Cross training is an interesting topic, because it can mean several different things depending on the sport you participate in. Most sports have specific movement patterns that are repetitive in nature and train a set of muscle and energy systems to perform the activity. Cross training helps build muscular and cardiovascular conditioning in a variety of other movements to build a better-rounded athlete. The goal is to break training barriers in the original sport you are training for by developing new tools in your tool box.
For example, a runner that only runs is missing the opportunity to develop strength, power, and cardiovascular efficiency by cross training with a resistance training program focusing on weak links. Building glute strength and single leg strength can give a runner more stability and power, which creates efficiency and results in less wasted energy. This will allow them to run faster more easily.
This concept also applies to sports specialization. Athletes that only perform rotational sports all year round will begin to see asymmetries in strength and flexibility that can lead to breakdown, decreased performance, and possible injury. Cross training with corrective movements that restore balance will be critical for performance and longevity of that athlete.
Many young athletes specialize in one sport at a very young age. This limits athletic development. For instance, a baseball player that pitches all year round and does not participate in any other activities will eventually hit a plateau or even a decrease in performance. Taking some time away from throwing will allow for their arm to rest and recover while they participate in another sport that works other components of fitness, such as basketball. Basketball will allow them to sprint and jump and develop lower body power. Now when the athlete returns to pitching, they have given their arm adequate rest and recovery and have maximized the amount of strength and power they can develop from their lower body, resulting in more power generated from the legs versus the upper body which creates more efficiency and increased performance. Cross training will help break through training barriers and rise above plateaus to allow for the athlete to reach their true athletic potential.
Jamie Osmak is a certified strength and conditioning specialist at the Tisch Performance Center. Jamie is a USA Track and Field Level 1 coach and corrective exercise specialist with a degree in Exercise Science from Rutgers University.