Thursday, November 02, 2006

Cross Training for Variety and Injury Prevention

What Is Cross Training? Why Cross Training?

Cross training has been used for years although it's a relatively new training concept. Athletes have used exercises outside their sports for conditioning due to weather, seasonal change, facility and equipment availability, and injuries. Cross training add many benefits to sports training including injury prevention.

Cross training is one type of training methods used to achieve well-rounded overall conditioning. The exercises are normally very different from what an athlete does in a particular sport. It gives a chance for the muscles, tendons, bones, joints and ligaments to take a break from repetitive use from sport-specific activities. In the meantime, cross training provides complementary conditioning to balance an athlete. This concept is also very useful for amateur athletes or recreational weekend warriors.

Another benefit of cross training is to help reduce or reverse muscle imbalances in the body. For example, a baseball pitcher may develop an imbalance laterally between the two sides of the body as well as in the should girdle of the throwing arm. After thousands of high-speed forceful throwing, the throwing arm and muscles become stronger but potentially overused and injured. Rotator cuff injuries are very common. Cross training can help balance the strength on both sides. It helps stabilize muscles and realign the body. In addition, since you're participating in different activities during cross training, it adds variety to your program and reduce chance of burn-out due to boredom.

What Cross Training Isn't For

One caution for cross training is that it doesn't help develop skills for a specific sport. It isn't a skill-specific drill. A football player can lift weights or slow-jog 5 miles a day all summer during off season. But he won't be in great "football shape" when the pre-season starts. By all means, "cross" training should not be used as the sole training program. You still have to start slowly with cross training and increase intensity progressively without getting injured.

Types of Cross Training

There are many ways to apply the concept of cross training to your fitness program, sports or activities all year round. Some examples are listed in the following.

  • Aerobic Cross Training I: Use a variety of cardio equipment within one workout session; e.g., ten minutes on the treadmill, ten minutes on the bike, ten minutes on the elliptical machine.
  • Aerobic Cross Training II: Use a variety of cardio equipment or modules throughout the week or month; e.g., run 30 minutes on Monday, bike 30 minutes on Wednesday, step class on Friday.
  • Mixed Cross Training: Use a variety of activities that emphasizes different body functions and fitness; e.g., total-body weight training on Monday, kickboxing/martial arts on Wednesday, Yoga/Pilates on Friday.
  • Cross-Over Training: Use activities that require totally different body functions or energy systems; e.g., A cyclist can do boxing (mainly upper body movements) during off-season so that he can rest his legs (lower body) for a while. Cycling requires more aerobic endurance while boxing demands more anaerobic energy output. Both energy systems are important in overall cardiovascular fitness.
  • Seasonal Cross Training: Use or train for different sports or activities over large blocks of time or seasons; e.g., running for Spring, playing golf, tennis or swimming for Summer, outdoor rock-climbing for Fall, skiing or snowboarding for Winter.
  • Functional/Complementary Cross Training: Use different activities to train similar function used in the main sport; e.g., Runners may use mountain biking to target the legs from slightly different actions. Cyclists may use cross-country skiing to maintain leg strength and cardiovascular endurance.

Play Your Card Right

Although an advantage of cross training is decreased risk of injury, one still has to start the sports or activities slowly. Don't fall into the same pitfalls in your main sport. Learn the basics. Perform adequate conditioning exercises in advance. Increase the intensity and duration progressively.

Many sports and activities share the same fitness characteristics of strength, power, speed, agility, endurance, balance, and flexibility. But each sport is still different with somewhat shift in performance requirements. A cyclist certainly doesn't want to get injured from downhill skiing. In the same token, A football player would be sorry for sitting out on the bench for the season from motorcycle accident.

Copyright 2006 by C. Carey Yang.
All rights reserved.

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