The virtues of hard work have been drummed into the vast majority of us, long before the gym became a regular feature of life. But while a ‘no pain, no gain’ philosophy holds true to an extent, what you gain in resilience and determination from routinely slogging it out on your chosen equipment may be holding you back from the physical results you seek. Changing it up can help your body to break through the comfort zone.
We caught up with Fernwood Carlton personal trainer Kara Livingstone-Ward to learn more about harnessing the benefits of cross training.
Keep your body guessing
What is cross training, exactly? In a nutshell, it’s an approach that incorporates a variety of activities to enhance a specific skill set. Let’s say you’re training for a fun run; aside from the running sessions that are going to improve your fitness and capacity over the required distance, the inclusion of strength training and active recovery sessions (such as yoga) is going to enhance the functionality of your movement as you run, and ensure you don’t burn out ahead of the big race.
Elite athletes are skilled at using this approach to maintain a high level of fitness while avoiding injuries from overusing certain muscle groups. It also prevents physical and mental fatigue from creeping in after sustained periods of training.
Kara says regardless of your fitness level, a high performance approach that uses cross training will reap rewards. Tweaking your activities keeps your muscles guessing, which constantly challenges them to adapt and improve; changing it up within a given session can also help you to push yourself further.
“If you keep your muscles guessing, you have more ability to condition and tone your entire body,” says Kara. “Some people prefer to have a trainer who tells them what to do, so they don’t know what’s coming next. They go hard in the first set and may not realise they are working the same muscles during the next set, to really put fatigue on the muscular system. This will help them [muscles] to shape and grow.”
Mentally spice up your routine
Health is a lifetime commitment, so you may as well enjoy your time in the gym by finding activities that motivate and enthuse you. Kara says cross training can add variety that wards off boredom and keeps your attitude fresh.
“When starting any gym routine, I always advise my clients to find a variety of exercises that they love,” she says. “If you hate running on the treadmill and find it tedious, don’t do it! It will make exercise a boring chore and you will want to put it off. Eventually, procrastination will creep into your sessions and your commitment to your routine is likely to drop off. Find activities that make the time fly, inject life into your body and make you feel great afterwards.”
Create holistic health
Cross training dramatically improves overall fitness by targeting a variety of components, such as endurance, strength and flexibility.
“When you start cross training, you have the ability to get fit very fast. It targets muscle tone, lung capacity, balance, and agility, enabling you to drop body fat,” explains Kara.
While it may seem counterintuitive to focus on a particular area when your aim is to improve another – for example, doing bicep curls when you want to reduce thigh fat – the ‘spot-training myth’ often seduces people into overworking certain systems when an overall approach like cross training is more effective.
“You cannot target specific areas on your body,” insists Kara. “If you were training for a fun run, then you would go for runs and use the treadmill. However, you would also need to utilise some strength exercises for your legs, such as squats, lunges and deadlifts, and a mix of plyometric [jump training to increase speed-strength] movements, so that your entire body can endure a long-distance run.”
Harness the power of intensity
Another aspect built into the cross training model takes advantage of varying levels of intensity to achieve fitness goals.
“While a slow paced walk in the morning on an empty stomach will help dissolve fat stores in your body for a few hours, a strength and cardio HIIT (high intensity interval training) session will help to define your muscles and shred fat for 24 to 48 hours after your workout,” explains Kara. Using intensity as a tool can help to build a weekly program that incorporates tough and easy sessions, along with rest days, to produce optimal training adaptations in your body.
Prevent and manage injuries
Overuse can lead to injury, but mixing up your training methods can help to reinforce joints and muscles without stressing them to the point of harm. Healthy bone density is particularly important for injury prevention, and weight bearing movements become increasingly important as we age, as they build bone more effectively than cardiovascular exercise.
Variety can also help to manage an existing injury. “You can always regress an exercise to make it a little easier on the joints or have less impact,” says Kara. “Plyometric training isn’t always the best for ankle, knee and hip joints, so I always give my clients the option to choose a bodyweight movement instead, or to train a different part of the body.”
Get the most from your gym membership
The gym is full of opportunities to mix up your training, whether you create your own circuit using cardio equipment and weights, or enlist the help of a personal trainer to guide you.
“With the use of resistance bands, kettlebells, medicine balls, sand bags, skipping ropes, TRX straps, Roman rings, dip bars, half squat racks and monkey bars (just to name a few), you really can’t get bored,” says Kara. “We run 30-minute sessions with a maximum of eight people, and the equipment offers so many opportunities to change up your routine.”
Your time spent in the gym is precious. Training smarter, not harder, can help you to use the minutes wisely and enjoy the process.