I love triathlons because of the variety. The swim-bike-run combo helps beat boredom, gives me three times the bragging rights, and provides built-in cross-training. Instead of pounding the pavement every day or constantly smelling like chlorine, my training plan for Team Whole Living's sprint triathlon next Saturday (next Saturday!!) forces me to mix it up and benefits my whole body, from head to toe.
After all, cross-training is that magical thing fitness experts are always preaching about: It makes you a better athlete and protects you from injury, right? At least that's what coaches and personal trainers have generally thought in the past. Much to my chagrin, however, a couple of recent studies suggest that it might not be all it's cracked up to be.
A New York Times article published last month examines two studies, both of which focused on runners who added a cycling program to their workout routine. Neither study showed if it helped improve their running performance, and as far as injury prevention goes, the article says, the only way cross-training helps is by allowing you to do less of your chosen sport—running only three times a week as opposed to seven, for example. (In other words, your risk of injuring yourself probably won't change much whether you're swimming the other four days or sitting on your butt.)
So how does one get better at her chosen sport, while also protecting herself from injury? The answer may be resistance training. The article cites a Norwegian study on runners who improved their efficiency by practicing squats with weights, as well as other research on cyclists with similar results.
Resistance training: 1. Cross-training: 0.
Okay, hold on a second, I thought when I first read this: I'm training for three sports already, and now you tell me I have to add a fourth element into my training?
If I really want to improve my times and performance, it might not be a bad idea, suggests the research. Cross-training—and therefore triathlon training—is still great cardio (and the best thing for weight loss, according to a new Duke University study). But if cardio's all I'm doing, I'm likely missing a key piece of the full package of total fitness.
Resistance training sounds daunting: I don't want to hit the weight machines or pump huge iron dumbbells at the gym, and I've accidentally hit myself in the face with those stretchy resistance bands more times than I care to admit.
Luckily, my coaches have taught me that it's not hard to incorporate elements of resistance training—like squats and lunges—alongside my cardio workouts. In fact, the Whole Living training plan I'm already following actually schedules in time to do resistance training or stretching. (I must admit that up to this point, I've only been doing the stretching.)
There are plenty of ways to sneak in resistance training and strengthen the muscles I need for swimming, biking, and running: by doing Power Yoga, using the weight of my own body, working out with a kettlebell (so much more fun than dumbbells!) or using the great outdoors as my gym, for example.
I really have no excuse not to do more resistance training—so with this post, I vow to start doing more. Want to join me? Tell me how you incorporate weights or resistance training into your workout routine. Have you found that it's improved your athletic performance? What's your favorite way to build muscle?
Amanda MacMillan is a freelance writer, currently blogging at LeanGreenBride.com. She has done four Olympic-distance triathlons and is looking forward to her first sprint tri on Sept. 11 with Team Whole Living. Her triathlon training blog runs every Thursday on Whole Living Daily.