You are proud of yourself because you've stuck with your running program to get you in shape for the summer, and now you're easily running five km three times per week. You are ready to progress with your fitness program and you decide to take up cycling. "This will be no problem," you think, "I'm in great shape." After a day on the bike trails, however, you feel like you're out of shape. What's going on?
You are probably in great shape -- for running. However, if you focus solely on one activity, your overall level of fitness may not be as high as you think. You may, in fact, be setting yourself up for injuries, overuse syndromes, or worse still - boredom and exercise drop out.
What to do? Cross-train.
The term cross-training refers to a routine that involves several different forms of exercise. While it is quite necessary for an athlete to train specifically for their sport if they want to excel, for most sports enthusiasts, cross-training is an effective way to maintain a high level of overall fitness. For example, you may use both biking and swimming each week to improve your overall aerobic capacity, build overall muscle strength and reduce the chance of an overuse injury. By using different muscle groups to perform different activities, not only do you gain more balanced muscle strength, you also limit the amount of repetitive stress on any specific group of muscles.
Cross-training allows you to vary the stress placed on specific muscles and your cardiovascular system. After months of the same movements, your body becomes extremely efficient performing those movements. The muscles used to perform your exercise of choice become very strong, and the movement becomes much more fluid and requires less effort. Rather than continuing to improve, you simply maintain a certain level of fitness. Cross-training is a great way to condition different muscle groups, develop a new set of skills, and reduce the boredom that creeps in after months of the same exercise routines. Additionally, cross-training is extremely helpful at reducing the risk of injury from repetitive strain or overuse of a specific muscle group.
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Benefits of cross-training
• Reduces exercise boredom
• Allows you to be flexible about your training needs and plans. For example, if it is raining outside, you could swim at the local indoor pool instead of going for a run.
• Conditions the entire body, not just specific muscle groups
• Reduces the risk of overuse and injury
• While some muscles work, others rest and recover
• You can continue to train in some capacity while injured
• Improves your skill, agility and balance
What exercises should make up a good cross training routine?
• Running or walking
• Stair climbing
• Skating (inline or ice)
• Squash/tennis/other sports
• Free weights
Choosing a minimum of one activity from each category creates the most complete exercise regime. You can vary activities from day to day or incorporate more than one per session. Instead of devoting an entire workout to one particular exercise, blend in several exercises during the session. For example: Devote 15 minutes to the treadmill, another 15 on the exercise bike, indulge in light weight training for another 15 minutes and then do a series of stretches to cool down. That's cross-training. The combinations are endless.
It is true that the best way to improve your running skills is to run and the best way to improve your swimming strokes is to swim. However, if you are looking to improve your overall fitness level, have the ability to move easily from activity to activity and remain injury free, cross-training is for you.
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