Whoo boy. It's early spring and I'm already feeling the need to do something other than swim, bike and run.
It happens about once a week. I head out for a workout and just don't really'feel like staring at the bottom of a pool, spending hours in a bike saddle, or pounding the pavement. Especially when I walk by all the guys playing noon ball on my way into the pool.
How about you? Are you feeling like a hamster on a wheel on some days? Maybe stuck in a rut? Yearning after a sport that involves either A) a ball or B) the ability to get involved in shoving matches?
Don't feel bad cross training in a different sport is still training. You won't be wasting your time if you decide to pick up some kind of cross training once or twice a week. Sports other than swimming, cycling and running allow your body to move in new directions and experience different fitness stimuli.
Oh yeah, cross training can also force you to be social. Just remember to take your .mp3 player headphones out of your ears before you try these cross training modes.
Cross Training Sport #1 - Soccer:
Soccer requires quick, explosive efforts, but each effort is followed by active recovery, rather than complete rest. As a result, muscular endurance and the ability to buffer lactic acid can be vastly improved by playing soccer. Although a similar muscular endurance effect can be achieved with cross country or skate skiing, soccer has the advantage of being biomechanically identical to a specific triathlon skill running. Therefore, the muscular endurance can be enhanced with better leg turnover and stride length.
In addition, triathletes are notoriously weak in side-to-side motion, resulting in a higher risk of injury to overtrained front-to-back motion muscles. The frequent changes of direction and lateral movement in soccer can address this weakness.
Compared to triathlon, you'll find some sports to be relatively dirt cheap, and soccer is a perfect example, simply requiring a stable pair of shoes (cleats are optional), and possibly a ball. Check with your local sports and rec department for a soccer league, and if you have difficulty finding a soccer game to join, try an ultimate Frisbee league instead which will give you a similar cross training effect.
Cross Training Sport #2 - Basketball:
Similar to soccer, basketball improves muscular endurance with explosive efforts followed by active recovery, and can also improve stride turnover and length. However, the arm jostling and pushing, shooting and passing in basketball are good upper body training, while the frequent jumping and landing are perfect lower body plyometrics, which have been shown to improve running economy in distance runners.
Like soccer, basketball requires minimal equipment: shoes and a ball. You'll be able to find pick-up games on the schedule of your local health club or gym. If you find yourself on a busy court, the weakness of basketball for exercise-obsessed triathletes is the requirement to stand around between games as you wait your turn to play. But by jumping rope, shooting or jogging and dribbling between games, you can turn an hour of basketball into pure fitness.
Check our local gym, especially at noon time, to get into a cross training bout of basketball.
Cross Training Sport #3 - Tennis:
As an ex-collegiate tennis player, I can honestly say that the only sport during which I have ever puked due to extreme fatigue was tennis. With frequent start-stop and lateral motions, torso, and upper body and lower body power requirements, and long time spent "on your feet", a rigorous game of tennis can be highly effective cardiovascular and muscular training.
Tennis offers many of the same training effects soccer and basketball, but also requires a high degree of torso and shoulder rotation, stability and power, resulting in good cross-over for the core stability required for distance running and swimming.
A tennis skirt or white polo is entirely optional, and for tennis, you simply need access to a public court, a tennis racquet and a can of balls and of course, somebody to play tennis with. Check your local sports and rec department, or the USA Triathlon website, to find a partner.
Cross Training Sport #4 - Golf:
I gotta be kidding, right?
Surely the sport of golf is far too sedentary relative to triathlon for any possible cross training effect. But not only does the golf swing provide similar torso and core rotational power stimulation as tennis, but also similar enhanced shoulder and upper body power. In addition, the long walking required during 18 holes of non-cart golf is perfect for an injured triathlete who has been forced into low-impact aerobic cardio due to knee or foot injuries, and for that injured athlete, golf can be a welcome break from simply hiking, going on a long walk, or staring at a TV on a treadmill.
Don't worry, there is no need to join an expensive country club - most metropolitan areas have a range of public courses that offer hitting lessons, affordable golf, and even club rentals.
There are certainly other forms of cross training other than the 4 mentioned here - such as volleyball, water polo, Frisbee golf, badminton, cricket, rugby, and other sports that I've probably never heard of. But as long as you're swimming, cycling and running consistently, cross training will not simply suck away time that you could be getting better at triathlon, but will instead enhance your fitness and give you a mentally refreshing way to exercise.