As illogical as it sounds, cross-training is exercising in a way that is not specific to the event or mode of exercise you want to train for. For example, runners can benefit from yoga, cyclists can improve through barre – anyone who predominantly does one type of exercise can be aided by doing something completely different. Here’s why:
We’re not talking CrossFit here. Though that is an option.
Take runners. If all is going to plan, we generally move forward in a straight line – a single plane. Our range of motion is very specific and fairly limited. Left knee up, left foot forward, left foot lands, right knee up, right foot forward, right foot lands, repeat. This can mean that certain muscles get overdeveloped – usually quadriceps (the front of the thigh) – and others don’t get their full due – hamstrings (the back of the thigh) and glutes (the group that make up the bottom). But, to have good posture and form, especially when you get tired, hamstring and glute strength is essential for holding the pelvis balanced. There’s the irony; to have good form while running, you need to exercise in ways that are not running.
Thus, “cross-training”. The term comes from the idea of “crossover” to another activity. “The action or practice of engaging in two or more sports or types of exercise in order to improve fitness or performance in one’s main sport” is the definition from Oxford Dictionary of English.
In a sense, cross-training is an incredibly simple concept. Been riding your bike a lot? Try jumping in the pool today instead. Feeling fatigued by your fourth high-intensity interval training session this week? Book in for yoga or pilates. It can be simply about using your body in a different way to give tired muscles a rest.
It can also keep you motivated by changing up your routine. If your daily grind is to hit the weights room every morning for an hour on the same machines, you’re likely to become a little bored. Trading this up for an activity you haven’t mastered – ever tried TRX? – will engage your brain in learning the exercise as well as a variety of muscles.
If you’re generally an anaerobic type of exerciser – activity that involves short bursts of high intensity, such as sprints or weightlifting – your aerobic system might be missing out on some of the attention it needs for whole-body wellness. Setting yourself a long-distance challenge – like a four-hour bushwalk – will develop your respiratory and cardiovascular systems in very different ways. And you’ll likely appreciate it the next time you need to climb a few flights of stairs or hotfoot it across the city for a meeting.
For rehabilitation and injury recovery, cross-training becomes a necessity. A runner will need to rethink their schedule following a sprained ankle. To ease back into exercise, in-water jogging can be an entry point to low-impact activity. When I did just this, I even got over my prejudices to join an aquaerobics class, which turned out to be great fun and exactly what the physio ordered.
But you can also dig deeper. The science of strength and conditioning analyses the needs of your body in relation to your specific sport or goals. As per our original example, a runner with weak or underdeveloped hamstrings and glutes will benefit from strength training by performing exercises such as deadlifts, hamstring curls and glute bridges. This will aid running performance, help prevent overuse injuries to the quadriceps and promote good posture and form in both running and all activities.
For a swimmer, performance could be aided by cross-training for core strength. A strong core gives you a powerful platform from which you can pull, push and kick through the water. Exercises could include planks, V-sit and Russian twists.
So add some cross-training to your routine – your fit and fab body will thank you for it.
Anne-Marie Cook is a writer, certified personal trainer and running coach. She runs ultramarathons for fun and cross-trains because she knows she should. Follow her adventures at instagram.com/runinspo.