Cross training has many benefits that can enhance your performance as a runner or in the any of the other sports that you play. To excel in a sport, most elite athletes dedicate an exorbitant amount of time in training just for that sport…as they should. Your sport or event should always be the focus of your primary workout. To get better, runners need to run; pitchers need to pitch; and punters need to kick…be careful not to lose focus of your over-arching goal.
Cross Training is not intended to replace your primary training, but it can offer many benefits when supplementing it in here and there for some of your less critical workouts. If you’re training for a marathon, for example, your training plan should lay out those can’t miss milestones, such as your long run; tempo runs; and speed workouts. Those other daily runs might be good candidates to substitute an alternate activity or take a rest day when you’re overly tired or on the mend. The benefits of cross training are subtle but can really enhance your performance and give an edge on race day. The list below are just a few of the benefits that you’ll reap:
- Prevent Injuries
Cross Training gives your primary muscles a chance to rest and recuperate. For example, running primarily uses the hamstring and calf muscles. Many runners that experience injuries do so because they over-train. When you chose an alternate activity, you allow the primary muscles to heal and rebuild and other supporting muscles to get stronger. This is all done while still getting a good cardiovascular workout to strengthen your heart and lungs.
- Increase Performance & Power
Again, using running as an example, the hamstrings and calf muscles see most of the strain and are usually a runner’s strongest muscles. During races, many runners can lose steam because of sore quadriceps, or weak abs that make them hunch over when they tire; or arms that swing in an uncontrolled & fatigued state across their bodies. These other muscles can help pull a runner through in a race. They can help increase speed, endurance, and overall strength.
- Increased Motivation
Repetition can lead to boredom, making our workout routine stale and bothersome. Alternating our training injects a change-of-pass and excitement, and can sharpen our competitive nature. By adding in this element of change every so often, our alternate workouts can keep us fresh and focused on the more critical workouts we must do.
- Added Flexibility & Stability
I remember laughing years ago when they were interviewing some football linebackers and they credited their performance to the addition of martial arts, yoga, and dance!? By adding in those other training tools, they increased their balance and stability which allowed them to elude 300 pound tackles and yet still be agile enough to take down speedy quarterbacks & running backs. Cross training creates a balance within our muscle groups and gives us stability and flexibility that can enhance our overall performance and training.
When we cross train, we get a more complete fitness program making us better athletes. The alternate activity you choose should be one that keeps up your cardiovascular conditioning, uses different primary muscles, yet is convenient and fun enough to keep your enthusiasm and excitement up for training. Below is a quick list of some other cardio routines that are good workouts, and the primary muscles that you’ll use:
- Cycling – Quadriceps & Shins
- Swimming – Shoulders, Arms, & Legs
- Elliptical – Legs & Arms (low impact)
- Rowing – Back, Buttocks, Arms & Hips
- Walking – Legs (low impact / low intensity)
A lack of cross training can lead to injuries from over-use and muscle imbalance. For example, some runners that overpronate have been able to reduce these effects through cross-training. Other athletes have maintained their conditioning on an exercise bike while allowing an injury to heal. If you want to be a better runner, there is no substitute for running….so make sure that you don’t overly focus on alternate training and strength building methods. So try rounding out your cardio routine a bit….it may just be the difference-maker to take you to your goal!