Fitness, like food, operates on the principle that variety is indeed the spice of life. Getting into one fitness routine can be not only dull, but it can cause you to miss vital muscle groups and get weaker where you really want to be getting stronger. Even the most seasoned athletes need to cross-train on a regular basis.
The reason is that focused activities are rarely good for everything. A runner needs to swim or lift weights. A swimmer may need to do yoga, and a skier might cycle in the off-season. From aerobics to martial arts and dance, many activities can greatly enhance what you as an athlete are doing already.
This is just one of the many things to consider when switching up your fitness routine. If professional athletes cross-train, you probably should too. Wide receivers and basketball guards often take up ballet or martial arts. Runners take up biking or swimming. Many athletes chose yoga or tai chi to develop flexibility.
Here are some tips for changing it up both in and out of the gym.
Benefits of Cross-Training
First of all, why should you cross-train? “Cycling is horrible as an all-around exercise,” says Jacques DeVore in his book Maximum Overload for Cyclists. “Those who cycle need to engage in other physical activities, even though trainers will often tell them the solution is more time in the saddle. This is simply not true.”
This same principle can be applied to other disciplines as well. The benefits of cross-training are clear once you step back and take a look at them:
- As mentioned above, tai chi, yoga, and similar activities increase flexibility for those who are doing strength training.
- For those who already do yoga, cross-training with running, cycling, or swimming can provide cardiovascular improvements.
- Changing up your routine helps prevent injuries long term by strengthening a wider variety of muscle groups and help decreases chronic pain.
Most athletes know that cross-training is important. However, they are often so focused on their primary sport that it is difficult to incorporate other routines into their regimen.
How to Incorporate Cross-Training Into Your Routine
Incorporating cross-training into your routine can be a challenge for several reasons. There are some simple keys to success no matter what activity you choose:
- Add cross-training in slowly: Add one to two sessions a week or just replace one of your workouts a week with a new one.
- Don’t allow your new activity to eclipse your primary sport. Enthusiasm comes with something new, but stay focused on using your cross-training to improve in some area of your primary sport.
- Add a few minutes a day to your normal workout. Consider adding 10 minutes or up to half an hour of a new activity. A couple of quick laps in the pool can make a huge difference in a short period of time.
Remember to make changes slowly. If you do not like the new activity you have chosen, it is okay to try another one. Your routine should be as flexible as you want to be.
Picking Your Cross-Training Activity
Once you have chosen to introduce a new activity into your routine, how do you choose which one is right for you? This is an important decision, but there are a few simple keys to making the right one:
- Keep Your Why in Mind: Why do you want to add a new exercise to your routine? Flexibility? Strength? Flexibility comes from yoga or tai chi. Yoga can greatly complement your strength training. The cure for boredom may be community sports. Agility comes from martial arts or other similar activities. Martial arts is a great activity to get stronger and leaner.
- Balance the Risk: Don’t take up activities that will jeopardize taking part in your primary sport, especially if you are a professional athlete. A pro skier does not take up extreme mountain biking in the off-season, at least in part due to the risk of serious injury.
- Manage your Time Wisely: We all have limited amounts of time to work out. Make sure you have the time necessary to learn and add a sub activity.
Remember the learning curve of any new routines and activities, and the time it will take for your body to adjust. You may be sore, and you may need to purchase new attire and equipment. Do your research and be prepared for the associated costs and time/effort you will need to invest as well.
When it comes time to change up your fitness routine and add another sub activity, keep these things in mind. Remember the benefits, make changes slowly and wisely, and choose your cross-training activity carefully.