Cross-training supplements a runner’s skills in terms of flexibility, efficiency, power, strength and stamina, thus helping you run faster.
Ask around and you will find that this question has often cropped up in the minds of many endurance athletes – will cross-training on days when I’m not running or cycling or swimming improve my performance in my primary sport?
At first glance, the obvious answer seems no. But, think again – if all your focus is on developing a specific muscle group or enhancing a certain range of skills, you are restricting your capacity to develop as an athlete. The best part about cross-training is that it strengthens other parts of the body besides your muscles, ligaments, and joints which are used in your primary athletic activity.
To spice up your workout routine for whole-body fitness incorporate cross-training into your overall routine that supplements your regular training. You could include yoga, cycling, swimming, skiing, skating, weight training or any other activity of your choice into your weekly workout routine. There are countless ways to cross-train but the most important aspect is to vary your training to target different muscles groups and avoid overuse of certain muscles groups which could eventually lead to injury.
How do you create a cross-training routine?
Cross-training is a great way to condition different muscle groups, develop new skill sets, and reduce fitness plateaus that creeps in after months of following the same routine. The best way to go about this is to select exercises that require different movements when compared to your primary activity. For E.g. if you’re a runner, you could incorporate swimming, cycling, weight training, etc. into your workout schedule.
Frequency of cross-training
Besides your current schedule, try and aim to cross-train once or twice a week in place of your regular routine or as additional workouts. You can choose to do one form of exercise or more in a single day. Cross-training can be personalized easily basis your needs and interests.
You can customize your cross-training routine by mixing up exercises from each group below-
- Strength and muscle endurance exercises (weight machines, free weights, Pilates, tubes and bands, elliptical, callisthenics),
- Flexibility & balance (yoga, Bosu balance training, and stretching), and
- Cardiovascular fitness (jogging, stair climbing, swimming, cycling, badminton, running, etc.)
So why is it so important to integrate cross-training workouts into your regular routine?
Lowers risk of injury
Doing one sport or the same type of exercises repetitively can lead to overuse of the same muscle groups which inevitably leads to an injury. By varying stress on different parts of the body, you’re lowering the risk of getting hurt.
Cross-training as an active recovery tool
It doesn’t matter how hard you train, athletes need to incorporate recovery/ rest days into their schedules. Being idle the whole day might be tough for many but an active recovery helps immensely as your body recovers faster and keeps your fitness levels up despite an injury. The key to active recovery is two-fold – intensity (choose an activity that your effort level is such that you can carry out a conversation) and variety (choosing an activity that works on different muscle groups).
Improved overall fitness
Most sports focus on strengthening a particular group of muscles while the other muscle groups get somewhat neglected. By cross-training, you ensure those neglected muscles are worked out as well. For E.g., hitting the elliptical all 5 days will have benefits only on a certain muscle group. But if you include a day of yoga, cycling and a day or two of weight training it will target more muscles and further improve different areas of fitness, strength, performance, and flexibility.
Recovery from injury is faster
Cross-training helps your body recuperate faster from injury. For E.g., Achilles tendonitis caused by overuse can be improved by strengthening of calf muscles. By employing alternative exercises into your routine not only allows the body an opportunity to heal from your previous activity but will help strengthen and stretch parts of your body that are causing pain.
Cross-training makes you stronger, more flexible and a more well-rounded athlete. Although a particular exercise or sport might be your absolute favourite, varying your routine will help improve your performance further rather than what one particular workout could ever do.