Definition of Cross-training: training in two or more different sports to improve fitness and performance for one main sport.
For most athletes cross-training is a necessity, by practising different sports that compliment their main activity, they are better able to maintain their enthusiasm and joy for training as a whole. Usually those other sports are practised without thinking about the positive impact they have on the main sport and as such, can help reduce performance pressure and relieve anxiety for the athlete, allowing room for just having fun.
Which activities are considered Cross Training?
Cross training is a very broad term. From my point of view, it includes any physical activity that can have a benefit to your main sport or goal.
For example: cycling for runners, paddling for cyclists, yoga for triathletes, cross fit for multisport athletes and so on.
What are the benefits of cross training?
Endurance sports require athletes to repeat similar movements thousands of times. This repition puts the athlete at risk of injuries, muscle stiffness, loss of flexibility, loss of pleasure and enjoyment of their sport and decreased motivation for chasing their goal.
Cross training is a way to increase progression and add some fun in every day training, while also reducing the load and repetition your main sport has on your body.
For example, consider a trail runner that is preparing to race his first ultra. Running is a high impact sport, at the start of the preparation his body might not be ready to cope with many hours of continuous running. Long bike rides will help him gain the cardiovascular stamina and mental toughness necessary to lengthen his runs, while also reducing the load and demand on his body by supplementing the bike (less load) for the run (high load).
What about multisport athletes and triathletes?
The nature of their sport already includes three disciplines, which makes them great all-round athletes. They can still benefit from cross-training that focuses on flexibility, breathing, relaxation, mobility and strength. Multisport athletes should consider activities such as yoga, pilates, stand up paddling, cross fit and many more.
When cross training, your aim is to get the positive benefits of the chosen activity, without an excess of tiredness or fatigue. This is why it is recommended that you keep the cross training activity at an aerobic intensity (up to 70% of your max HR),. This way you will remain fresh to perform your main sport at the desired level and intensity.
In terms of amount, it will depend on your main sport.
For runners: Given that running is a high impact activity, beginners will not manage to run many kilometres through the week. It is recommended to do cross training up to 50% of their total activity time. As the runner becomes more experienced he can slowly replace cross training sessions with running sessions.
For multisport / triathlon athletes: As these athletes already practise three sports, cross-training for them will have a different goal. It will be used to help with strength, conditioning and flexibility and will be based on the individual needs of the athlete in each area. The proportion of cross training in each of these specific areas will vary for each athlete but should not exceed 15-20% of their overall training hours.
How to decide what your second sport should be?
First, reflect on your strengths and weaknesses as an athlete in your main sport and identify the skill or area you want to develop the most.
For example, you are a runner with an office job (sitting). Your core strength isn’t great and your shoulders tend to roll forward.
Swimming will be a good option for you, you will develop your posture and strengthen your core naturally as part of the motions and movements of swimming. One or two swim sessions per week, of 1500m to 3000m is plenty to create improvement.
In my opinion, cross-training is a great way to improve your skills. It also adds variety to your training, helps to maintaining motivation, mental balance and overall physical wellbeing.