Get Creative With Cross Training: Specialized Physical Therapy in Denver
By: Pete VanDoren, MSPT, CSCS

Whether you are a competitive athlete, recreational enthusiast, or weekend warrior, doing too much of any one kind of training can set you up for performance plateaus or injury.

The body develops efficiency when you consistently practice movement patterns, and the muscles getting the most work invariably get stronger. One of the best examples of this concept is the way cycling athletes develop enormous thigh musculature as they train in distance, terrain, and intensity changes over several months of consistent riding. No doubt that their legs are the envy of everyone else at the pool during the summer, but they may very well be near the back of the group during a 10K run. Running is predominantly a leg-based exercise too, so why aren’t the cyclists way out in front?

Cross-training helps break us out of our preferred — and often overused — muscle firing patterns for improved fitness, resistance to injury and athletic performance. One of the main reasons a cyclist isn’t faster during distance running is that we use our hip and leg muscles differently for the two activities. The muscles adapt to the training type we most often use, and are typically a little weaker in other patterns. Also, the muscles that get under-used during one type of training typically don’t improve unless variety is added to our training regimen. This strong/weak muscle pattern decreases our overall athletic ability and sets us up for overuse injuries. Cyclists frequently get upper back and neck pain due to their position on the bike, and runners typically complain of knee pain due to imbalances between hip and leg muscles that never get to equalize without a change in exercise.

The key to an effective cross-training strategy is to evaluate the type of exercise you typically perform, and add missing elements. For example, a competitive cyclist may skip other forms of cardiovascular exercise, and instead work on a weighttraining program that emphasizes the back and arms.

Include a weekly yoga class for improved flexibility and core stability, and the basics of a well-balanced crosstraining schedule fall into place. This type of training allows the body to recuperate from one type of exercise, while improving in other physical measures at the same time.

While this example may be useful to recreational athletes and fitness participants who don’t necessarily have a defined competition schedule, there are a lot of variables in developing a cross-training schedule that can lead to improved individual performance. If you have questions about adding variety into your exercise program, or if you’d like advice on optimizing your cross-training schedule, ask the expert personal trainers, strength and conditioning coaches, and physical therapists at Cherry Creek Wellness Center.