Cross training strengthens athletes performance

Sharlene Chen and Youqi Huang

Jasmine Hou

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From football to swimming to track and field, Lynbrook athletes do it all. But while some students practice multiple sports to explore their interests, others’ intent lies in the practice of cross training. 

Through cross training, athletes supplement their exercise routines by training in several sports. By strengthening skills and muscles through a variety of sports, cross trainers aim to create a well-rounded exercise regimen and negate the shortcomings of solely practicing their primary sport. 

“Cross training helps strengthen your overall capabilities,” said sophomore Aryan Shah, a track and field runner who routinely supplements his training with swimming and biking exercises. “It helps to improve on skills that your main sport might not be able to specifically target or fulfill completely.”

In addition to running three miles in the mornings, Shah bikes anywhere from 10 to 25 miles on a spin bike or swims about 15 to 20 laps. This way, he can continue to exercise and keep his heart rate up while avoiding the repetitive strain on his knees and ankles caused by running too often. This also helps him vary his routine.

“When I take an easy day off without running as much as usual, I tend to bike or swim to keep up my aerobic capacity,” Shah said. “I often do it as a supplement to my training to keep my body in check.”

Cross training often yields skills that may help an athlete in their main sport as well. For example, sophomore Charlie Chiang primarily trains for track, but additionally participates in a variety of sports, including water polo and swimming.

“In water polo, we have to tread the water constantly, which builds up strength in our legs,” Chiang said. “This applies to track and field, as I need to use similar leg muscles when running.”

When performed correctly, cross training reduces the risk for injury and helps athletes with faster recoveries.

“When your body is used to being trained at a higher level while being stretched out between different aspects at that higher level, your body knows how to be more efficient and will lead to faster recovery times,” said Lynbrook athletic trainer Kathryn Thurman. “When you have better body awareness, better balance and more experience in a competitive environment, you are also less likely to be injured.”

Professional athletes often employ this technique to prevent injury. Steve McLendon, an NFL nose tackle, has participated in ballet lessons since his senior year of college. McLendon claims that dancing has strengthened his knees, ankles and feet and notices the difference between his performance on the field with and without his ballet lessons. 

However, cross training also poses its own risks. When athletes do not consciously manage their activity levels, they may overwork themselves. 

“Similar to most other activities, if not done right, cross training has the chance of causing injuries, ” Shah said. “For example, if you run a mile a day to cross train and you run that mile each time at 100 percent effort, you are very likely going to get injured from overworking yourself.”

According to the Mayo Clinic, training and technique errors can result in overuse injury. In order to avoid such injuries when training, athletes should focus on using proper form and gear, pacing themselves and gradually increasing their exercise level without overstressing their muscles. Finding the balance between exercises is also key, as varying activities is vital to avoiding injury.

“If you use weightlifting as part of your cross training, your muscles can get very tight; if you don’t add flexibility or stretching into your routine, you have the potential of tearing them,” Thurman said. “On the flip side, if your cross training focuses more on flexibility but you do not have activities like weightlifting, all that stretching can cause your body, joints and ligaments to be very loose and make you more prone to dislocations.”

Aside from causing risks for injury among athletes, cross training requires a significant amount of time and effort, which may also put students at risk of overwhelming themselves with the workload.

“Time management has been especially difficult for me,” said sophomore Tammi Trujillo, a soccer player who also participates in field hockey, football and track and field. “I often find it difficult to schedule my school work and other extracurriculars around these activities.”

Additionally, by increasing a student’s workload, cross training may reduce the amount of time they spend focusing on their primary sport. Junior Anastasia Truschankova, who plays volleyball and dances outside of school, has faced this issue.

“With volleyball and dance, I find myself having to carefully balance the two activities,” Truschankova said.  “Because I have these split interests, I sometimes can’t focus all my time on being the best volleyball player I can be.”

Despite these challenges, students who have learned to carefully evaluate the risks in cross training and develop effective routines have seen their efforts improve their athletic performance.  

“Because of their cross training, people that I know have been able to run longer and faster while staying away from injury,” Shah said. “And personally, I see myself improving as well, so I will definitely continue cross training in the future.”

After weighing the benefits of cross training, student athletes may consider expanding their exercise regimens to see whether other exercises can boost their overall performance. They should, however, be mindful of the potential costs before committing to a new routine.

“Always eat better, sleep better and stay hydrated,” said Chiang when asked his advice to those beginning to cross train. “Manage your time, give yourself proper breaks and rests and do not overwork yourself because overworking is the same thing as not working at all.”

Still, dedicated athletes who are careful to avoid these pitfalls may find cross training a valuable tool in reaching their athletic potential.

“If you have the right mindset and attitude and are driven enough, then you should definitely consider cross training,” Trujillo said. “Use it to build from where you started and better yourself as an athlete.”