When you’re active for both fun and fitness, the kinds of activity you do aren’t carved in stone. Let the seasons guide you towards different sports or try new things that catch your eye. The only rule is that you keep moving.
This is called “cross-training” and it has definite advantages. Psychologically, variety helps to prevent boredom. Plus, by doing more than one sport or activity, you usually gain more balanced fitness. Swimming, for example, builds upper body strength and aerobic capacity; running builds lower body strength and aerobic capacity; and tennis builds leg speed, agility and hand-eye coordination. If you play all three on a regular basis, your all-around fitness will be superior to those who limit themselves to only one of these activities.
The chances of a serious injury are also lower if you cross-train. By spreading your efforts among different types of exercises you minimize your chances of an injury from overuse caused by excessive stresses on one part of your body.
Triathlon devotees have discovered the benefits of training from one sport to another. They know that a person who runs three days and cycles three days a week will be a better runner or cyclist than the person who does either of the sports alone three days a week. It’s just the way our bodies like to work.
The amount of cross-training benefit you can gain from two activities depends on their similarities. Although you can train your aerobic capacity with any activity that elevates your heart rate, you will gain more if the activities you choose use the same muscle groups. Cycling, running, cross-country skiing, ice skating, and in-line skating all primarily exercise your leg muscles, while swimming and rowing target the upper body. If you are already committed to a sport or activity and enjoying the benefits, that’s great. But if you want to improve your athletic performance by adding a new activity, choose wisely. Pick an activity that will help you reach your goals and reach them without injury.