We get it. You have your sport that you love and that’s all you want to do. But what if we told you there was a way to reduce injuries, build endurance, speed, and strength, increase motivation, and keep you doing that thing you love long term?
Once you understand the many benefits of cross training, you’ll be eager to find your new second-favorite sport.
Cross Training Explained
Cross training simply means incorporating various high and low intensity activities into your workout routine.
By doing so, you will engage different muscle groups than your primary activity, reduce the risk of injury, and stay motivated to continue a regular exercise habit, among other benefits.
Pairing workouts that are complementary to your main sport, like incorporating cycling into your ultra marathon training or yoga to support your triathlon goals, will help you develop a higher level of overall fitness.
Examples of Cross Training
In general, seasoned athletes can incorporate 2-3 cross training sessions into their weekly training schedule.
Those taking on a new sport or new to working out should ease in more slowly, incorporating more cross training workouts in order to reduce the risk of injury and doing too much, too soon in the new sport.
There are plenty of cross training options to choose from that tackle cardio, strength, and flexibility and mobility.
Cardio cross training examples:
- Pool running
- Jumping rope
- HIIT workouts
- Paddle boarding or kayaking
- Downhill skiing
- Nordic skiing
Strength training examples:
- Body weight
- Weight lifting
- Core workouts
Flexibility and balance cross training examples:
- Foam rolling
If you’re not sure what you’ll like, try one or two at a time and see if you enjoy them. If not, pick another. It’s a good idea to choose an activity from each category for best results.
Benefits of Cross Training
More than just shaking up your exercise routine, cross training will help keep you doing the sport you love long term.
Injury prevention is the most commonly known reason to incorporate cross training, but there are numerous other benefits to taking on a few other sports.
Overuse injuries are common in athletes, particularly runners–thanks to its repetitive motion. Fortunately, most overuse injuries can be prevented with cross training, which allows for adequate recovery and builds muscles not utilized in the primary sport.
Common overuse injuries include:
IT Band syndrome
Athletes who specialize in one sport have an 85% higher risk of lower extremity injuries, according to a 2017 study from the University of Wisconsin.
Engaging in different activities gives tired muscles, tendons, and ligaments a chance to rest and others the opportunity to play a supporting role.
Maintain Fitness While Injured
When an injury does develop, cross training can help keep you in shape while you recover from the injury.
The right training can help keep your fitness at the level you need until you can return to your sport of choice.
If you’re cross training to recover from an injury, keep the workouts to the same duration and intensity as your primary sport in order to maintain the same fitness.
Develop Strength in Weaker Muscle Groups
If you do the same exercise all the time, then you will undoubtedly develop weaknesses in part of your body, most notably the hips and glutes. These weaknesses are what lead to injuries.
Engaging in a variety of activities regularly will help build different muscle groups to keep you strong and healthy for your primary sport. Cycling, as an example, develops hip flexor strength, and cross country skiing is great for those who live in wintry climates that don’t allow running all year long.
Increased Fitness in Primary Sport (and overall!)
Not only does cross training help develop strength in weaker muscle groups, it also increases mobility, flexibility, power, speed, agility, endurance, and balance.
If you feel stagnant in your sport of choice, are slower than you’d like, or haven’t PR’ed in quite some time, cross training may be the key.
Promotes Active Recovery
Rest is essential to maintaining long term fitness, especially for endurance athletes, however, incorporating regular active recovery workouts in between intense efforts can actually accelerate recovery.
Active recovery workouts are low-intensity efforts that:
- Promote blood flow to damaged muscles
- Reduces lactic acid buildup
- Aids in reducing soreness and tears in muscles
Advanced athletes will often do a hard effort in their main sport, followed by active recovery later in the day.
No matter how much you may enjoy your main sport, there will likely come a time where you become bored with the same routes and routine. That’s completely normal and doesn’t mean that you have to break up with your beloved activity.
Cross training will help give you a break from the monotony and ultimately allow you to regain enthusiasm for your preferred sport.
Without an alternative, it’s easy to fall out of the exercise habit if you do become bored or injured. Finding a new activity will keep you in shape and healthy, allowing you to pick up where you left off.