Cross training is introducing other forms of exercise to your sport or normal routine. e.g. You run 5x weekly, cross training would be substituting biking or swimming for a run. Others consider any variation in your training cross training. e.g. You are a weightlifter and you start incorporating running 1x weekly (not an anaerobic training substitute, but a variation from what you are primarily doing).
Injury occurrence and prevention is a highly studied topic with many articles published in the scientific literature, with some measures that are tried and true, and others that present with mixed results. The most common training errors include: too much intensity, too much volume, poor recovery time and high rates of loading increases. The idea of cross training supports the hypothesis that exposure to various stimulus (meaning sports and variation of exercise) can provide variant adaptations to the body to help make it more robust or resilient. There is also the idea of load management helping to decrease injury rates. This means that cross training provides a similar stimulus, but can load the tissues in a slightly different way to allow us to keep training, but not overload the tissue.
One of the questions we frequently hear is “How do I cross train?” For this blog, we will use the example of running. We typically recommend breaking out your cross training into three different activities: aerobic, strength and mobility.
Instead of running, you could perform another aerobic activity such as biking, swimming or using the elliptical. This continues to challenge the body’s aerobic capacity by increasing volume and continuing to place demand on the system.
In the example of running, we know that the more economical you are, likely the faster and farther you can run. Studies have shown that additional training such as plyometrics and resistance training have improved running economy. Strength training is also enormously important for loading tendons and muscles in a regular loaded fashion to improve resilience of the tissue or rehabilitate an injury. Substituting a run with low impact cross training (such as resistance training) when increasing intensity or volume may also be useful in reducing injury.
There is insufficient evidence that stretching and mobility activity reduces injury occurrence in runners, but stretching can help restore range of motion loss to theoretically improve running economy and provide proper tissue loading.
In terms of how often you should be cross training for injury prevention, it varies. It depends on the history of how long they have been performing this sport, how frequently they train, how intensely they train, history of injury. We recommend if you are interested in beginning a new cross training routine to consult with an experienced physical therapist. They are able to evaluate your current activities and give recommendations that can be helpful in injury prevention.
Cross training can allow for additional training and/or maintenance of current load with the occurrence of injury. Cross training can also potentially be valuable in providing varying stimulus to help the body become more robust and tolerable to loading. If you are sidelined from your sport due to injury, or start to experience symptoms of pain or discomfort, you are appropriate for PT. Your PT will help design a program to help you keep training while addressing the injury. Hopefully you learn to love the variety of training available to provide additional loading to better prepare your body for the task at hand, whatever that may be: running, weight training, hiking or playing soccer.