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Should You Cross-Train?

When you think of cross-training, what comes to mind? For me, the stereotype that I think of includes young people or professional (and amateur) athletes intensely focused on their sport and adding activities outside of their sport to improve their overall performance.

Although the majority of us fall outside of those categories, there are still lots of benefits to cross-training to improve your general health and well-being.

For those not sure what cross-training is, it’s essentially adding additional physical activities to what you typically do for your workout routine to enhance your fitness.

Here’s an example. Say you enjoy going to the gym and using the treadmill and stair master to get your sweat on. Cross-training for you could be a strength program that includes using free weights and machines for both your upper and lower body.

Now, cross-training doesn’t have to be limited to just two activities. You can choose from a plethora of different things, such as hiking, swimming, cycling, running, weight lifting, walking, yoga, and more. The purpose of cross-training is to improve and challenge your exercise capacities and activity tolerance. For me, my go-to workouts include a mix of swim, run, and lift. When I have additional time, I add on hiking and surfing.

You’re probably wondering, “why would I cross-train if I’m not doing a sport?” My answer to that is: life is a sport.

Life is physically, mentally, and emotionally taxing. I’m not saying that to be pessimistic, rather to be realistic. Think about it:

Life gets pretty physical. Let’s think of the day-to-day activities. Lifting and carrying your groceries to and from your car requires muscular and cardiovascular strength and endurance, very much like the requirements of most sports. If you have kids or grandkids, keeping up with them requires some level of physical fitness and stamina.

How about the mental and emotional aspects of life? Well, that’s easy. Life is full of obstacles and is often about overcoming adversity, very much like sports. When we’re not mentally or emotionally prepared to tackle sudden unforeseen events, we may get pitted into stressful scenarios that may jolt our mental and emotional stability. In these instances, we might experience depression, anxiety, insomnia, and other disorders that prevent us from regaining our prior mental and emotional equilibrium.

There are so many physical and health benefits to cross-training, but the one I want to focus your attention to is resilience.

I truly believe trying new things, e.g. activities, sports, foods, and experiences, build resilience. Cross-training is similar in that regard. When you cross-train, you tax your mind and body in ways you’re not used to. When presented with a different task, your mind and body must adapt to the changes and overcome feelings of discomfort in order to complete the task.

For instance as a former collegiate swimmer, I’m very much used to lifting and swimming, so my body easily adapts to those types of workouts. Despite increasing the intensity and frequency of these workouts throughout my week, I still am able to quickly adapt to the increased workload because of years of experience.

Running, on the other hand, not so much. I have never been an avid runner, however adding it to my workout routine has hugely impacted my well-being physical, emotionally, and cognitively. Since running targets more lower body muscular endurance than lifting and challenges the cardiovascular system vertically rather than horizontally as compared to swimming, it has added an additional level of fitness I otherwise would have lacked if I only swam and lifted.

Emotionally, adding new activities has allowed me to practice resilience and discipline as I push myself to work through the discomfort of unfamiliarity, muscular soreness, and aerobic challenges presented with running. As a result of adding running to my routine, I’ve gained newfound confidence in my physical capacity and feel cognitively rejuvenated with increased blood flow to my brain.

Cross-training as part of your fitness routine does more than just improve your physical health. Rather than pigeon-holing that idea to only for athletes and the youth, I suggest embracing it to enable you to get more out of life. Cross-training has resounding benefits to building character and allowing you to explore new hobbies you never thought you would enjoy. In return, it adds to the multitude of experience you already have in life, and also allows you to participate in life with newfound mental, emotional, and physical capacities.

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