Cross-training is simply performing a wide variety of physical tasks in different combinations and sequences. It provides a broad stimulus and the physiological adaptation is consequently broad. A broad adaptation from training is not only required to prevent injury and improve your capacity to perform an array of physical tasks, but it is critical to your general health.
HOW FIT ARE YOU?
Fitness is a measure of health; therefore the fitter you are, the healthier you are. Fitness is measured by your competency at the 10 recognised physical traits:
• Cardiovascular endurance
Fitness is also measured by the capacity of each of the body’s three energy systems. Endurance running only improves cardiovascular endurance and your long-term energy system. By simply including interval training you will already begin to improve stamina and speed and you will enhance the capacity of the short-term and medium-term energy systems. Include a greater variety of movements and tasks and you will begin to realise the many benefits of cross-training.
HOW TO CROSS-TRAIN
The most common form of exercise to include in a training regime is resistance training. However, most runners stay away from it due to fears of putting on excessive muscle, which would in turn slow them down or diminish their running ability. That is a myth! Yes, you will gain muscle, but unless you are solely performing resistance exercises in the typical gym/bodybuilding format, you will not ‘bulk up.’ Instead, you will improve muscle activation patterns and strength, which will aid in preventing injury while enhancing balance, agility, stamina, speed and power.
Studies have shown that the inclusion of heavy weight-training increases running economy and endurance performance. Interestingly, these results were obtained even when the volume of endurance training was reduced by 20%! Furthermore, these results were found when running and weight-training were combined in the same workout in a circuit fashion. So by simply cutting back on the amount of running you’re doing, and performing more strength and high-intensity training, you will improve your running performance. (Bear in mind that strength training includes the use of dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells, medicine balls and bodyweight exercises. So strength training in itself is a form of cross-training.)
VARIETY IS KEY TO GREAT RUNNING
Strength training is well documented to make runners stronger, fitter and faster, but the benefit of cross-training lies in the variety. You also need to swim, row and skip to further develop your endurance while allowing the musculoskeletal system to work through the many degrees of motion that it was designed to handle. You also need to ensure that the variety of exercises you perform are functional to the needs of everyday life and sports. Machine-based weight exercises are not functional.
Finally, train at intensities that are close to your maximum. High-intensity training is well established to elicit greater results, be it strength or endurance training. Remember, before you engage in any form of strength training, please contact an exercise professional to discuss how best to implement a larger variety of exercise modes into your training regime.
Your local CrossFit centre is a great place to engage in cross-training. For more info on CrossFit, read our feature article on page 10.
Imtiaz is a qualified exercise rehabilitation practitioner and strength and conditioning coach with eight years’ experience in the fitness and sports industries. His areas of specialisation include musculoskeletal exercise rehabilitation, strength and conditioning for sports performance, and fitness for everyday living. He has worked with youth and adult athletes from an array of sports disciplines, including taekwon-do, judo, swimming, tennis, rugby, soccer and cricket. He has also taught Exercise Physiology and Exercise Prescription to undergraduate and postgraduate students. Imtiaz’s accomplishments include coaching Carolina Dillen of New Zealand to an International Taekwon-Do Federation World Champion title, and Norman ‘Chef’ Wessells to the EFC Africa Heavyweight Title.