Cross Training


As a regular gymgoer I’ve made the following observations about workout styles. There are the cardio focused: day after day on their machine of choice whether it be the elliptical trainer or the treadmill or the reclining bike. There are the weight trainers and body builders who use the cardio machines only as a means to a 10-15 minute warm up or cool down. Once a week are the individuals with their trainers who won’t be seen again in the interim. There are the class enthusiasts who walk the path from the front door of the gym to the class and back out again afterward without stopping. Rarely do I see anyone give stretching more than a cursory one or two pulls on a quad or hamstring before running.

Do these fitness or training methods sound familiar?

As a true believer in the cross training approach to fitness and improvement of overall performance, I believe that the real issue here is not only lack of time, which I don’t discredit, but lack of knowledge. Knowing what you’re trying to get from your training routine is the start. In order to achieve true fitness a well-rounded approach is the only way to go.

Cardio in more than one form i.e. cycling AND running; weight training; stretching and hopefully something with a mind-body focus like T’ai Chi, yoga or martial arts are all important components of a comprehensive fitness routine. Each of these disciplines form an interconnected foundation of complete physical health. In fact spending less time on your current singular discipline and adding the new components will give you improvements in your original sport.

Sound too complicated?

Take it one step at a time.

If you’re currently cardio focused – day after day of running or the elliptical trainer –try something new on two/three of those five/six days, like cycling or rowing.Take time for a full stretch after your workout. (see last week’s post about the full benefit of stretching)

When that becomes routine add weight training at least two days a week and yes, it’s ok to skip cardio in order to get the weight training in if you’re strapped for time. Make sure all of the major muscle groups are activated – chest and back; and glutes, quads and hamstrings. Compound routines can minimize the time you spend in the gym while giving you maximum results.

An example of a great compound routine can be a combination of squats, bench presses and pull-ups OR squats, overhead presses and pushups. These are classics that should be part of everyone’s weight training repertoire. Classic exercises will give you more functional strength more quickly than the usual circuit of machines to be found in the gym.

If you’re primarily weights focused, add more cardio to your routine after your weight sessions three to four days per week and yes it’s ok to skip a day of weight training to get the cardio in. Start with twenty minutes and gradually work your way up to forty minutes. When you achieve forty minutes, turn some of your cardio sessions into speed interval sessions alternating a faster pace with your usual speed in order to develop your cardiovascular capacity.

As for your mind-body sessions, if you’re getting in the weight training and the cardio in a manageable way, work in a yoga class or two. If it turns out that you prefer any of these disciplines more than the others, set up your training schedule to include more of your favorite activities and cut back on the ones you dislike. The point is to do different things that challenge your body in different ways.

Cross training is a great way to end the monotony that can be the death of many well intentioned fitness plans and it is the only way to achieve comprehensive physical fitness.

Stretch for Strength and Flexibility

nordgren crop tank in azure

The topic of stretching seems to provide considerable editorial misinformation. Why, When and How to stretch are all important topics for discussion. There are many opinions about the value of stretching and at which point in your workout that stretching is most effective.

Why Stretch?

Stretching is required to avoid injury by releasing the tightness that builds up in muscles while training. Stretching is also important to build strength and flexibility. As an adult flexibility takes time and patience in order to make progress. Strength comes from mindful stretching that activates opposing muscle groups to stabilize and protect the muscles being stretched.

When to Stretch?

I find it most effective to do a full series of deep stretches following cardio activity while the body is warm and preferably sweating. This will allow a deeper, safer stretch. During weight training a counter stretch to the muscle group just worked helps keep tightness from building up. An effective stretching plan requires a concerted effort post workout each and every time. Plan to spend at least 20 minutes stretching after your cardio workout to get the full benefit of a good stretching routine.

I know that many people do pre-workout stretching. Stretching while the body is cold does more harm than good. Running, cycling or swimming at a gentle pace does a better job of getting the body ready for a full cardiovascular workout than cold stretching. Joint loosening moves such as squats, arm circles, and side twists make more sense than stretching. These moves should be done loosely and carefully so as not to pull cold muscles.

How to Stretch?

Dara Torres, four time Olympian and nine time Olympic medalist in swimming is perhaps the most famous proponent of stretching. She uses a technique called resistance stretching. Resistance stretching keeps muscles elastic and more stable while helping to prevent overstretching. Balancing muscle groups by stretching opposing muscle groups helps strengthen each muscle group in a symmetrical fashion.

For some great series of stretches see the following links. Amateur Endurance has an excellent series of photos that detail a full body post workout stretch that works well for most sports especially running. The drills & skills site is more muscle specific and comes from a gymnastics base.

Amateur Endurance Stretches:

Drills & Skills Stretches:

Swim Network Debunking Five Stretching Myths:

More information about Resistance Stretching:

photo features nordgren crop tank in azure

Slow Food!

What do the following have in common:

The obesity epidemic

Factory farming

Antibiotic resistance

Agricultural pollution

All are side effects of the development of the industrial-food system and in turn the modern diet in developed countries. The writer Michael Pollan, who’s “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” is featured in this month’s book review, has done more to raise awareness on the topic of how we eat through his books and articles than anyone else I can think of. Pollan points out the devastating, planet-altering effect of our current industrial food system.

“After cars, the food system uses more fossil fuel than any other sector of the economy – 19 percent. And while the experts disagree about the exact amount, the way we feed ourselves contributes more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere than anything else we do – as much as 37 percent according to one study.”

“The 20th century industrialization of agriculture has increased the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by the food system by an order of magnitude; chemical fertilizers (made from natural gas), pesticides (made from petroleum), farm machinery, modern food processing and packaging and transportation have together transformed a system that in 1940 produced 2.3 calories of food energy for every calorie of fossil fuel energy it used into one that now takes 10 calories of fossil-fuel energy to produce a single calorie of modern supermarket food. Put another way, when we eat from the industrial-food system, we are eating oil and spewing greenhouse gases.”

And while “Going Green” gets lots of press when it pertains to transportation, energy conservation and recycling, I rarely find media that discusses the quantities of fossil fuel required to farm under our current system. In an article for the New York Times dated October 12,2008 (from which the above quote was taken) Pollan urges the President-Elect to give serious attention to food policy.

Fortunately there is hope in the form of the “Slow Food” movement. From their website: “Slow food is an idea, a way of living and a way of eating. It is a global grassroots movement with thousands of members around the world that links the pleasure of food with a commitment to community and the environment.”

There is also hope in the renewed interest for locally raised produce and meat sold directly from farms and in urban areas through greenmarkets. The farming practices of Joel Salatin at Polyface Farms in Swoope, Virginia are cogently outlined in “the Omnivore’s Dilemma” and describe an alternative method of farming that embraces biodiversity, works in harmony with all of nature, and preserves and enriches the planet. For more information about all of these topics visit:

photos courtesy of Polyface Farms