No matter what the sport, most experts agree that athletes and fitness enthusiasts should cross train. For injury prevention, muscular balance, and improved performance, most top athletes today do more than 1 kind of exercise.
That was not always the case. Back in 1972, Frank Shorter proved he was the best marathoner in the world when he won the Olympic gold medal. Although I remember reading stories about how Frank liked to cross country ski during the winter, I doubt he did anything except run in the months leading up to the Olympics.
Cross training, as defined by exercise expert Bryant Stamford, PhD, is the performance of two or more types of exercise in one workout or alternately in successive workouts. For example, distance runners may finish their workout with some weight training, or they may give their running muscles a rest and substitute cycling or swimming 2 or 3 days a week.
There are many variables to consider when selecting cross training activities. What are your fitness goals? Do you have any physical deficiencies or weaknesses? What do you like to do? How old are you? If your goal is to lose body fat, then your priority should be endurance training with 2-3 weight-training sessions per week. I cannot say for sure that you will lose weight faster, but 2 or 3 different types of cardiovascular exercises might be better than sticking with just 1.
If you want to improve your running speed, then I would recommend cross training exercises that work some of the same muscles as running such as cycling or stair climbing. If you are over 40 years of age, you have probably lost some muscle strength and mass, translating to slower acceleration and speed. Working on strength training and regular stretching can help. If you are just interested in staying in shape, you may be able to avoid burnout by changing workouts.
In recent years triathlons have been increasingly popular. Triathletes seem to enjoy the challenge of preparing for 3 very different activities; swimming, running, and cycling. Although not perfect, triathlon training probably offers the best example of a balanced fitness program. Swimming gives you a good upper body workout, running develops leg muscle endurance, and cycling adds muscular power in the legs with a blend of endurance. All 3 are effective cardiovascular exercises.
Cross training may be counterproductive if you fatigue the same muscles on consecutive days. Swimming might be a better alternative than a bike ride before or after a hard running session. If you are a runner, bike interval or hill training offers a refreshing break from the pounding of run intervals. One of the great benefits of cross training is that it offers a means to stay in shape while recovering from injury. Remember when complete rest used to be the prescription for any and all injuries? Today we know that deconditioning can and should be minimized through cross training.
Whatever your fitness goal might be, it is safe to say that well-rounded strength and endurance training of the lower body, upper body, and trunk is the ticket to better performance and injury prevention.
Dave Elger is a well respected health and fitness authority now working for the Wasatch Altitude Training Center in Mountain Green, Utah. For more information go to www.daveelger.blogspot.com or Wasatch Altitude Training Center.
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