Fitness Fun

Cross Training: The Olympians’ Secret to Ultimate Fitness

02B44720Watching the Olympics makes me feel like crap. I will never excel in any sport. My attention span is just too short.

Just look at all the activities I’ve taken up in the last year: tennis, running, aerial yoga, stair-sprinting. While in Russia I discovered how much fun volleyball is. But before I dive into that, I want to learn to swim. And dance the Tango. Oh, and I’ve upgraded my cycling gear with every intention of boosting my cycling skills this fall.

Meanwhile, Michael Phelps and Aly Raisman just raked in multiple Olympic medals in their sports. How? By channeling 100% focus into that single activity.

Or so I thought… As it turns out, Olympians actually have “fitness ADD” too. Only they call it cross training.

Gymnasts don’t just get strong by practicing on the bars. Runners don’t just get fast by running. To excel in their sport, they do total-body conditioning with a lineup of complementary activities.

With that discovery, I’ve started to feel better about shopping in every department of Sports Authority.

And anyway, who cares about being the fittest person in the world? Most of us just want to be as healthy as possible for as long as possible. To achieve this, we need to cross-train—it’s probably the only way to build strength, endurance, flexibility, balance and a strong core, the five elements of fitness.

The benefits of cross-training, in a nutshell:

  • Survival. Cross-training improves our chance of survival in the real world. This is the most critical reason to be in shape. From preventing a fall to escaping a burning building or swimming out from under a flipped boat, we need to be able to save our own lives in various circumstances.
  • Aging gracefully. If you want a fighting chance of staying in shape once nature starts to take its toll (in your 40s!), you need a solid foundation—strength, endurance, flexibility and balance—to begin with.
  • Staying active. Variety keeps a fitness regimen alive by staving off boredom. It also packs your fitness pipeline with enough options that you’ll always have something you can do regardless of a time crunch, bad weather or other factors.
  • Avoiding injury. Alternating among activities helps prevent overuse injuries, which can cause problems now but really catch up with you down the road! (Runner’s knee and tennis elbow are just the tip of the iceberg.)

How to keep your cross-training regimen focused

One of the benefits of focusing on a single activity is, well, focus. You have a clear goal, clear measures of progress and a routine that doesn’t require too much forethought.

But with cross-training, things can start to feel a little chaotic. Staying motivated and achieving solid fitness results requires a bit of strategy.

One way to keep multiple fitness passions on track: choose a core activity and fill in the gaps. This way you have one thing that you love so much, you’ll stay committed to it multiple times a week. But adding an alternative or two, 1-2 times a week, will round out your fitness needs and give the heavily-used muscles a break.

(Ladies should make sure to include activities that give you an upper body workout!)

Which exercise should be your core activity? If you want to excel at it, you might choose one that’s well-suited to your body type. Try the Olympic Body Match for clues. My body type matches three Olympic cyclists, so I guess my fitness calling is clear. 🙂

You might even rotate your core activity every season—giving you a chance to excel at lots of different activities, and giving you a fallback when the weather’s too cold or too hot. Olympic BMX biker Alise Post turns to gymnastics during the winter. Volleyball player Misty May-Treanor turns to spin class, yoga and other indoor activities during the summer.

So next time someone teases you for joining a pilates class right after you dropped $150 on P90X, simply explain that a smorgasbord of activities is the key to ultimate fitness. Ask the Olympians!

P.S. What’s on your workout wish list for fall?

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Chelsea Ratcliff

Chelsea Ratcliff

Writer and expert

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