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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Why Cross Train?

This article is a counterpoint to my last one. In my last article I talked about, “exercise specificity” and the reason to train in the activity that you want to enhance your ability in. But to every upside, there may be a downside. Doing too much of one type of exercise can have some drawbacks that can be minimized with cross training, especially as we get a bit older.
During my late teens and early twenties I trained for a lot of hours doing karate and running. This was excellent for my endurance and allowed me to develop the skills I desired at the time. But after training like this for seven years, I started to accumulate a lot of injuries. I then had to go through major knee surgery due to an injury related to training.

During the rehabilitation from the injury, I discovered that cross training both reduced injuries and enhanced my overall fitness. By incorporating weight training into my schedule, I gained the strength necessary to avoid some of the injuries. By adding cycling onto my list of training options I cut down on knee injuries by reducing the amount of impact my body was taking each week and strengthening the legs in a different way. By stretching the whole body instead of mainly just the legs, I reduced the amount of back injuries I obtained.

Another advantage that cross training may provide, if done in the correct manner, is an elevated level of fitness. When you train doing one activity, exercise specificity kicks in, and your body becomes acclimated to endure exactly what you have been subjecting it to. For example, if you run three days a week for six miles, your body will adapt. Your legs and heart will develop the ability to sustain you through the run. However, if you go to push a piano up the hill, the running routine probably will not help you be more successful. You have neglected to develop upper body strength and your anaerobic fast twitch muscle fiber strength in your legs. Now if you combined the runs with twice a week of weight training including squats for the legs, you will be in better shape to push the piano and have overall better fitness. You will have the upper body strength to push with and the extra leg strength to release a relatively rapid burst of energy into the piano in order to get it rolling.

It has been proven that to keep elevating your fitness, you should keep moderately stressing the body in different ways (through exercise) to get it to improve. People have successfully tried this in weight training with success, and I believe it is true with cross training also.

One last reason to cross train is in order to keep interest and enthusiasm for maintaining your fitness. One of the top reasons that people may fall off the wagon and quit exercising consistently is boredom. By varying your activity, it helps keep things interesting. If I had to ride an exercise bike all the time, I would have quit a long time ago out of boredom. But by varying my activity with kung fu, tai chi, weight training, biking, and hiking, I keep myself interested and can switch to a different routine when weather or injuries keep me from doing what would normally be my choice. I stay in better shape not only because my body is constantly adapting to different activities, but also because I am more consistent in my training, and can put in more hours of exercise without over stressing a certain body part.

Following are some articles of interest related to the same topic:

The Benefits of Cross Training
Cross Training Improves Fitness and Reduces Injury

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