Ever wonder why it’s so easy to follow the same workout day after day, week after week through the off season? Simple - we are creatures of habit and our bodies direct us towards the path of least resistance.
Unfortunately, single, repetitive exercises are detrimental to your overall fitness and are major culprits to injuries, not to mention your motivation levels! Doing the same thing over and over presents a case where we need to push ourselves to stay outside of our comfort zones even during the off season.
Our bodies are most stimulated and operate optimally when variety is introduced. Enter cross-training, folks.
Cross training is simply defined as mixing up multiple, vastly different workout disciplines into a training season. Throwing a variety of exercises at your body will keep it on its toes, so to speak. In other words, diversifying your fitness can lead to greater strength, power and efficiency in the regular season.
This involves stepping outside of your comfort zone and as a rule of thumb picking exercises that you typically avoid. I prefer to do the least favorite exercises first (core!) and getting them over with while I’m fresh.
This approach is very popular among professional athletes and has proven to be very effective from both an improved fitness level to reduced frequency of injuries. If you want to become a healthier, more competitive athlete, you’ll do this as well.
There are several benefits to name a few:
Single, repetitive activities put a tremendous amount of stress on the joints, bones, ligaments, muscles and tendons throughout your body and it’s critical to give them an occasional break.
By mixing up your routine, you give the over-used parts of your body a chance to rest and the under-used a chance to strengthen and catch-up. Cross training allows you to let your body rest from the previous season’s load while building it up as insurance against injury during the next season.
This also minimizes imbalances between muscle groups that develop from repetitive exercise, making your body a machine and less susceptible to injury. Remember that muscle and flexibility imbalances are major culprits of joint dysfunction and weakened tendons and muscles.
Burn Out Avoidance
Toward the end of every cross training period comes excitement and motivation to return to your normal summer activities. For me, this is cycling and triathlon. No matter what passion you have for a sport, you’ll burn out with excessive repetition. The lines become blurred when you’re always doing the same kind of training.
Cross training helps you maintain enthusiasm for your sport, making it possible to train harder and more consistently and ultimately to perform better in races.
You must remind yourself that the more cross-training workouts you engage in can be key to a successful performance the next year. There are a number of great exercise studios out there that specifically target cross training which help you stay motivated through workouts if you are one that struggles with this.
Strength & Recovery
Mixing up your workouts with strength training will decrease body fat and more importantly help increase lean muscle tissue. You’ll notice the benefits of increased power from this in the summer season when it’s time to put the hammer down.
Another benefit is increased bone density, especially important for those cyclists and swimmers out there. Your joints and metabolism will thank you for building muscle tissue that helps support them.
Recovery doesn't just mean stopping and resting. Cross training lets you include low-impact alternative type training activities that allow your body to rest while maintaining your fitness. Think yoga classes, elliptical machines, snow shoeing, cross country skiing, etc. Just mix it up, and be sure to work your core muscles as well.
Lastly, cross training is a great way to explore some fitness creativity. If you’re feeling uncomfortable, that’s actually a good thing for the fitness part of your brain, and your body. Your body will thank you in both the short and long term for changing things up in the offseason. Get it on!