Best Cross-Training for Your Core Sport

You want to get faster. Or improve your swing, lengthen your stride, boost your endurance … or not get bored after pounding the pavement for miles. Cross-training can do all that while helping you stay injury free, so you can keep “just doing” the thing you love — running, cycling, swimming, golf, yoga …

But what kinds of cross-training should you do for your core sport? The experts we talked to say the best regimen depends on your athletic goals, your physical abilities/challenges, and the physiology of your core sport. Here are their top tips to help you cross-train for the specific sports and activities you love most.

Go for complementary motion

“Football players do ballet because they want consistent core strength and balance — to stay grounded while also having to move in a variety of different ways,” says trainer Patricia Moreno, who develops classes for New York’s acclaimed Equinox Fitness Clubs and for her workout DVDs.

The point, she explains, is that the best way to cross-train for your favorite sport is to complement it with movement patterns that aren’t emphasized in that activity. Runners, for instance, move in a repetitive, linear pattern without much lateral (side-to-side) or multidirectional movement.

Moreno’s cross-training approaches include a dance cross-train routine that uses a variety of pacing and dance styles to improve ability in various types of sports in specific ways. Fast, intricate steps improve coordination and agility in sports like soccer and tennis; bigger, more fluid moves can help lengthen stride in running; lateral and rotational movements improve agility, flexibility and power for explosive moves in sports like volleyball and racquetball.

Swimmer? Strengthen your stroke

“If you want to get stronger, faster and more efficient at swimming, you have to spend time in the water — and when you swim, you use only swimming muscles,” says Wendy Mader, a Masters swim and USA Triathlon Level II-certified coach in Colorado. She suggests that swimmers cross-train in ways that strengthen smaller, opposing support muscles through activities like cycling, running or in-water strength training with resistance bands or cords. She adds that swimmers tend to over-train, and says cross-training can help prevent burnout in the off-season.

Balance Ball or stability ball exercises and Pilates are also ideal cross-training for swimmers since they help engage the core, or “powerhouse,” for a stronger stroke and more power in the legs, says L.A.-area personal trainer Tanja Djelevic, an expert in sport-specific functional training as well as Pilates and yoga.

Respected biomechanics expert and Cross-Training for Sports co-author Gary Moran, Ph.D., suggests that to complement repetitive swimming movements, cross-training should include a well-rounded weight workout — including basics like the lat pull-down, alternate knee sit-ups, tricep pull-down or kickback, and four-way hip exercises.

Golfer? Drive farther & get an edge  

Golf has seen a significant surge in cross-training due to high-profile advocates like Tiger Woods. Yoga is one discipline now commonly used to boost performance and mental stamina in this technical game.

“No other sport requires the body to move in all three planes simultaneously from a static position — while accelerating club speed to 90 miles per hour in under two seconds,” says Yoga for Golfers author Katherine Roberts. Yoga can help offset that sheer pressure and torque on the spine.

After 14 years of yoga practice, Roberts says the increased flexibility and range of motion she's gained from yoga as cross-training has translated directly into how far she drives the ball off the tee. Other benefits include better swing balance, more core and lumbar support, increased endurance, and a mental edge gained through yoga’s ability to quiet the mind.

If you’re not too experienced with yoga, Roberts suggests starting with simple yet targeted basic yoga poses such as downward dog, cat-cow, modified cobra, revolving side angle, tree pose and warrior III.

Cyclist or runner? Get more ped-power

Distance cyclists may benefit from supplementing endurance training with anaerobic cross-training to develop better muscle endurance in key support areas such as the lower back, quadriceps and shoulders, says Moran. He advocates using a targeted strength training program and a low-impact but high-intensity cardio routine, or a comparative workout on a cardio machine such as a stair climber.

Moreno says cyclists should try  kickboxing as cross-training to improve core strength — which translates to easier hill climbing by increasing power from the torso and hamstrings, both crucial to propelling the bike up a mountain. 

A runner’s linear motion pattern is well complemented by dance workouts, which are loaded with opposing lateral (side-to-side) and multidirectional movement, says Moreno. Try a dance-fusion workout to get the benefits without an overdose of tricky, complex dance steps.

Yogi? Get stronger & boost endurance

While yoga is often recommended as a cross-training discipline for other sports, devotees of all yoga styles can benefit from intentional cross-training. Yoga enthusiasts’ most injury-prone areas include the hamstrings, knees, lower back and wrists, says Jen Weller, a Vinyasa instructor for Maya Yoga Studio in Maui. So strengthening lesser-used muscles in those areas can take your yoga practice to a new level.

“Injury risk occurs when people are on their hands and they’re tired,” says Moreno, a certified yoga instructor as well as fitness trainer. “It’s smart to develop strength in the upper body. You have to get out of the yoga room to develop those supporting muscles.”

Moreno also points out that since the element of endurance is missing in yoga, cardiovascular workouts can benefit many a yoga lover. “Once you create more endurance through cardio work, you can hold and sustain a pose longer and increase your ability to move from pose to pose.” Try a yoga fusion workout that marries flowing yoga poses with high-energy moves to boost your heart rate more than yoga alone (even “sweaty yoga”) may be able to.

On the mat more than a few hours a week? Djelevic suggests cross-training with running or swimming “so that the stretching of muscles is balanced with a strengthening and explosive discipline.”

Everyone: Get more satisfaction

They say you only get back what you put in — and that’s about more than racking up miles, laps or mat time. Cross-training in new ways can prolong your ability to participate in the activities you love most, and give you the satisfaction you crave from the sports that are your passion.

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schwally's picture
User offline. Last seen 6 years 48 weeks ago. Offline
Joined: 02/25/2009

Running - Go barefoot! Pounding the pavement is a bad idea.

jillian_g's picture
User offline. Last seen 5 years 13 weeks ago. Offline
Joined: 01/11/2011

Thank you for sharing these amazing ideas on cross training. I really hope I can be able to apply these things when I have my chance to engage to this sport. For now, I'm looking for a review of the New Balance MR2002 running shoes so that I can buy the best shoes.

NeilKirchoff's picture
User offline. Last seen 4 years 35 weeks ago. Offline
Joined: 11/16/2011

I agree with you with all of the above but what about your mind training? To train my mind I play fantasy hockey and chess with some of my friends! In my opinion if you just train your body and not body and mind you may end up being a mindless gorilla. Well this is just my idea and I don't want to offend anyone but just as a end line: in my country chess will be obligatory in school.

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