Want to be a better boxer? Try skipping. Need to prepare for a tennis match? Take up yoga. Mixing it up helps, as athletes around the world have discovered. Now, fitness instructors are also spreading the word: Cross train to add variety to monotonous workouts and get better results. For one thing, it stops boredom from setting in, a common problem when you’re over-familiar with the gym treadmill. It also works different muscle groups, reducing the chance of injury.
What exactly is it?
Any good exercise routine has a mix of cardio, weights, flexibility exercise and speed and balance drills. This is because each type of exercise serves a different purpose and uses a different group of muscles. Cross training takes the idea further, by mixing up two types of sports to achieve a higher level of fitness.
“Cross training is an alternate way of training to maintain cardiovascular fitness whilst resting from the loading and trauma associated with their [the players’] normal sport. It reduces the risk of overuse injury. It also improves performance and helps develop other muscle groups that are not often used in your sport,” says John Gloster, former trainer for the Indian cricket team.
How does it help?
Cross training is the best way to avoid hitting a plateau in your fitness regime. As the body gets more efficient, it burns fewer calories while doing the same routine. When you cross train, you give your body new challenges, allowing it to keep burning calories. Not only does this provide variety, but also helps add vigour to your workouts.
If you run regularly or are training for a marathon, try going for a swim or shake the rust off that bicycle. It puts far less pressure on the joints as compared to running and improves your overall aerobic capacity. A coach or trainer should be able to advise you on good complementary training whatever your sport or level of fitness. Read on for examples of how you can mix it up.
Yoga for running
Yoga teachers warn that hard running and jogging practised in isolation can lead to spinal compressions and injury. They suggest runners alternate with yoga or Pilates. A dynamic practice such as Suryanamaskar can warm up the body and get you connected to your breathing; while slow, static postures can relieve tight hips and quads.
Pilates also helps runners, as it improves flexibility. Its emphasis on alignment and core postural strength counters the uneven strain on joints and soft tissues and the shortening of muscle groups that plague runners.
According to Mickey Mehta, health expert and owner of Mickey Mehta’s 360° Gym, “Yoga makes you extremely flexible and agile, which is crucial to every sport. The lung empowering exercises greatly benefit your lung capacity. For building tenacity and endurance, it is second to none.”
Cycling for squash
Squash is one of the best aerobic activities and a 30-minute session helps you burn at least 300 calories. But it is also notoriously tough on the joints. Mixing it along with regular cycling minimises the risk of injury by building up and aligning muscles in the legs. The continuous motion of the bike allows your quads, glutes and calf muscles to align themselves and have a complete workout without causing any stress to your joints of other parts of your body.
The way pros do it
Professional athletes generally incorporate an alternate activity into their training schedule on a regular basis to achieve peak fitness.
Michael Phelps, Olympic swimmer, explains this in his book Beneath the Surface: “Cross training is important for swimmers, to help build strength, stamina and flexibility… (I ride) a stationary bike for half an hour to 45 minutes three times a week. Apart from the bike, I do up four or five varieties of push-ups, 50 to 100 at a time. Several types of sit-ups and crunches, usually around 500 or more each day; and I do up to five sets of eight pull-ups, increasing the weight during each set. I even have an early morning regimen for stretching in the shower. That serves as my warm-up swim in the morning.”
Tennis players Andy Murray and Serena Williams turned to yoga to improve their core strength, flexibility and coordination, and to prevent injuries. Sprinters also benefit from focusing on abs to improve core fitness.
“In cricket, cross training is used to decrease the rate of overtraining injuries especially in the low back and knees through activities like swimming, cycling, jogging in pool, and the cross trainer machine. Bowlers do a lot of swimming and jogging in the water and other mobility resistance exercises as a form of ‘active rest’,” says Gloster.
Keep in mind
Cross training gives you the freedom to choose an alternate fun activity. But don’t jump into it abruptly. Pick a sport that’s at the same level as the one you currently play and ease yourself into it.
Dr Vece Paes, the Indian Davis Cup team’s doctor, says, “When you play a sport, only specific muscle groups come into play. You should cross train with sport that doesn’t use the same muscle groups, so that overall development is balanced. Football and basketball, for example, go well with tennis.”
Runners too, move in a repetitive, linear pattern without much side-to-side movement, which can come from cross training. So the next time you get bored on the treadmill join in a session of dance aerobics!