I have, on countless occasions mentioned that when it comes to exercise, variety is key. One of the reasons is that variety helps to curb boredom and helps to keep things interesting.
With that said, some of us tend to stick towards the same kind of variety without realising it. By variety I mean, for example, some cardio exercises like running, cycling, swimming and dancing.
They essentially yield cardio benefits in the different disciplines, but don’t necessarily result in good flexibility or strength as much as yoga or weight training would.
Focussing on a variety of activities in the same group (ie cardio-based activities) is not a bad thing at all, but variety across the board definitely yields greater results and conditions your body much better.
Today, I just want to highlight how we tend to forget that variety can also mean cross-training. In fact, cross-training may lead to a better balanced body.
I’ll share a personal account of experiencing the benefits of cross-training: seven years ago, in 2013, I trained for my first Absa Cape Epic eight-day mountain bike challenge. In preparation, all I did was cycle on and off-road for a full year. I didn’t cross-train at all.
The eight days of cycling in the race were tough. I had the endurance and was able to bike the 80km to 120km distances on a daily basis for eight straight days. What I did struggle with was riding up hills and speed, so each day my partner and I took eight to 10 hours to complete each stage.
I had not done any strength training, so my legs were simply not strong enough to tackle the hills. I also hadn’t done speed work, hence the slow riding. We were quite slow overall, but we did complete the eight days and received our finishers’ medals.
Cut to five years later (2018) and I trained for the same race but decided to follow the cross-training path.
My training program consisted of 60% cycling on- and off-road, 20% road running and 20% functional and weight training in the gym. I was a lot stronger and functionally more fit for the 2018 race than I was for the 2013 one. My partner and I cruised through the event with greater ease and finished strong.
The point I am making by sharing this story is that when you cross-train, your body becomes better conditioned. Cross-training also helps to prevent injuries because the variety of workouts train different muscles at different times and this helps to avoid over-use injuries.
If a Comrades Marathon runner only runs in preparation for the race, they most surely will experience one or two over-use injuries in the lead-up to the event. However, if the runner adds in some strength training and flexibility, they have a better chance at avoiding injuries and potentially performing better, come the day of the race.
Most injuries also occur from an imbalance between strength, flexibility and endurance of one’s muscles.
Cross-training also helps with faster recovery. In fact, it’s a great way to vary the stress placed on specific muscles and therefore allows faster recovery.
For example, you could go for a run on Monday, and tire your knees, ankles, quads and glutes from the impact. Then you go for a swim on Tuesday, which will be a non-impact exercise which targets a different set of muscles.
On Wednesday you could do yoga and stretch out the muscles affected from Monday’s and Tuesday’s training. On Thursday, you could have a full body strength training session and on Friday you run. Saturday you could cycle again and rest completely on Sunday.
Then you start all over again on Monday. This may be extreme for some and is merely an example of cross-training.
So think about the variety in your current programme and consider cross-training. You can thank me later.
Zulu is a qualified biokineticist and co-founder of PopUpGym. Follow her on Instagram: @letshego.zulu; Twitter: @letshegom; Facebook: Letshego Zulu
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