Written by Coach Cathy - Head Coach of the Eclipse Track and Field Club.
Too often as parents or coaches and even as athletes, we feel that our kids need to specialize way too young. We feel that the only way for our kids to excel in the sport they are in is to do way more of that sport. While specialization has its benefits down the road, it can also lead to our worst fears as parents - that kids will loose interest in the sport because that's all they have ever known. Let me be clear, I'm not advocating for kids to play many different sports at once and train with multiple coaches and trainers, That's going to cause early burnout in anyone. Rather, I think that it is also realistic to recognize that while it's important to concentrate on one sport if there are great opportunities and propensity for that child to excel and have a potential career in the sport, we also have to consider the potential hazards that come with specialization too early in the game. I believe that Cross Training has really good value to help kids stay engaged in the sport they are in and the benefits that cross training provide will probably make them a better athlete in the end.
What is Cross-Training?
Cross Training is training that is not specific to the sport you are currently in. Let's take for example Hockey Players. They will typically have on/off ice practices, working on drills, skating, passing, stick handling etc. Then add on the hockey dryland training typically done by the coaches themselves or perhaps another facility/trainer with hockey experience. Typically they train 4-5 X a week and even more the higher you go. In this example, cross training for these athletes would be incorporating some running, speed sprinting, swimming, biking, yoga and other non-typical hockey training.
What are the benefits of Cross Training:
If you're an athlete that is already specializing, you probably have a certain physical specialty that you have developed. In other words, certain muscle groups are trained and over developed compared to other muscles and the same is true of skill sets. You may be an excellent hockey player, a strong gymnast or a fast swimmer. However, when we only focus on one major muscle group or on developing a particular range of skills, you may be limiting your ability for athletic growth. Cross training allows you to strengthen parts of your body other than the muscles, joints and ligaments used in your primary athletic activity.
1. Injury Prevention and Being Injured Less Often:
Overuse of certain muscle groups, ligaments and joints can lead to overuse injuries that can cripple any athlete. Special consideration needs to be taken for growing athletes and especially with the effects of hormones and puberty on the body. Overusing certain muscle groups, ligaments and joints can cause growth issues, imbalances, tightness, soreness and eventually can lead to disabling injuries that can sideline athletes for long periods of time or even bring their training to an abrupt end. Cross Training allows for the development of other muscles groups, joints and ligaments so that when a muscle becomes tired due to overuse, it can now rely on other muscles to take the load. Imagine just training your quadricep muscles? First off you would look very odd from the front and back, but your opposing muscle group - the hamstring would be weak and unable to take the force brought on by the overly developed quadricep, causing major imbalances and most definitely injuries. In contrast, an athlete who has gone thru a variety of cross training for their entire leg muscles will have much better muscular balance, strength and be able to take the impact of the training and probably even push a bit further. It's important to realize that as a direct result of their specific sport - athletes will definitely develop certain muscles groups more as a result of that sport. As coaches we just want to ensure that the rest of their muscles, joints and ligaments can also be developed to take some of the brunt of the training and prevent overuse injuries. .
2. Provide Greater Aerobic Capacity
One of the benefits of cross training is a greater aerobic capacity. I've seen too often, some of the best skilled players come for cross training and be totally out of breath after running just 3 laps of a 200m track. While I'm not surprised, I think it does surprise the kids that I train. Cross Training allows you to experience different exercises and intensities that will increase your overall stamina. By increasing Aerobic Capacity you will have greater stamina and endurance for your own sport. Cardiorespiratory training improves the ability to both move oxygen and nutrients to working muscles and to remove metabolic waste, which allows muscles to continue to perform a particular activity.
3. You will become Stronger
For any athlete, strength training often provides a sharp boost in performance. Strength Training affects virtually everything you do—stronger arms means you can throw a basketball farther, while stronger legs means you can jump higher and run faster. Incorporated in Strength Training is Resistance Training which will improve performance more than just specializing in your sport specific drills.
4. Flexibility and Increased Range of Motion
Cross Training can help "range of motion deficiencies" brought upon by specialized training. Flexibility is developed after performing a particular exercise over and over again, slowly pushing your body's capacity to reach new limits. When you practice a new exercise, a whole new set of joints, ligaments and muscles are stretched out, which means you will have more flexibility throughout your body. This can reduce internal resistance in your body, making you faster to respond and adapt as you compete or play.
5. Faster Recovery
Cross training enables your body to recuperate faster from injuries, in some cases because other exercises can directly improve the condition caused by your regular activity. For example, Employing alternative exercises not only gives your body the opportunity to heal from your previous activity, but in many cases will help stretch and strengthen parts of your body that are causing pain.
It's no secret that Cross Training makes you a stronger, more flexible and more well-rounded athlete. The benefits of Cross Training will only allow athletes to grow and develop and increase their overall performance. It will also allow for more enjoyment for their sport and if they did leave their sport for another, they now have a great skill set from which to build on.
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