By Joseph Ashwal, M.D.
Benefits and Risks – Cross-training is the use of another sport, activity, or training technique to help improve performance in one’s primary sport. There are several different types of cross training and each differs from the other in their benefit, purpose or problems that may develop.
Fitness Cross Training: Fitness cross training uses multiple types of aerobic and anaerobic exercise to accomplish general fitness. Individuals involved in fitness cross training are exercising for general health benefits rather than for a particular sport or event.
Multisport Cross Training: These athletes participate in multiple events and train to optimize their performance within each activity. Examples include triathletes and participants in multiple track events or decathletes.
Sports Specific Cross Training: In this situation athletes participate in one sport yet cross-train in other sports to enhance their primary field of excellence. For example, runners may also cycle although this never takes the primary place of running.
Replacement Cross Training: Individuals involved in replacement cross training are usually injured and look for an alternative method of exercising for their primary sport without placing undue stress on the injured system.
Off-Season Cross Training: Athletes who have completed their season will often ‘stay in shape’by emphasizing their primary sports or activity in addition to fitness cross training.
Nearly all athletes will benefit by adding some form of cross training into their primary sports training programs. However cross training does not replace specific training for events or a sports activity. When cross training is done improperly functional impairment may develop. This may hamper previously learned skills in their primary sport or occasionally place the athlete at risk for injury in their main event.
Advocates of cross-training point to multiple benefits including injury avoidance, enhanced overall fitness, boredom prevention, maximizing performance, alternative options during inclement weather, maintenance of fitness between seasons, enhanced skill acquisition and health maintenance or enhancement.
Cross training is not without its drawbacks, including improper techniques, which may lead to other injuries or predispose to unnecessary trauma. Overzealous athletes attempting to rehab an injured area may create more problems in their enthusiasm to return to play.
In summary cross training has obvious advantages and some hidden pitfalls. People may cross train to increase fitness, improve sport skills, and gain a competitive edge. In their enthusiasm and commitment to sports and athletics, cross-trainers may be vulnerable to unexpected injuries.