Fitness is multi-faceted.
Many see themselves as fit individuals because they practice some type of exercise activity - for example, lifting weights.
And, granted, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that - it’s better to be active in some capacity than to lead a sedentary life.
But, the truth is, because fitness encompasses many different characteristics, cross-training might be a better way to go about your workouts.
Take, for example, soccer players. Their primary objective is to get better at kicking a ball - that’s the essence of it. And if you think about it logically, the most important thing they need to do is practice kicking the ball more. This is the SAID (specific adaptations to imposed demands) principle in action.
But, the truth is, becoming a great soccer player also involves them being fast, strong, agile, endurant, balanced, and several other things. Being good at kicking a ball can only get someone so far in the sport.
So, apart from getting better at kicking a ball, aspiring soccer players also need to develop many physical adaptations if they hope to make it. And this is what cross-training is all about - the pursuit of multiple athletic characteristics to become fitter and better at your sport.
The most apparent benefit of cross-training is that it makes you a well-rounded athlete and a fit person. Instead of chasing only one characteristic - for example, strength - you improve many aspects of your overall fitness.
Granted, cross-training is more demanding and time-consuming, but that is a trade-off you need to make if you want to get better at more than one thing.
What’s more, cross-training allows you to develop your musculature better and prevent muscle imbalances from occurring.
An often overlooked benefit of cross-training is that it helps prevent overuse injuries. After months of doing the same activities, our joints and connective tissues accumulate stress and wear. If we keep doing the same thing, that can eventually lead to overuse injuries. But, by doing various activities every week, we get to offset that to some degree and prevent that from happening.
This is going to vary from person to person because the possibilities are endless. To make a solid cross-training regimen, what matters most is that you pick different activities from what your primary training style is.
For example, if your primary activity is weight lifting, then you might introduce other modalities such as jump rope, battle rope, running, swimming, sprinting, and plyometrics. That way, you’ll be able to train your muscles differently, develop your cardiovascular system, and become a more balanced athlete.
If you’re a runner, you can introduce activities such as swimming and weight training. Swimming will help train your body and respiratory system without putting as much stress on your legs. Weight training will help you get a bit stronger and hopefully improve your running performance.
If you primarily do sport-specific training, such as basketball, then you can introduce other activities such as HIIT, jogging, weight training, and plyometrics work. Each of these will help you become better at your sport.
How you choose to structure your training plan will primarily depend on your goals, preferences, abilities, and injury history. What matters most is that the activities you choose complement one another.
For example, if you’re adamant about getting bigger and stronger, then, while it may sound counterintuitive, adding some cardio can be beneficial. This is because cardio improves your work capacity, teaches your body how to use energy more efficiently, and ultimately helps you perform more work and recover better.
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