by Lauren Swanger, holistic health enthusiast and research journalist
You’ve just finished your six mile run and feel that runner’s “high” people talk so much about. Your energy levels have steadily improved since you took up running six months ago, and you feel stronger and more confident about yourself and your athletic abilities. You can run up several flights of stairs now without becoming winded, and your legs are getting lean and muscular. Finally, you are getting into great shape. It’s summertime and you’ve been invited over to a friend’s house for a swim. You are having a great time, but realize early on that you are not swimming as well as you think you should be. You’re tired and your arms actually hurt from the effort. You actually feel exhausted ten minutes into your swim. What is going on?!
Running is a great cardiovascular exercise, as is swimming. But if all you do is run you are training a certain set of muscles to perform at their peak efficiency. You will do nothing to improve your overall strength or provide the muscular balance that is so important to conditioning the body. Repetitive movements inhibit the body’s ability to utilize other, or opposite, muscle groups to their best possible advantage.
Cross training supplements your current exercise regimen with something completely different. It is a valuable training method to maintain a higher level of overall fitness, and it also limits the stress that may occur on a specific muscle group. It enables you to use muscles in different ways, through different activities, and reduces the chances of injuries. It also gives you the flexibility to train more spontaneously; it’s too hot to run, so you go for a swim instead. Or, you ran longer than usual because it was a beautiful day; today you take a yoga class to stretch your muscles and let them heal.
Cross training is the answer for both the serious athlete and the occasional exerciser. Mix and match your interests and change your routine on a regular basis and you will see improved balance, flexibility, coordination, and a stronger body overall.