The Importance of Cross Training
As the official podiatric care provider for the Colorado Rapids, our team has the distinct pleasure of working with professional athletes at the top of their games. Our patients have played for World Cups and achieved fame at home and abroad.
But even pros who eat, sleep, live and breathe soccer (or basketball, or running, or hockey …) understand the value of cross-training.
Remember, these are people whose entire livelihood depends on their ability to play their chosen sport at an elite level. They’re heavily incentivized to be the absolute best they can be, for as long as they possibly can. Yet they know that focusing exclusively on one type of exercise or training can be extremely counterproductive.
And that’s as true for youth and recreational athletes, too.
That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to play another sport at a competitive level, of course. But varying up your training and exercise can have profound benefits—injury resistance, skill development, even improved mental wellbeing.
The Allure of Overspecialization
For a lot of us, when we really love something, we tend to dive into it with a passion—sometimes to the exclusion of other interests.
For one person, it might be reading. For another, video games (or even a specific video game). For athletes, it tends to be the sport of choice. So, you have kids who are on three different soccer teams at once, or adults who go for a run every day but hardly ever get any other kind of exercise.
The pressure to overspecialize gets even stronger the more competitive you are—and by that we mean both your natural competitiveness as a person as well as the levelof organized competition you attain.
The burning desire to win a championship, earn a scholarship, earn a professional contract, or even just bragging rightson the playground can be all-too-consuming for the most competitive among us! It can tempt even athletes who really should know better to direct a significant amount of time and energy on too few types of activities.
Well, we don’t want to discourage you from enjoying what you’re passionate about!
But we do have to caution you: getting all your exercise from a very limited set of sports or training activities comes with some pretty big risks.
And while you might really, really, love soccer, basketball, running, or fill-in-the-blank-with-your-favorite-sport-here—certainly a lot more than hitting the weights or doing cardio at home—cross-training is almost always the right way to play.
Benefits of Cross-Training
One of the main drawbacks to playing the same sport or doing the same training exercises over and over and over again is the heightened risk of overuse injuries.
If you’re working the exact same muscle groups every day without ever giving them much of a break, they can never really recover from the daily stress and strain. Instead of getting stronger (which requires ample built-in recovery time for the muscle fibers to rebuild themselves), you just get worn down.
Improve All-Around Conditioning and Athleticism
The more muscle groups you work, and the more types of exercise you participate in, the greater your all-around conditioning and athleticism will be—even if you don’t see at first how one activity directly applies to your preferred sport.
For example, a few weeks ago we wrote about how important it is for soccer players to lift. Even in a sport built around quickness and endurance, strength training will still help you improve your game by increasing injury resistance, balance, stability, coordination, and recovery speed.
Keep Training Even When Injured
Now, let’s say you do suffer from an injury that keeps you from training or playing soccer, or whatever your specific sport may be. Unless that injury is really catastrophic, you can usually continue to exercise and train other parts of your body to help you maintain your overall fitness and even recover faster.
For example, if you’re suffering from bad heel pain while playing soccer and need to rest your feet for a little while, you can usually still swim or ride the bike to get your cardio, and still do most of your gym workouts.
Increase Your Training Gains
When you never mix up your routine, you start experiencing diminishing returns on your workouts—or in other words, you hit a plateau. At first you find you’re improving a lot in a short time, but at some point, you just stop seeing the same kind of results.
In some ways, you become the victim of your own success—your body has become so used to your workout, and so efficient at doing it, that it’s no longer being challenged!
But by mixing up your training regimen and rotating activities, your body has a harder time getting too “used” to any one exercise, and you can reach higher levels in performance improvement.
Avoid Burnout and Boredom
As much as you might love soccer or basketball today, are you going to still love it just as much next year, or five years from now?
From this vantage point the answer might be an obvious, “Yes of course! What a silly question!” And hopefully you turn out to be right. But recent research is also telling us that tens of thousands of youth athletes are dropping out of sports at higher and higher rates.
Concentrating too hard on one sport, or the same boring workout routines, can gradually chip away at your love for the game—or at least your love for playing it competitively. That’s especially true if overtraining has led to some nasty injuries in the past.
In fact, research is even beginning to tell us that kids who specialize in a single sport at an early age are actually more likely to be inactive adults than those who cross train—in other words, they’re dropping out of sports and exercise altogether!
Cross training, it seems, is a great way to keep your mind engaged and your passion at peak levels. That way, you’re actually excited and looking forward to your next trip out to the pitch, rather than dreading the drudgery of it all.
And really, that’s the biggest goal of all, right? We wouldn’t play the game if it wasn’t fun. And if you can preserve that joy, the benefits will last for a lifetime.
At the Colorado Center for Podiatric Sports Medicine, we not only can help you develop a good training plan and make recommendations of cross training, but we can also provide advanced treatment for any foot or ankle injuries you do develop, so that they don’t keep you out of the game for long.
To schedule an appointment with us, please call (720) 600-3380 today.