Do you keep the same training routine all year-round? Or do you shake things up at the end of your primary race season? Regardless of your skill level and training volume, changing your routine gives your mind and body an essential break from training repetition. Shaking things up a bit also adds variety, helps with your overall recovery, and improves your body balance by using different muscle groups and patterns.
The best time to introduce any new sporting movements into your current training program is right after your primary racing season has ended. First things first though. Recharge your body and mind. Take a short but essential rest (detraining) period after your primary race. Detraining periods can last anywhere from one to several weeks. Once you’re mentally and physically refreshed, it’s time to get back to work.
Adding new endurance sports to your training program keeps your cardio-system sharp, and allows your primary movement patterns to rest and recover. Sports like running, cycling, swimming, and cross-country skiing are all great ways to add mental and physical balance to your program. Some athletes completely abandon their primary sport for several weeks or months, while others mix it up but still train in their main sport. While individual preferences may vary, both approaches can lead to excellent results.
If you do decide to add a new sport (aside from running), you may initially find it difficult to elevate your heart rate to sufficient levels. For this reason, consider adding in more familiar endurance sports to keep your cardio system challenged. For example, if you’ve never done lap swimming, you may find it difficult to get into a good rhythm and get a solid cardio session. Try adding two or three sessions of swimming per week to start, then gradually build-up to a point where you can get a solid cardio workout. Be patient though. Initially your muscles will be inefficient because you’re using them in a different way. Once you start logging in some mileage, your muscles will adjust and you’ll be able to achieve the necessary rhythm to elevate your heart rate.
Working your body in different positions and planes is a key consideration when you’re introducing new cross-training elements into your training program. Endurance sports can be done in several positions including: upright (running, cross-country skiing), seated (cycling, rowing, kayaking, etc.), and horizontal (swimming). Triathlon is the one endurance sport that works all three positions, while the others are limited to one or two of the positions. Including endurance activities in all three planes and positions will work different muscle groups and patterns, and improve your overall body balance.
Rowing certainly has several appealing aspects to it being a non-impact, gravity-reduced sport that uses all the major muscle groups at one time, and it also is low impact. However, rowing is limited to the sitting position only. Cross-training (especially with upright or horizontal positioned-activities) in the off-season adds variety to your body and mind, and can help add balance to your program. Weight training adds similar benefits as it can be done in all three positions and allows for great variety.
Fresh season, fresh perspective; Shake-up your usual training program and enjoy the benefits of variety, reduced staleness and restored energy levels. When you’re thinking of adding new cross-training activities, consider working planes and positions that are different from your usual sport. As always, training hard, training smart and making wise choices about cross training will help you improve your body balance and increase the longevity of your sport.