It’s critical for all athletes to understand that even if a workout does not cause an injury, exercise still places your body under stress. Use cross training to lessen the lasting impact of that stress by hopping into the pool for 10 minutes or jumping on the elliptical machine after a long run or bike.
- Ignore your inner newbie. It doesn’t matter how good you are at a sport in order to gain fitness from it. Even if your backhand landed a ball smack into the net, you still got to the ball and took a swing. The big benefits of cross training come from using a variety motions, different muscles, new surfaces, and different skills to keep your body healthy. It doesn’t necessarily matter how well you master those new skills, what matters is that you’ve gotten out there and tried.