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Natural Awakenings

Cross Training: Workouts to Compliment a Core Sport

Jun 01, 2009 03:00AM ● By Julie Kalius

You want to get faster, improve your swing, lengthen your stride, boost endurance … or simply avoid boredom, while pounding the pavement for miles. Cross-training can do all that, while helping you stay injury-free, so you can keep “just doing” the thing you love, whether it’s running, cycling, hiking, swimming, tennis, golf or yoga.

What kinds of cross-training best complement your core sport? The experts we talked with say it depends on your athletic goals, physical abilities and challenges and the physiology of the core sport. Here, they share their top tips.

Go for Complementary Motion
“Football players do ballet because they want consistent core strength and balance—to stay grounded, while also having to move in a variety of different ways,” says trainer Patricia Moreno, who develops classes for New York’s acclaimed Equinox Fitness Clubs and for her workout DVDs.

The point, she explains, is that the best way to cross-train for your favorite sport is to complement it with movement patterns that aren’t emphasized in that activity. Runners, for instance, move in a repetitive, linear pattern, without much lateral (side-to-side) or multidirectional movement.

Moreno’s cross-training approaches include a dance cross-train routine that uses various pacing and dance styles to improve ability in targeted sports in specific ways. Fast, intricate steps improve coordination and agility in sports like soccer and tennis; bigger, more fluid moves help lengthen stride in running; and lateral and rotational movements improve agility, flexibility and power for explosive moves in sports like volleyball and racquetball.

Swimmers – Strengthen Your Stroke
“If you want to get stronger, faster and more efficient at swimming, you have to spend time in the water—and when you swim, you use only swimming muscles,” advises Wendy Mader, a Masters swim and USA Triathlon Level II-certified coach in Colorado. The co-founder and owner of t2coaching suggests that swimmers cross-train in ways that strengthen smaller, opposing support muscles, through activities like cycling, running or in-water strength training with resistance bands or cords. She adds that swimmers tend to overtrain, and says cross-training can help prevent burnout in the off season.

BalanceBall or stability ball exercises and Pilates are also ideal cross-training for swimmers, because they help engage the core, or “powerhouse,” for a stronger stroke and more power in the legs, says California personal trainer Tanja Djelevic, who has a DVD on the subject and is an expert in sport-specific functional training, as well as Pilates and yoga.

Respected biomechanics expert and Cross-training for Sports co-author Gary Moran, Ph.D., suggests that to complement repetitive swimming movements, cross-training should include a well-rounded weight workout. This includes basics, like the lat pull-down, alternate knee situps, tricep pull-down or kickback and four-way hip exercises.

Golfers – Drive Farther and Get an Edge  
Golf has seen a significant surge in cross-training, due to high-profile advocates like Tiger Woods. Yoga is one discipline now commonly used to boost performance and mental stamina in this technical game.

“No other sport requires the body to move in all three planes simultaneously from a static position—while accelerating club speed to 90 miles per hour in under two seconds,” observes Yoga for Golfers author and trainer Katherine Roberts, noting that yoga can help offset that sheer pressure and torque on the spine.

After 14 years of yoga practice, Roberts says the increased flexibility and range of motion she’s gained from yoga as a cross-training technique has translated directly into how far she drives the ball off the tee. Other benefits include better swing balance, more core and lumbar support, increased endurance and a mental edge gained from yoga’s ability to quiet the mind. Roberts suggests starting with simple, yet targeted, basic yoga poses, such as downward dog, cat-cow, modified cobra, revolving side angle, tree pose and warrior III.

Cyclists and runners – Get Greater Ped-power
Distance cyclists may benefit from supplementing endurance training with anaerobic cross-training, to develop better muscle endurance in key support areas, such as the lower back, quadriceps and shoulders, advises Moran. He advocates using a targeted strength training program and a low-impact, but high-intensity, cardio routine, or a comparative workout on a cardio machine, such as a stair climber.

Moreno says cyclists should try kickboxing as cross-training to improve core strength. This translates into easier hill climbing, through increasing power available from the torso and hamstrings, both crucial to propelling the bike up a mountain.

A runner’s linear motion pattern is well complemented by dance workouts, which are loaded with opposing lateral (side-to-side) and multidirectional movement, says Moreno. Try a dance-fusion workout to get the benefits, without an overdose of tricky, complex dance steps.

Yogis – Become Stronger and Boost Endurance
While yoga is often recommended as a cross-training discipline for other sports, devotees of all yoga styles also can benefit from intentional cross-training. Yoga enthusiasts’ most injury-prone areas include the hamstrings, knees, lower back and wrists, says Jen Weller, a Vinyasa instructor for Maya Yoga Studio, in Maui. Strengthening lesser-used muscles in those areas can take yoga practice to a new level.

“Injury risk occurs when people are on their hands and they’re tired,” remarks Moreno, a certified yoga instructor and fitness trainer. “It’s smart to develop strength in the upper body. You have to get out of the yoga room to develop those supporting muscles.”

Moreno points out that because the element of endurance is missing in yoga, cardiovascular workouts can benefit many a yoga lover; “Once you create more endurance through cardio work, you can hold and sustain a pose longer and increase your ability to move from pose to pose.” She counsels students to try a yoga fusion workout that marries flowing yoga poses with high-energy moves that boost heart rate beyond that achieved by yoga alone (even “sweaty yoga”).

If you’re on the mat more than a few hours a week, Djelevic suggests cross-training with running or swimming, “so that the stretching of muscles is balanced with a strengthening and explosive discipline.”

Everyone – Achieve Satisfaction
Achievement is about more than racking up miles, laps or mat time. Cross-training in new ways can prolong your ability to participate in the activities you love most and render the satisfaction you crave from your core sport.

Julie Kailus is a freelance writer in Evergreen, CO.

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