Thursday 27 September 2018

Crosstraining, Cheekily

You love to run. So you run. You run faster, farther, more frequently.
You love to cycle/swim/lift/dance. So you do what you love. You do it often, consistently, and you do it well. You progress. You get faster, fitter, better, doing what you like to do.
So, why crosstrain? Why do the kinds of exercises you didn’t really like in the first place, instead of the ones that you enjoy?
It’s simple. You do them to get even faster, even fitter, even better at your exercise of choice; to reduce the risk of overuse injuries in your (overused) muscles; to give you a workout that challenges your mind and muscles, that releases the endorphins you’re not “allowed” to have on your rest days. Or, if all you do is run long distances, crosstraining helps you build your butt back up.
(This is possibly written from experience, and I am possibly referring to my own back end.)
Whatever your sport is, taking a day per week (and not your sacred day of complete rest) to train your body in a different way is good for you. Done properly, it will improve your performance in your main exercise and either open your mind to a new activity, or make you appreciate your main sport even more.

Plyometric lunges. LOVE THEM.

Take me: I’m a jumper. I love weight training, but I always have plyometrics in there somewhere. Without them, I feel like I just haven’t worked hard enough. Eleven years ago, leading up to my wedding, I realized that with everything else going on, I couldn’t do it all — work, wedding planning, teaching fitness classes and weight training — something had to give. So, I let my weight/plyo training fall off for about six weeks and, looking at my wedding photos, I still regret it. My body does what it does, and it responds better to weight training than to anything else. For me, cardio is a fairly unenjoyable bonus activity, a few extra calories burned, but the weights are what give me my shape.
When I moved here, I looked at gym memberships so I could keep on jumping. Having taught a class or three every week since I was 17, I’ve never had to pay for a gym membership; the prices were a shock, not even factoring in the London prices and the exchange rate. So, when our boxes arrived, I unrolled my yoga mat and considered myself happy enough. I’d done yoga on and off for 20 years. It feels good, is great for my hips and low back, and when I do it consistently, I feel great. But it turns out that I don’t feel great if it’s my only workout.
A few months of yoga, and I took up with a very organized and ambitious running group three times per week. I don’t like running, but I liked them. I thought that the combination of running and yoga would be a good balance, and I was right: upper body static strength, lower body endurance, and stretching out overused muscles…there’s a reason why running and yoga is a classic pairing. With my group, I ran 6–10 miles three times a week, and still yoga’d (real word) once a week. I dropped a few pounds and after a few months, I went out to buy new pants.
The reflection in the change room mirror (the rear view, to be specific) told me what I already knew: I needed my weight training, stat. Still a cheapskate, I added in calisthenics — bodyweight exercises at my local trim trail. Surrounded by super-fit current-and-former gymnasts, all men, most of them shirtless, I struggled to do some pullups. Some leg lifts. Some swinging across monkey bars and and upside-down shoulder presses. Twenty minutes later, I had finished up with jump lunges, skaters and burpees, and I was not only humbled and shaky, but done. I was unable to walk naturally, nor sit nor stand without whimpering for a few days, but gradually I was able to do more reps of more exercises, become more creative with my movements, and sit down with (relative) ease within two days of working out.
Between the running (Monday/Wednesday/Friday), yoga (Tuesday) and calisthenics (Thursday), yes, I was exercising five days per week, but with the addition of my booty-building routine (see what I did there?), suddenly, my body shape started to change, and so did my outlook. I could comfortably chat as I ran up the hills. I enjoyed yoga more, because instead of trying to squeeze as much of a workout out of it as possible, I could focus on trying to master the poses (as far as I was able to). And on Thursdays or Saturdays, I would happily tackle the trim trail with vengeance, adding in plyometrics and aiming to be a little beast in each exercise, easily getting it over with in 30 minutes or less.
This combination gave me peace of mind and mindfulness (yoga), social time and inadvertent cardio (running group), and stronger muscles, more body confidence, and a nicer “hanger” for my clothes.
Whatever your sport, you are missing out if you don’t add another (drastically different) element (or two) to your fitness routine. It’s good for your go-to workout, good for your mind, and great for my glutes.
Er… your body… I meant it’s great for your body.
(But yeah, it’s also great for my glutes.)

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