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Cross Training Basics

by Paul Ford
Performance & Fitness International
Melbourne, Australia

Introduction.

Fitness is one of the evergreens: The fitness benefits associated with wanting to look better, feel better, be better, and perform better have existed across cultures, over the ages, and through various phases or fads. What is the ultimate form of fitness?

What is the ultimate way to develop and refine one's fitness? Answers to these depend upon who you are, your perceptions of fitness, and what you aim to gain from your fitness activities.

The Arthur Lydiard inspired New Zealand jogging boom of the early 1960's - imported to the United States by Bill Bowerman in 1963 - is the cornerstone of contemporary fitness programs. In 1968 Dr. Kenneth Cooper published the Aerobics book, and portrayed the health benefits of cardiovascular, or aerobic, conditioning through a variety of repetitive large muscle group activities: walking, jogging, hiking, cycling, swimming, and callisthenics; the latter becoming known as exercise to music or, more simply, 'aerobics' during the 1980s. Coincidentally, Frank Shorter's marathon running success in 1972, and the success of the United States swimmers at the 1972 and 1976 Olympics, augmented a drastic growth of public interest in fitness, particularly running and 'fun-runs'. Although multi-sport events existed prior to the inaugural 1978 Hawaiian ironman triathlon, triathlons, duathlons, aquathons, and the like, have grown in popularity with more-or-less non-competitive fitness activities around the world.

The rediscovered emphasis on balance in fitness rather than specialisation in a sport based activity - and associated issues of injury, boredom, and lack of variety - may be attributed to a return of the Greek ideal of the well rounded person, in a heavily automated and specialised world on one hand; and the intelligent and successful marketing strategies of various exercise and fitness apparel, footwear, and equipment based companies on the other. The ancient Greek ideal promoted a healthy mind in a healthy body: Narrowness of focus was equated with narrow-mindedness. Enter another evergreen: Cross-Training.

What is Cross-Training ?

Cross-Training is relatively new in theory; in fact although the term 'cross-training' was coined in the mid-1980s' popular use of the term has only been evident since the beginning of the 1990's. The concept and practice of cross-training - a challenge experienced since the pentathlons of Ancient Greece - have often become confused with the various definitions fashioned to describe the term. Let's navigate through some of these.

Over the last two decades terms definitions associated with cross-training have included:

  • cross-transfer of training effects from one sport to another (1972), as in participating within one or more sports with the hope that participation in all will improve;
  • conveyance of training effects from one limb to the contralateral or ipsilateral limb (1976), usually observed when training or exercising one limb in aiming to improve, or at least maintain, the functional qualities such as strength and local muscular power in a temporarily non-functional limb (eg. a broken leg);
  • simultaneous training for two or more sports (1980), made popular most recently by the Major League baseball and Grid Iron success of Bo 'Knows' Jackson and Deoin 'Neon' Sanders; and
  • transfer of training effects gained in an activity of one mode of training to a different activity within the same mode of training (1994). A good example of this is similar to triathlon training. Although triathlon training is not true cross-training itself, it exhibits three different activities (swimming, cycling and running) within one mode of training (aerobic or cardiovascular endurance) that could be used in an attempt to improve performance in, for example, running.

More recently (1995) cross-training was referred to as:

  • participation in an alternative training mode exclusive to the one normally used (not task or sport specific) such as only running to improve cross-country skiing performance, or swimming while injured to maintain or improve running performance. Similarly, it was also described as:
  • combining an alternative training mode with task-specific training: Both with the intent of deriving a physiological and performance benefit similar to or better than exclusive sport-specific training. An example of this would be performing in-line skating and cycling in a training program to improve cycling performance.

How boring! Many of us participate in a variety of activities and modes of training to achieve fitness benefits that do not necessarily relate to competitive sports performance, or improving performance per se. Many of us who participate in what we consider cross-training to be for reasons beyond sports participation and improved performance. Cross-training has many more benefits to offer over and beyond these, and highlights the inadequacies of these early descriptions of cross-training.

True cross-training should not be limited to the confines of using varied activities to improve performance in others. In fact cross-training has developed to a point where an understanding of various cross-training principles and their creative application, see it exist as a fitness activity in its own right: cross-training for cross-training sake. McNickle (1994) outlined cross-training as combining sports for exciting, balanced total body workouts. Exit the notion of sports, and "Nick" has the idea!

Breakthrough One:

CROSS-TRAINING IS A SYSTEM OF TRAINING THAT UTILISES A VARIETY OF ACTIVITIES OR EXERCISES IN A SYSTEMATIC AND PLANNED MANNER TO ACHIEVE GIVEN FITNESS RELATED OUTCOMES.

Types of Fitness and Cross-training.

The benefits sought from participation within cross-training fitness programs are of three major types:

(1) Aesthetic Related Fitness (ARF): an emphasis upon looks or appearance, body shape, size, "tone", and body composition ie. to look better.
(2) Health Related Fitness (HRF): encompasses broader aspects as it relates to physiological or medical, emotional, and social "well-being" ie. to feel better.
(3) Performance Related Fitness (PRF): acknowledges an emphasis upon physiological function as it pertains to competitive sports performance ie. to perform better.

For many cross-training participants, reasons for beginning and continuing with a cross-training program include any combination of the following factors:

  • aesthetic or cosmetic (appearance, looks, tone)
  • psychological (concentration, focus, new challenges)
  • emotional (mood, self-esteem, self-concept,)
  • medical (disease, injury)
  • recreational (fun, enjoyable)
  • cathartic (stress relief, 'time-out', 'vegging')
  • social (meet new people, be with partner and/or friends)
  • athletic or performance (be faster, stronger, improved endurance, greater flexibility, power, and economy

Your reasons for wanting to begin or continue with a true cross-training program are the most important reasons. Keep these in mind when constructing your program, and look for tips, strategies and techniques in later issues related to cross-training program design that guarantee results. In the meantime consider the multitude of reasons others have promoted for taking up the true cross-training challenge in the last year.

Benefits of Cross-training.

In a general sense the very nature of cross-training brings balance to an exercise or fitness program within the rigours of our day-to-day lifestyle. A "good" cross-training program will provide as much opportunity, variety and challenge as necessary for you to stay on track in achieving your fitness goals, in a safe and satisfying way. Specifically, true cross-training programs have:

  • encouraged others to focus within to discover individual potential; and transcend their own athletic histories in terms of strength, power, and endurance
  • provided never-ending challenges; avenues for changing focus
  • developed the highest combined potential of overall conditioning and total body fitness: endurance, strength, power, and flexibility
  • avoided the boredom, repetition and monotony of single sport or activity specificity by increasing variety and scope for change
  • removed others from the bonds of athletic and lifestyle mimicry. It has provided the background, confidence, and courage to develop new training programs and regimes in preference to what they or others have been doing for years
  • provided new time, location and activity or exercise workout options: even greater variety
  • improved adherence rates, and hence guaranteeing the likelihood of attainment of fitness outcomes or results
  • developed desirable work habits: organisation, planning, efficiency, development of creative and innovative ideas outside their cross-training programs
  • encouraged the improved use of exercise time: quality versus quantity
  • distributed the stress of training or working-out to different tissues, reducing the likelihood of overuse injuries
  • maintained general athletic conditioning or fitness if injured
  • pacified the desire and anxiousness of injured single sport or activity specialists denied their passion
  • alleviated or minimised soreness and stiffness associated with uncommon activities and sports
  • improved recovery from other activities, including sports
  • contributed to making alterations in body composition, and muscle tone
  • ensured overall development of upper body, lower body and trunk musculature
  • improved the general sense of "well-being" in many
  • assisted in the development of new friendships, and rejuvenating old relationships
  • provided new competitive outlets: against oneself, against others, against a team
  • getting organised to perform even more cross-training

Breakthrough Two:

Cross-training may be viewed as a tool-box. A tool is something that is used to perform a given task. It allows for the use of many and varied tools (activities and exercises) in completing a given task, or achieving a specific fitness related outcome(s)

Match the tool(s) you use to the task(s) you want to achieve, and the user (you, and your idiosyncrasies). Note: some tools may act as Swiss Army Pocket-Knifes in that: (

(a) a tool may be used for a variety of tasks, and
(b) many tools may achieve the same task.

Who can Benefit from Cross-training?

People doing some form of cross-training is expected to grow by as much as 70% over the next decade." (Yacenda 1995:3-4)

Cross-training can be so flexible and effective in its application, it can be embraced by the broadest range of fitness enthusiasts, beginning exercisers, Health Club members, aspiring competitors, amateur and professional athletes

What do you consider the benefits of cross-training to be for:

(1) single sport or activity enthusiasts?

  • runners
  • cyclists
  • swimmers
  • weight trainers
  • walkers
  • aerobics
  • triathletes

(2) multi-demand sport or activity enthusiasts?

  • basketball
  • all codes of football
  • racquet sports
  • decathletes, pentathletes

(3) general fitness enthusiasts

(4) beginning or novice participants?

(5) advanced or elite competitors?

(6) business people?

  • executives
  • fitness consultants, fitness instructors, personal trainers
  • health & fitness resort, health club, gym owners and management

Types of Cross-training.

A myriad of cross-training definitions were presented earlier: Descriptions of training used relative to improving performance in a given sport or activity, or body part.

We can consider two major, yet distinct forms or types of cross-training:

(1) Muscle Group cross-training, and
(2) Energy System cross-training.

A "true" cross-training program will incorporate aspects of both these: see cross-training Breakthrough One.

These are important for us to acknowledge. They provide us with invaluable insight to:

(a) understanding the scope and limitations of current research related to cross-training
(b) developing a strong foundation for understanding the principles of cross-training
(c) establishing a backdrop to plan, implement and participate within an effective, yet flexible, cross-training program that will guarantee results.

1.) Muscle Group Cross-Training

This type of cross-training involves participation in two or more activities that involve different muscle groups and only one energy system in attempting to improve the performance of a single muscle group, or gain benefits in a particular body part. Consider how likely the following adventures would be:

  • the powerlifter only doing deadlifts and expecting squat and bench press performance to improve too
  • the strength trainer that only does upper-body or lower-body workouts aiming to improve overall body strength
  • the runner using endurance swimming and/or cycling to directly improve running performance
  • the cross-country skier using running, swimming, cycling, roller-skis, in-line skates etc to improve on ski performance
  • the freestyle swimmer using a variety of strokes to improve their 800 and 1500m efficiency or times

There are many implications of this type of training. Some of these implications relate directly to the principles of cross-training program design such as individuality (aims and goals; physiological make-up); progressive overload (introducing the notion of indirect and direct benefits from other activities over a given time frame); and, specificity as it relates to physiological adaptations and the results obtained. Look for the cross-training principles in later editions.

2.) Energy System Cross-Training.

This type of cross-training involves working the same body parts or muscle groups with the explicit aim to improve the anaerobic and aerobic energy production, or related adaptations in structure and function of those same muscles. A common example of this is concurrent strength and endurance training.

Consider how likely the following adventures would be:

  • the multi-activity fitness enthusiast who wants to maximise the combined benefits of their gym (resistance, weight) training and cardiovascular or aerobic endurance training
  • the football or basketball player who wants to develop leg strength and power for jumping and acceleration, and aerobic fitness for lasting out the game
  • the triathlete or fitness swimmer who wants to lift weights to improve the strength and size of their upper body musculature
  • the baseball player who wants to improve the power and strength of their throwing arm, without detracting from throwing or baseball training

Again, the implications of this type of cross-training are numerous and varied.

Both these types of cross-training highlight the two persepctives of the "cross" in cross-training:

(1) cross-over or transfer, and
(2) cross-into or interfere

Conclusion.

The benefits sought from fitness related activities have not changed over time. The activities used to achieve given fitness outcomes have become more specialised as time progresses; there are many more types of activities and variations of the same activity (take aerobics for example) becoming available as we look for escapes from our specialised and automated worlds, and marketing and business experts infiltrate the world of fitness.

Many more of us are turning to CROSS-TRAINING: A PLANNED AND SYSTEMATIC FORM OF VARIED AND PROGRESSIVE FITNESS TRAINING THAT GUARANTEES THE BENEFITS INDIVIDUALS SEEK.

What do you seek?

Accept the cross-training challenge: Take the opportunity, if you want the results!

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The information presented is intended to be used for educational purposes only. The statements made have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration (U.S.). This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any condition or disease. Please consult with your own physician or health care practitioner regarding any suggestions and recommendations made.


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