While it's necessary to train in ways that are specific to your chosen sport, cross-training is also an extremely beneficial training component, one that can benefit you all the way down to your DNA.
Traditionally speaking, cross-training is what you likely imagine it to be: if you are a runner, for instance, you can throw in some cycling or swimming one or two days per week between your running workouts. Or if you are a cyclist, toss in a strength day and some yoga twice per week to break up the cycling workouts.
The benefits of cross-training go far beyond what you expect, and as I will explain, it can actually affect you on a genetic level.
Examples of some cross-training activities include using swimming, yoga, cycling, resistance training, callisthenics, hiking, or even a sport like soccer or basketball mixed in with your regular training each week to help improve your overall aerobic capacity, build muscle mobility, flexibility, balance, and strength. But the benefits of cross-training go far beyond that, and as I will explain in a bit, cross-training actually affects you on a genetic level.
Mixing It Up
Including cross-training in your fitness program allows you to vary the stress placed on specific muscles and your cardiovascular system. It has also been known to reduce the possibility of an overuse or repetitive movement injury that can come from doing a single sport every day.
Let’s face it, after months of performing the same movements, again and again, your body will become very efficient at performing those specific movements. While that is advantageous for sport and competition, it severely limits the level of your overall fitness and also limits your potential for health and wellness in general.
Here is a short list of the more obvious things that cross-training can help with.
6+ Benefits of Cross-Training
- Keeps you from getting bored with your workout regimen.
- Allows you to seamlessly adjust your training plan if the weather (or life) gets in the way.
- Strengthens and conditions your entire body, on many axis/planes of movement.
- Reduces the risk of overuse or repetitive strain injuries.
- Allows you to continue exercising parts of your body while the other parts rest.
- Improves your overall mobility, balance, flexibility, and agility.
Cross-Train Your Sport
While cross-training in the traditional sense is undoubtedly a great idea and I strongly encourage you to do just that, another way to get the deeper benefits of cross-training is to build it into your day as well as your workout program.
In my perfect world, calorie counters would be banned from all exercise machines.
Recently, on my own website at BrockArmstrong.com, I began an article with this statement: "In my perfect world, calorie counters would be banned from all exercise machines. Instead, I would add 'number of limbs moved' or 'variety of planes used' or, even better, I would add a 'level of enjoyment' meter."
The reason I am more interested in the number of limbs involved in an exercise, or the variety of planes (or levels) involved in that movement, is for many of the same reasons that I encourage you to cross-train.
To borrow an analogy from my favourite Biomechanist, let’s think of movement as vitamins for a moment. In the same way that we need many different vitamins to be a healthy and well-fed human, we also need a variety of movements each day. If you simply go for a run most mornings, you are getting more than your RDA (recommended daily allowance) of "vitamin running" but what about your other movement nutrients?
You can equate this idea to eating a head of broccoli most mornings. Sure, broccoli is healthy, but it is missing important micro and macronutrients. Similarly, we all certainly get our fill of "vitamin sitting" but how much of "vitamin hanging" or "vitamin squatting" do we get on a daily or weekly basis? Malnutrition isn’t simply limited to food.
Why does this matter? Well, let me answer that with a study. (Isn’t there always a study?)