We have all heard the term “cross-training” bandied about whenever the topic of training comes up. What exactly is cross-training? Well, Wikipedia defines it as “an athlete training in sports other than the one that athlete competes in with a goal of improving overall performance”.
Now, the key words here are “other than the one that athlete competes in”. So if you take part in running races primarily, then any other sport/workout you indulge in qualifies as cross-training. However, if you’re a triathlete (competing in triathlon events), then basically swim-bike-run is your core sport and not considered cross-training. So, what do the team athletes indulge in for cross-training (if any)?
We talk to Deo and Eugene, who are primarily runners and Chan and Irene, who are triathletes, to get their viewpoints and what they think of this subject. Over a cup of coffee of course. (conversation color-separated for ease of reading)
Good afternoon fellas! Everybody all comfy and relaxed? How has the start of the year been for you?
Chan: 2014 has been an awesome one so far, I try to get my personal goals clear before I plan for my racing and training program. The upcoming Langkawi Ironman is my biggest event for this year, all the trainings basically gearing towards Ironman preparation. It has been almost a year after graduation, I find challenging to balance between working and sporting commitments.
Irene: 2014 will be my awesome year. A lot of goal, dream and also PB to be achieve. Look forward n train hard to reach my goal, dream and PB.
Eugene: Yo guys! 2014 has been great so far, both on a personal level as well as the team mechanics. It looks to be a bright year ahead!
Deo: It has been great for me so far, being in the 2ndSkin team among these great athletes. Although I feel a little pressure to match up with their achievements, I’m taking this opportunity to learn as much from them.
Today, we talk about cross-training. Why do you think cross-training is important for an athlete?
Chan: I’m a man of many hobbies, likes and desires, when everything combined together, it makes a good cross training for one another. In my opinion, doing a single sport will build up the strength and power because the workouts are mainly focusing on one particular sport. However, the weakness underlies are those overpowered muscle groups will wear out fast. Cross training keeps the workout exciting and also improves overall fitness; we also get to meet different people from different sports.
Deo: Although I am not doing other sports other than running, I still feel it is important to cross-train. Just that in my terms, cross-training for runners is not just about doing other sports but also about running on different terrain, you know, trail vs road, elevation vs flat. I cross-train as much as I could firstly, to avoid boredom of doing the same routine or running the same terrain or surface. Secondly, I also do steps training whenever I could to strengthen my lower body. Thirdly, cross-train could help in preventing injuries, for instance running on trails and downhill consistently would improve balance and reduce ankle problems or possibilities of injuries.
There is some school of thoughts that to get better at a sport, you should fully focus on it, as in practice makes perfect. Cross training is only applicable when you are injured or in rehabilitation mode. What are your thoughts on this?
Eugene: Some people do follow that principle. Some runners I know only run, and don’t partake in any other sport, workout or hit the gym. Even if they do get into the gym, the treadmill is the only thing they get on. My opinion is of the opposite spectrum, I believe that cross-training actually helps one to get better and it definitely irons out the weaknesses that an athlete may have, or muscle imbalances.
Irene: Cross training is important for me as it help me to build my strength and also prevent injury. Cross training is my large toy room. I am very enjoy having training and meet up some old friends in there and share the knowledge together.
Deo: Well, to some extent it is true because it is the only thing you can do when you’re down with injuries that prevents you from doing your core sports. However, cross-training is also a preventive tool to avoid injuries like what I mentioned earlier on how trail running could prevent ankle problems to runners. Going to gym is a must to any athlete to strengthen those core muscles, at least.
Chan: Cross training is actually an injury prevention move, because by strengthening the less used muscles which are comparatively less flexible and less strong, the chances for those muscles to get injured is lesser. As a multisport athlete, my training schedule is never boring by having cross training. In fact, my fitness gets better with lesser mileage.
What do you do for cross-training? I understand that for a triathlete, you already work on 3 different sports (or disciplines), is that enough for you?
Irene: I start my cross training since 2004. Basically during the training I will more focus on building my overall body strength and also some preveting injury exercise, etc, weight training, basic core conditioning, stretching.
Chan: My non triathlon races are my cross trainings. In year 2013, I’ve done multiple trail running races and adventure racing which involves long distance kayaking, midnight orienteering, mountain biking, high ropes, inline skating and caving. Adventure racing can really stretch the participants to the limit. Unlike a normal 2 hour triathlon races, I had to keep myself moving for more than 24 hours while struggling to stay awake. It was a great experience for me racing in other sports, every sport offers different kind of challenge, so it indirectly build up my confidence to stay competitive in all races that I do.
Eugene: You can say that I am primarily a runner as 95% of the races I take part in are runs. Therefore, I qualify cycling and weight-training as part of the cross-training I do. For cycling, I work out mainly on the RPM bike in the gym, or on my bike trainer at home. Time is of the essence for me, so I like to keep my sessions short and hard.
Deo: For me, as I’m still restricted to just running, my cross training definition is about going on different terrain. So, I mix road running and trail running into my schedule. I hope to take up cycling in this very near future, and maybe yoga?
Chan: Due to my busy schedule, I have to squeeze in swim, bike and run to gain mileage for Ironman 2014. Cross training is one of the ways I can cut down mileage while keeping myself fit. For example, every time I run a 15km at lactate threshold pace, my quads and hamstring would be a little sore. So the next day I’ll probably do swimming to work out my upper body or go cycling which is less impact to the feet. To me, triathlon itself is already a cross training.
Eugene: I’m a believer in cross-training. Late last year in 2013, I went through a bad period with tight lower back and hamstrings. I cut down on my running mileage to a bare minimum, between 10 – 15kms a week and no single run longer than 11km. I supplemented that with lots of time on the bike trainer and that helped to keep my fitness up but the pain down as I primarily utilized a different set of muscle group. With that, I still managed to cover 50kms at the year-ending MR25 Ultramarathon in Singapore on 15km running mileage a week.
For a pure runner, what do you think is the best cross-training sport/workout? Similarly, for a pure cyclist?
Eugene: For a long distance runner, I think cycling helps in terms of fitness as well as strengthening the heart, lungs and evens out the muscle imbalance in long distance runners. For sprinters and short distance runners, definitely weight-lifting for the explosiveness. Cyclists are a different story altogether. My opinion is running doesn’t really make a cyclist better, I’d say hit the gym and use the rowing machine or an elliptical trainer. Upper body workouts also recommended for long rides on the saddle.
Chan: Lung training is a good workout for all sports. Once you get your VO2Max improve, a new PB is awaiting you. In addition, lung trainer is a small pocket size training tool, can be carried anywhere and can be done anytime.
Deo: I always believe that triathlon is a sport that was introduced for reason. You can always put three different sports and called it triathlon but the most notable triathlon sports are swimming, cycling and running. So, I deeply believe that these three disciplines complement each other. And with many people taking yoga lessons these days, I started to feel that yoga could be a great cross-training ‘sport’ especially with the breathing technique as well as improving our balance.
Irene: I would say core conditioning is very important for all the sport. Every session of cross training I will have at least 10min core training.
OK, last question peeps. How much time do you think one should spend on their primary sport vs cross-training? Give us a ratio.
Deo: Going back to my road running vs trail running, the ratio would be 50:50. But, once I take up cycling, I plan to have 70:30 running to cycling ratio, at least.
Irene: for me, as a triathlete vs cross training, the ratio be 90:10. I will have my cross trainingbtwice a week not more than 1 hour per seesion.
Eugene: I’d say it depends on the individual and what their goals and targets are. If I were racing competitively, I’d look at a 80:20 ratio. If my main intentions are to maintain fitness and/or surpass personal bests, then I’d look at somewhere 60:40 to keep things mixed up and not plateau.
Chan: Agree with Eugene. I think at competitive level, an athlete still need to focus on building up strength for their primary sport, cross training is something supplementary.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this subject. Have a good day everyone!
Irene: Kamshahamida ^^
Chan: Thanks =)