The fitness journey involves a lot of experimentation, a development of self-awareness and and an ongoing battle to stay motivated. When we find the right fit and program, we are more likely to forge down that path, improving our skills and fitness and ultimately feeding our motivation. I encourage you to seek the path of mastery and reap the rewards of following a program for a long period or training cycle. There is much to be learned from the ups and downs, from the plateaus and obstacles that inhibit progress.
It is an honourable pursuit to strive for constant progression in weightlifting, running, hiking, swimming, yoga, rowing, mountain climbing, cycling, dancing, and any other physical activity you might be involved in. It takes discipline to stay the course and endure the good times with the bad, the improvements amidst grind.
Nevertheless, I am a strong advocate of cross-training. The purpose of cross-training is to iron out any imbalances that you develop in your sport or activity. The activity should provide a different sort of stimulus, while changing the impact on the muscle groups and energy systems that you tax so heavily while training for your primary goals.
Most of the time, people will seek out a different activity when they get bored or injured in their primary sport. However cross-training should be scheduled on regular intervals to prevent loss of motivation and injury to begin with.
Here are five reasons to cross-train, along with some ideas to help you integrate other activities into your program.
1. Injury prevention. In my experience, clients who have been able to stay healthy and injury free have achieved the most success.
If your primary activity is running, perhaps exchange some mileage on the road for some kilometres on the rower. Your shin splints may just go away.
2. Maintaining your motivation. In order to keep your motivation up, you need to create a program which allows you to stay hungry.
If you are an avid cyclist, cut down on your training volume on certain days and work on some core and postural exercises. This will be a distinct shift from long cardio sessions and you will more likely be eager to jump on the bike the next day.
3. Stay functional for life. The deeper you get into a sport, the more general fitness you have to sacrifice. If you're body is unable to carry out basic functions (picking up boxes, running after the kids, gardening), then you need to do some cross-training.
If you're a powerlifter and have focussed solely on strength gains for the last little while, throw in some bodyweight circuits and calisthenics to deload the spine and joints and work on moving well.
4. Skill aquisition keeps the brain healthy. Cross-training is an opportunity to develop motor skills in other sports. This is proven to diminish the effects of cognitive decline later in life.
Swimmers need to have some sort of dry-land training. The water is great because it lowers the impacts on your joints, but this can also lead to weaker bones, as our bodies react to gravity and impact by calcifying and building stronger bones. Strengh training is imperative to save your ankles, knees and shoulders when you are out of the water.
5. Life is about trying to find a balance. All activities will inevitably lead to imbalance if done frequently enough. This is because a repetitive movement causes a gradual wear and tear of tissues in the body.
Rock climbers will often develop tendonitis in their elbows from hours of gripping small crevices or handholds. Releasing tension in the body through yoga would balance out such an activity.
Remember, there are many ways to define fitness. Find your passion, but don't let other aspects of your fitness decline in the process.
I'll leave you with a fun clip from Rocky IV, a back-country cross-training montage.