By: Lacey Thacker
Are you a runner? A lifter? A yoga enthusiast? Chances are you identify with one of these labels. You may have even gotten wary of trying anything new, since you know what you’re doing works. But what if you discovered branching out a bit could make you more effective at your favorite activity?
Not long ago, I decided to take a barre class at a friend’s urging. Imagine my surprise when, less than two months into doing barre and nothing else different, my running times dramatically improved. Similarly, when I take yoga on a regular basis, I find I am able to lift weights with more control.
Cross training is exactly what it sounds like—training across the exercise spectrum, in at least two activities. This is done with the goal of improving performance in a main sport or activity, though there are other benefits.
Cross training not only provides an opportunity for improved athletic performance, it also helps build a stronger body overall. By working out more than just the muscles needed for your favorite activity or sport, your total fitness will be higher than if you were only in shape for the one activity. In other words, perhaps you are very successful at lifting and have a great physique, but rarely run. When your dog takes off down the block, you might be surprised to find yourself winded. Including some regular cardio in your routine will help you catch your pup without stopping to catch your breath. Alternatively, perhaps you run frequently, but stretch only occasionally. While you may appear to be in good shape, you are at greater risk for injury—and may at some point begin struggling to bend enough to tie your shoes.
Perhaps most importantly, cross training can help prevent injury. There are several ways in which cross training can protect you:
- Overuse prevention: Any activity, done repetitively without proper recovery time, can lead to an overuse injury. By cross training, you can continue conditioning while still resting the muscles that need it. For example, if you run frequently, you will need to take rest days. On those rest days, you may still want to exercise—choosing an activity like swimming allows you to rest your running muscles and still get some conditioning in.
- Strengthening helps muscles: The main muscle in any motion is not the only muscle creating that motion. To support the main muscle of activity, one must strengthen the ones that assist in its movement.
- Keeps the body balanced: If one part of the body becomes over developed in comparison to another portion, the body can be pulled out of alignment. By keeping the body balanced, you prevent alignment issues and injuries.
We all have a favorite sport or activity, and that’s great. Just remember, to stay healthy and balanced, it’s important to provide some variation and challenge to the entire body.