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, weight/strength training, 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 just 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 in order to maintain a level of cardiovascular fitness whilst resting from the loading and trauma associated with their normal sport. This reduces the risk of overuse injury. It also improves performance and helps develop other muscle groups that are not often used in your particular 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 essentially give your body new challenges, allowing it to keep burning calories. Not only does this provide more 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. Here are some 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 and slow, static postures can relieve tight hips and quads.
Pilates can also be beneficial to runners as it improves flexibility. Its emphasis on correct alignment and core postural strength also counters the uneven strain on joints and soft tissues and the shortening of muscle groups that often plagues runners.
According to Mickey Mehta, health expert and owner of Mickey Mehta's 360 degrees 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. In addition to all this, it also builds your confidence and focus. In my opinion, all competitive sportsmen around the world use derivatives of yoga and Pilates in their core training."
Cycling for squash
Squash is one of the best aerobic activities and a good 30-minute session helps you burn no less than 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, gluts 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 the pros do it
Professional athletes 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 help prevent injuries. Sprinters benefit from focusing on their 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 x-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 there are some rules to be kept in mind. Don't jump into it abruptly. Ease yourself into the new sport, like you do with all exercise routines.
Don't pick up an activity that is too difficult. Match the level of activity to your current activity. American fitness instructor, Patricia Moreno says the best way to cross-train for your favorite sport is to complement it with movement patterns that aren't emphasised in that activity. Runners, for instance, move in a repetitive, linear pattern without much lateral (side-to-side) or multidirectional movement. So the next time you get bored on the treadmill join in a session of dance aerobics!
With inputs from LATWP
What is cross training?
Mixing up two types of sports to achieve a higher level of fitness is called cross training.
It helps avoid overuse injury that comes from too much stress on one set of muscle groups.
It helps avoid boredom with one fitness regime.
Running through the maze of shoes
Figure Foot Type
A person's arches can vary greatly -- from flat to high. An easy way to determine arch type is to perform a 'Wet Test'. Wet the bottom of the foot with water or ink, and step firmly onto a flat surface with your full bodyweight. A brown paper bag or cardboard is a good surface to use. From the imprint you can determine if you have flat, medium, or high arches.
The body dissipates shock by rolling the foot inward, or pronating, just after impact. It is important to wear a shoe that compensates for your foot's natural shape as too much (or too little) pronation can cause injury. Typically, a high arch and wear along the outside edge of the shoe equals underpronation. If shoes are worn in the heel and the inside edge and you have a flat arch, you're an overpronator.
Picking a shoe
Stability shoes, which give good arch support.
You need a shoe that prevents your foot from overpronating, which can cause running injuries. If your foot tends to roll inward a bit, a stability shoe with extra arch support is a good choice.
A neutral cushioning shoe, which doesn't have any added support that could impede your foot from pronating.
Also keep these in mind
Buy a running shoe that's a half-size larger than what you wear in street shoes.
Unlike street shoes, running shoes shouldn't require a "break-in" period -- if they don't feel good right away, try others