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Cross Training Workout

Cross Training Workout

A cross training workout establish a foundation of fitness.  This foundation lets you train for future and more specific sports or activities. Let’s take a look.

Q) Cross Training Workout: Ask Ray!  Ray, How did you manage to cut over 4 hours off your Leadville Trail 100 Ultra running race time? Do you incorporate a cross training workout program into your ultra trail running training program?  If so, can you please share your cross training workout activities, when your do them, and for how long?  Thanks, Lisa

A) Lisa, the easy answer is “yes”, I do incorporate cross training workouts into my ultra trail running training program.  I believe that it is a large part of how I was able to take over 4 hours off of my previous Leadville Trail 100 ultra running race (along with two other major factors: massage therapy and hiring a running coach to teach me proper running form and running efficiencies). Before I go into the details of the cross training workouts that I do and how often I do them, I will first explain the concept of a cross training workout program and how it should be incorporated into your training workout program.

Cross Training Workouts

I’m sure that you have all heard the term Cross Training workouts and think the you need to incorporate a cross training workout program into your training workout routines.  You see how fit looking triathletes are and figure that if is working for them then it should work for me too.  This seems to be a sound idea, but do you know how to do a cross training workout program, or how it can help or hinder your training performance.  Do you know when you should be incorporating cross training workout program into your training workout routine, or when you need to start a training workout more specific to your sport or activity?

Any activity that you perform daily will recruit the same muscle fibers and metabolic pathways over and over.  The body’s adaptive response to the type of stress is called the “training effect.”  The training effect is very specific to the muscles that are being stresses during an exercise activity.  Since the training effect is so specific you need to incorporate cross training workouts to work other muscle groups.  For example, if you are a runner the effects on the muscle fibers will not transfer to cycling.  However, this is not to say that the effects of training will not transfer.  The training effect does not just include your muscles, it also includes your cardiovascular system and your respiratory system.  Having these systems trained properly will increase their aerobic capacity which will transfer to other aerobic activities. So, in the example of running; the cardiovascular effects will transfer to cycling.

What this means is that if you keep doing the same workout over and over, with the same amount of resistance, and the same time duration, your body will adapt to it and you will not improve your athletic performance.  This is where the benefits of cross training workout program comes in.

Cross Training Workout Program: What is it?

A Cross Training Workout Program uses several different types of training methods to develop a specific component of fitness (Also known as your fitness foundation).

There are several benefits to incorporating cross training workout program into your current program.  Here are just a few:

1) It reduces the chance of becoming injured.

2) It lessens the chance that you will become over trained.

3) It is a great way to develop new skills.

4) It allows you to vary the stress placed upon different muscles and your cardiovascular system.

5) It improves your overall fitness level.

6) It reduces boredom in your workout routine.

A cross training workout program will help you establish a strong foundation of fitness.  Once you have this foundation it enables you to train for future and more specific sports or activities.

Out of all of the reasons to incorporate a cross training workout program into your training current routine I like #6 the best.  The reason is that if you can keep your training workout routine fresh and fun there is a higher possibility that you will continue with your training workout program and incorporate a fitness lifestyle as your way of life.

Cross Training Workout Program and the Seven Principles of Exercise

Before I go into the “how and when” of a cross training workout program I will first give an overview on how cross training applies to the principles of exercise.  For a detailed account on the  seven principles of exercise see my article “The Seven Grand Daddy Principles of Exercise”.

1) The Principle of Individual Differences

The Principle of Individual Differences states that not everyone can train the same, and through training workouts you will actually be able to change your training to adapt to the different athlete that you become.

2 & 3) The Principle of Overcompensation and Overload

The Principle of Overcompensation and Overload combined state that to become stronger you need to progressively increase the intensity of your training workouts over time.

4) The SAID Principle (Specific Adaptations to Imposed Stress)

The SAID Principle states that your muscles will adapt in a highly specific way to the stress imposed on them.

5) The Specificity Principle

The Specificity Principle states that you must move from a general training workout program to a highly specialized training workout program.  In other words, you need to train like you play.

6) The Use/Disuse Principle

The Use/Disuse Principle simply put is “use it, or lose it”.

7) The GAS Principle (General Adaptation Syndrome)

The GAS Principle states that you body goes through three phases when stressed: 1) shock, 2) compensation, and 3 exhaustion. Therefore, after a period of high intensity training workouts there must be a period of low-intensity training workouts or even complete rest.

When Should a Cross Training Workout Program be Incorporated into Your Training Workout Schedule?

Now that we have taken a look at both and the seven principles of exercising and a cross training workout program (and its benefits in creating/maintaining a fitness foundation), the next question is “When should I cross train?”  The answer to this question will of course vary from person-to-person depending on what sport or activity they are training for.  If you are a track and field runner then you have multiple “season” all year long.  For me as an ultra trail runner, I currently have one large goal in August that I design all my training workouts around.  This event is the Leadville Trail 100 Ultra Running race, and my goal in 2011 is to run it in under 25 hours. (Update: I finished the 2011 Leadville Trail 100 Ultra Trail race in 14 hours 40 minutes!)

Since I am going to assume that most of us have a “one season” sport or goal in mind, I will concentrate on that area.  In my mind I break down a one-season sport as follows 1) Post-Event Training Workouts, 2) Pre-Season Training Workouts, and 3) In-Season Training Workouts.  And of course the final goal that you have trained for all year long.  Notice that there is no “off-season training workouts”.  Use it or loose it!

Post-Event Training Workouts

A post-event training workout is the training workout program that you follow directly after your all-out effort for your main event for the season.  For the last three years (2008-10) my main event has been the Leadville Trail 100 Ultra running race.  Furthermore, I will categorize post-event training workouts into two camps: 1) beginner athletes, and 2) seasoned athletes.

The reason I categorize beginners from seasoned athletes is specific to the GAS Principle and the Use/Disuse Principle.  For the seasoned athlete after putting in an intense all-out effort their recovery may only take a few days compared to the weeks it use to take when they first started training for their sport.

The build-up of post-season all the way through to the next seasons events can be very exhausting and traumatic to the body. So, for most athletes the post-event training workout is a time to refresh and recuperate after a grueling training and racing season. However, over a period of time; the seasoned athlete they will not need the time that they once needed to feel rejuvenated and ready to start training workouts again. They are able to start with a regimented of training workouts to maintain or even build upon the foundation that they have set over the previous year of training workouts.

I can give you my personal first-hand experiences with these two principles.  When I first started running marathons I could only do one every other year.  It was very traumatic to my body to do all the training workouts required and then to actually run the race.  Over the next few years I was able to run multiple marathons per year and only run one 50 mile ultra trail race.  After another year, I was able to run multiple 50 mile ultra trail races.  Then three years ago I started and completed the Leadville Trail 100 ultra running race.  Last year (2010) I completed: four marathons, two 50ks, eight 50 milers, one 24 hour races, and one 100 mile race, plus other various smaller races and cross training events.  This year I am on schedule to run three 100 mile ultra trail races plus a bunch of other ultra distance races (see 2011 Race Schedule).

Biking at the Chilly Cheeks Duathlon Series

When I was in the beginner category of becoming an ultra trail runner I would relish the post-event time to relax and do the minimum to maintain the fruits of my hard labor the year before.  Now that I am into my sixth season of ultra trail running, it has been an amazing transformation that I have gone through.  My recover times are so much shorter and I can stress my body more than I ever have in the past.  With this new found fitness I have been able to set my goals higher and higher.  So, where does a cross training workout program come into the picture?

Stick a fork in me! Totally exhausted after competing in the Hardwater Snowshoe Race

The 2010 racing season was what I call my “break-thorough” year in ultra trail running.  One one the big changes I incorporated into my training workouts was a cross training workout program in the post-event season.  For my purposes, I typically call my post-event training season September-February.  However, in 2010 I raced well into October for the first time.

To reach this break-through point I competed in duathlons and snowshoe races during this time in 2009/2010.  These races red-lined my aerobic system and incorporated muscles that I generally do not use while running.  This sort of cross training workout program incorporated all of the seven principles of exercise, and my fitness level coming out of the post-event season was higher than it has even been before.  Not only was I physically ready for pre-season training workouts, I was also psychologically ready to raise the bar in my sports performance

Pre-Season Training Workouts

For me the January/February months are typically when I end my cross training workout events and start to focus on longer and longer runs.  The snowshoe racing and the duathlons are very stressful to my body and taxing to my cardiovascular system. In accordance to the GAS Principle which states that you need a period of rest after intensive training workouts, I discontinue cross training workouts and turn to more specific training workouts to run ultra trail races. This follows the SAID Principle and the Specificity Principle where you need to start to train like you play.

The pre-season is a time for me to refocus on my goals  I usually run my first ultra trail marathon in February and consider that to be the start of my pre-season training.  This is the time that I take the foundation that I built during my cross training workout program and use it as a launching pad for concentrating specifically on my ultra trail running goals.

2011 was the first year that I ran a 100 mile ultra trail race in February.  Never have I been able to even imaging running that many mile that early in the season.  This follows the SAID Principle where that what use to take weeks worth of recovery will eventually only take days worth of recovery.

In-Season Training Workouts

In-season training workouts for me has me racing ultra trail races almost every other weekend from the end of February to early July.  During this phase of my training workouts I do incorporate cross training workouts back into my training program in the form of mountaineering and hiking 14ers (for those of you not from Colorado a 14er is lingo for a mountain that is over 14,000 feet tall).  This type of a cross training workout program directly applies to the SAID and the Specificity Principles.

Unlike the elite ultra trail runners who run pretty much the entire race from start to finish, I on the other hand have to do a lot of hiking to get over the mountain passes and long assents.  The hiking and mountaineering are super specific to ultra trail racing.  As a matter of fact, most beginner ultra trail runners do not incorporate hiking into their training workout program and realize the mistake during their first big ultra trail run of the season.

Cross Training Workout Program Summed Up

If you live a fitness lifestyle and you are looking for a way to increase the level of your fitness, then cross training workouts are something you should look into. Each of us are different and have different interests.  Don’t just look at “Joe Fitness’ and what he is doing and then think it is the best thing that you should be doing.  If you decide that cross training workout is something that you want to incorporate into your training workout program you should pick activities that YOU like.

If you are an athlete who competes in a sport or other activities, then incorporating a cross training workout program into your current training workout program is a great way to keep your mind and body fresh after a long training and racing season.  A cross training workout program will help you maintain and build upon the fitness foundation you have already worked so hard to gain.  It is also a great opportunity to try other activities that you always wanted to try.

Once your peak season or goal race starts to draw near, you must take your training workouts from a general foundation with cross training workouts to a more specific training workout program.  However, you can still incorporate cross training workouts into your training workout program as your event draws near as long as the cross training workout activity is specific to your event.

As you can see, the Seven Principles of Exercise are all adhered to when you use cross training workouts properly.  Personally, cross training workouts have taken me to the next level of fitness and racing enjoyment.  It is much more fun to be able to finish a 50 mile ultra trail race in 8-9 hours where it once use to take me 12-13 hours.

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