What is cross training?


by Jonathan Gastel, MD

Athletes today, both young and old, are often involved in one specific sport which they like to focus on. An emphasis on one sport allows an athlete, or an individual who is trying to improve their fitness, to get better at one specific activity. However, this focus on one activity does have drawbacks. Injuries may occur from performing the same repetitive activities over and over and this frequently results in injuries that orthopedic doctors treat on a regular basis.

As experts in muscle, bone, and joint injuries, your orthopedic doctor or physical therapist may recommend alternating your training activities from time to time to avoid over using body parts that may become injured from repetitive use. This is where cross training comes into play.

Cross training has two distinct different connotations when it comes to athletic activities.
-- The first has to do with preventative measures to avoid overuse injuries from performing the same activities over and over;
-- The second has to do with a program that allows an injured athlete to gradually train and prepare to return to a sport in which he or she was injured.

"Cross training" essentially means performing sporting activities or fitness activities that are generally distinct and different from the activities that one performs in regard to his or her specific sport. Therefore, for example, if a marathon runner wants to avoid overuse injury such as stress fractures and tendinitis from running long distances, she will be counseled to "cross train" and take part in activities such as swimming and biking to maximize fitness, without running too much. This would be an example of preventative measures using cross training to avoid overuse injuries.

In another example, in an effort to return an injured athlete back to his or her sport, cross training is recommended to help an athlete prepare his or her body for sports while avoiding too much strain or stress on the injured part. For instance, if a soccer player is recovering from ACL surgery, he will not be able to run up and down the field early on in her/his recovery. Instead, cross training techniques will be utilized to help keep--or get-- the athlete in shape for soccer, without doing the actual activities or the running that is so critical to the sport. In this case, cross training might involve upper and lower body strengthening such as push-ups, sit ups, planks, leg strengthening exercises and core strengthening. He/she may also do other sports and fitness activities such as swimming and biking.  In this matter, he/she will be much more prepared to return to soccer when the ACL itself is recovered.

Cross training is a critical concept to consider in an effort to keep the entire body in good shape and avoiding excessive stress on just one part of the body that can occur with too much emphasis on one single sporting activity.