When I was in middle and high school, I was a cyclist and swimmer. I raced my bike all spring and summer and, come fall, I jumped into the pool. While I was keeping up my general fitness by doing both sports, I always struggled for the first few weeks of both seasons.
In high school, cycling became my main priority and I used swimming for cross training. Unfortunately, during cycling season I never swam and did very little upper body lifting. The first week of every swim season I could outkick everyone, but my arms were weak and became very sore. My cardiovascular system was able to handle swim workouts, but my arms and shoulders couldn't. One year I ended up with an overuse injury because I tried to do too much too soon.
The worst part about choosing to prepare myself, or as the case may be, not to prepare myself for swim season was that I never made any real gains. Each season should have built upon the previous season, allowing me to see gains and improvement from year to year. Instead, I spent the first half of each swim season getting caught up, and by the end of the season my times were had only back to about the same as the year before.
Likewise, while I was swimming, I did very little cycling. While I maintained my cardiovascular fitness, I lost a lot of my leg strength and endurance during swim season.
Cross training is important and necessary; it keeps your child fit and strong so she is able to handle the workload without getting injured and allows her to build upon previous seasons and make gains in fitness and accomplishments.
There are several things to consider when your child is selecting her sports and considering cross training options.
1. Pick a sport to be your child's primary focus
Regardless of the number of sports your child plays, she is going to eventually need to set priorities and goals. Once your child has decided which sport or activity is most important to her, she can decide which other sports or type of cross-training will be the most beneficial. The more serious your child is about a particular sport the less general cross training she will do.
Once I became I professional track cyclist I did virtually no cross training. Cycling is a very specific sport and so the biggest form of cross training I did was venturing from track racing on the velodrome to road racing. Road racing still allowed me to mix it up, but was still very specific and beneficial to my track racing. While I had some success in road racing, I at no time lost sight of the fact that my primary focus was track cycling. At the end of my cycling career, I even chose to cut out weight lifting from my work out regiment because, for my cycling discipline, I felt it wasn't specific enough.
2. Try to pick sports that compliment each other
The best part about cross training in the off season is that it breaks up the monotony, but a key to your child's success is choosing a sport that compliments her primary sport.
Swimming for example, was not necessary the best cross training option for me as a cyclist. I would have been better off choosing a sport like speed skating because it utilizes similar muscles and energy systems.
For most sports, like basketball, volleyball, football, baseball and wrestling, a great cross training régime is strength and conditioning and running. Remember, running doesn't have to be long distance running. It could also be short sprints.
Whatever sport or training your child decides to do in her off season, the important thing is that she keep up her fitness and strength so she is healthy and ready to go when the season begins in her primary sport.
Erin Mirabella is a two-time Olympic track cyclist, mother, and MomsTeam's track cycling expert.
Posted December 7, 2010