Ask Janice/ Fitness

Cross-Training – Does it Improve Performance?

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.

The conclusion
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?

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  • Kris @Krazy_Kris
    August 21, 2011 at 8:20 pm

    I almost wonder if it’s a rhetorical question…

  • Greta
    August 21, 2011 at 9:47 pm

    Verrrrry interesting!! I find sticking with one thing to be best unless training for a tri, which I’ll do for the first time next year!

  • keeon
    December 23, 2011 at 10:09 am

    This is good that you can do cardio on your non-running days. For example, you mentioned swimming. It sure gives your knees a rest from all that pounding when you run while still keeping you in condition.