In my career, I’ve written about countless workout programs that all say cross-training is a vital component of any successful training program. Runners should take a day off and do yoga, cyclists should go for a hike or swim, and blah, blah, blah. Here’s my problem with the concept of cross-training: I hate it. The last thing I want to do after five days of lung-bustin’ running is get on my bike for an hour. Instead of feeling recharged, my underdeveloped biking muscles go ballistic on me. My back aches and ends up going into spasms at night, my glutes get pissed, and my always tight hamstrings usually cramp up.
I come from the school that says if something hurts or you really are not enjoying it, don’t do it. And this is why I don’t cross-train on a weekly basis. It can ruin a pretty amazing week of workouts. Instead, I’ve adopted a semester approach to cross-training. About this time of year, I hop on a bike and ride exclusively for five months. Then come August, I start running and train for a late fall marathon. I take the holidays off, and then start a pretty basic strength routine that’s heavy on core strength and balance exercises with an eye towards keeping me in snowboarding shape for the 4-6 days I actually get on the mountain.
I’m four years into this cross-training approach, and I gotta say, it works for me. I haven’t experienced any overuse injuries. I also grow seriously fit and reasonably strong (for me at least) at my sport of the season. And that feels great. I’ve figured out that I’m good for about 20 straight weeks at any given sport before I become incredibly bored (usually I finish some goal, like a century ride or marathon). In between, I guess I cross train, if you count hiking with the dogs, or playing tag with my kids cross-training. But that feels like life, not training. Which, when you really think about it, is why we do all this training in the first place: to make us strong and fit enough to handle and enjoy daily life.
The cool thing about this approach to cross-training is that I can see myself doing it for decades, cycling through the seasons and oddly enough, getting just a wee bit faster each year in each sport. I asked a friend of mine who’s a coach at Carmichael Training Systems why he thought I was becoming a faster cyclist and runner even though I was taking anywhere from 6-7 months off from each sport. He explained that it all came down to fitness, that I was keeping my cardiovascular system in top condition year round instead of checking out for several months like many one-sport recreational athletes.
Sweet. I think I’ll stick to this plan for, oh, the next 25 years of my life.
Grant Davis has spent the last decade writing and editing articles about health, fitness, and nutrition. He lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado.