Why (And How) To Cross-Train This Off-Season
Nothing beats specificity in sports--if you want to become a better swimmer, cyclist, or runner, there’s no substitute for spending time in the pool, in the saddle, or out running. But, there are plenty of opportunities to incorporate some valuable cross-training into your routine, especially during the off-season and winter months! And cross-training can actually make you a better athlete!
4 Benefits of Cross-Training for Endurance Athletes
Ask any endurance athlete to list some benefits of cross-training, and almost everyone will start with injury-prevention. Though that’s one of the most common cross-training uses, there are plenty of other reasons to add cross-training to your routine ASAP!
Here are five OTHER benefits of cross-training:
1) Rehab overuse injuries
Cross-training helps you maintain fitness while running, cycling, or swimming less so your body has time to repair itself. Of course, reducing the risk of injury and letting your body heal allows you to train more consistently.
For example, water running, elliptical training, or inline skating can simulate the running motion without all the pounding and impact! American triathlete, Heather Jackson, enjoys rollerblading around Arizona and downhill skiing in Vermont and Oregon during the off-season.
2) Active recovery, anyone?
Cross-training is a great way to build overall fitness and even get faster! Cross-training can help athletes increase training volume without adding harmful stress to your body. In fact, you can use cross-training for some tremendous active recovery!
Of course, full rest is essential for all athletes. Still, incorporating some light cross-training into your rest days can help your body release any lactic acid and keep building your strength and aerobic fitness.
Throw in some yoga or light resistance training to get a little strength and core work through your cross-training.
Or, we triathletes could always use a bit of hip and core activation work! Your core and hips are your powerhouse. Focusing on strengthening these critical muscles (lower back, glutes, hip flexors, abdominal muscles, and hip adductors) can help keep injuries at bay and really boost your overall strength, stability, and power.
3) Restore your mind
There’s an old saying, “No tree bears fruit in all seasons.” Endurance athletes aren’t meant to train hard and go full-throttle year-round. Mixing up your workout routine and adding a bit of variety and excitement keeps burnout and boredom at bay. Some great cross-training options can even add some stress-relief to your life.
Consider going skiing, hiking or paddle in a kayak or canoe to get outdoors in a more relaxed manner. Take the time to enjoy nature and restore your mind and body at the same time!
4) Improve your mobility, balance, and strength
Excellent endurance athletes don’t just have the strength and the ability to go really far, really fast. They’re well-rounded athletes who have a great deal of balance, strength, and efficient movement. Your ankles, hips, chest, shoulders, and other parts of your body need to be mobile enough to move well when you swim, bike, or run.
This is especially critical for older athletes. Triathlete power-couple Mirinda Carfrae and Tim O’Donnell have been championing the value of full-body strength and mobility in recent years. Mirinda is even known to cut her workouts a bit short to be sure she fits her strength and mobility work into each day.
How Often (and How) Should Endurance Athletes Cross-Train?
There isn’t a “one-size-fits-all” cross-training schedule. Depending on where you are in your race/competition season and your current training load, consider adding one cross-training session each week.
A great coach will build some cross-training activities into your routine year-round. Share your favorite cross-training activities with your coach, or work with them to create space in your training plan to experiment with new activities (especially during your off-season)!
Cross-training activities to try
Are you ready to add some cross-training to your routine? If you’re an endurance runner, consider adding some cycling or swimming to your cross-training routine. If you’re a cyclist, you’ll benefit from some swimming and running. Triathletes who put in a fair amount of work into all three disciplines should choose some different activities for cross-training this off-season.
We listed a lot of great cross-training exercises throughout this blog, and this is by no means an exhaustive list, but here are some top-notch cross-training options:
Resistance band work
If you aren’t currently working with a coach, consider starting during the off-season and cross-training months while you’re working hard to build a strong, functional base for your upcoming race season! An excellent coach will be able to help you find the right balance to get the most out of both your focused training and cross-training this winter.
Gregg Edelstein is a certified USA Triathlon Level 1 Coach, an IRONMAN University Certified Coach and a USA Cycling Level 3 Coach based in the greater Boston area. Gregg offers his athletes insight on the principles of exercise, nutrition, sports psychology, and injury prevention, working to make them well-rounded and engaged athletes that share his passion for sport. Gregg can be reached at Greg@TeamMPI.com