The other day I came across an article on the New York Times website that summarizes recent research about the effectiveness of cross-training: “Perks of Cross-Training May End Before the Finish Line“. The very interesting and informative article concluded that cross-training, with the exception of strength training, does not improve your performance in your primary sport.
After reading the article, I reflected on my personal experiences with cross-training. You see, I have a tendency to train hard for a good 2-3 mos for an event (half marathon, marathon, triathlon etc) then take a looooooonngg “recovery” period. Eventually I’ll find myself 3 months away from my next event and start training again. The thing is, during my loooonngg “recovery” periods I lose
a bit a lot of my conditioning. To regain my endurance I often resort to cross-training: swimming, cycling, or aerobics classes to supplement my running during my training period.
But does cross-training improve my performance?
Ahhhh – that’s a VERY good question. The answer is yes and no.
YES because it allows me to do cardio on non-running days, thus teaching my body to become more efficient at delivering oxygen and energy to my working muscles. There are cellular changes that occur as a result of my cross-training – changes that wouldn’t occur if I laid on the couch watching Dr. Oz all day.
YES because it allows me to train on more days in a week. After one of my prolonged “recovery” periods, returning to running 7 days a week would be a sure-fire way to lay myself up with an injury (ie: the two times I got stress-fractures from running too often).
NO because the way to become a faster runner is to increase 2 things: leg turnover rate (cadence) and power. Swimming does not help improve that. Only practicing running fast improves that.
for me personally, when I’m rebuilding my endurance base, cross-training certainly helps – it keeps me injury-free, allows me to train more often while improving the efficiency of my body in delivering oxygen to my muscles and keeps me motivated. But that’s where the improvements stop. Once I move to the strength, power and speed phases of my training plan cross-training doesn’t help. Running hill repeats, or track repeats and lifting weights (applying the specificity of training principle) are the only things I’ve found to improve my performance – which is precisely the conclusion found in the New York Times article.
So initially, yes, cross-training improves my performance, but once I’ve reached a peak cardiovascular level, cross-training no longer helps.
QUESTION/SHARING: What has been your experience with cross-training? Has it helped you? What training did you do?