What is Cross Training and why you should do it?

Cross Training Mary recently started a program to get in shape.  It’s a lot of effort for her just managing to stick with a brisk walk on her treadmill 3-5 days a week.  Only this week she finally reached her first goal, of being able to do it for 20 minutes continuously without feeling wiped out.  She doesn’t enjoy the treadmill and doesn’t like sweating or the physical feeling of exertion.  She’s thinking that accomplishment may not be enough motivation to continue; there are too many other things she’d rather being doing.
John found his way past that point long ago and has been a regular exerciser for over a year.  But his chosen activity, weightlifting, is starting to feel stale and boring–it’s always so predictable, so mindless, and his progress has tapered off.  He’s been increasingly feeling twinges in his shoulder when he performs pushups, which he does a lot.  And although he thought he was in pretty good shape, a pick-up game of soccer with the kids wiped him out and left him hurting in muscles he didn’t know he had.

There’s a great solution for both of these exercisers:  CROSS-TRAINING!  Cross-training is performing a variety of activities, challenging your muscles and your heart in different ways as part of your regular activity
schedule.

The advantages of cross-training are many; here are a few:

  • Develops all-around fitness
  • Promotes balanced muscle development
  • Prevents “burnout”
  • Prevents overuse injuries

We’ve all heard the saying “Variety is the spice of life.”  This turns out to be true for our bodies as well as our minds.  By tossing in another activity, you keep your body “guessing” and your mind engaged.
Mary and John above are both feeling a little “burned out” for lack of variety and interest.  John is developing an overuse injury in his shoulder, possibly due to an imbalance in muscle development.  John has also learned the hard way that his fitness demands aren’t being fully met by his weightlifting-only workouts–he’s lacking in aerobic capacity and there are many muscles that his weight machines haven’t trained.  There’s nothing inherently wrong with either Mary’s or John’s current programs, it’s just that adding complementary activities would give them both a physical and mental boost.

Here are just a few examples of how you might incorporate cross-training into your schedule:

If your primary activity is:
  • Running
  • Swimming
  • Step aerobics
  • Soccer
  • Weight lifting
  • Bicycling
Try:
  • Swimming
  • Bicycling
  • Cardio-kickboxing
  • Rowing
  • Hiking
  • Weightlifting

In each example, you will either use different muscles, or use the same muscles in a different kind of movement, or both.
Using the same muscles in the same way at the same pace all the time will make them very good at doing that one thing at that one pace–this is known as the principle of “specificity of training“.   Your body becomes more efficient at performing that activity, meaning it becomes easier both in terms of the work required and the amount of attention you have to focus on your movements.  (Think of how effortless world-class ice skaters make their activity look!)  But that ease may not translate well to other activities which involve different muscles, or a different kind of movement.  Cross-training can ensure you’re at least somewhat prepared for anything that comes up!

So, mix up your schedule across the week with two or more complementary activities you think you might enjoy.  If one of them loses your interest or turns out to be unsuitable, try a different activity!  Exercise doesn’t have to be work–it’s just a matter of finding the right activities for _you_.  Cross-training is the way to go!

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