Whether you are a triathlete wanting to hear the answer to the title, or a single-sport endurance athlete looking to get faster – there is a reason triathletes are such prolific athletes. It boils down to the way in which they are required to train. In order to be successful at triathlons, you are required to train in three, very different, disciplines. This has a fantastic effect on overall training, which we are going to take a look at and dive into ways to further benefit from this effect.
Multisport endurance athletes, those training in swimming, biking, or running, utilize training methods commonly used as cross-training methods for other sports – which there is a reason why. Maximal oxygen uptake (VO2 max) has been shown to have transferable effects from one endurance discipline to the next (1). This allows triathletes, as well as other athletes, to expand their training modality portfolio, while still incurring training benefits. Now, there is no workaround for mode-specific training. This means you still have to run to get faster at running, but it allows the athlete to diversify the ways they go about their training.
When one is able to change up their training methods, the overall risk of injury decreases. Changing up your training can also help recover from injury. When looking at injuries in runners, just “five to 15 days of running cessation [...] can reduce time to exhaustion and maximal aerobic capacity in distance runners” (2). This effect can be reduced by incorporating alternative training methods when you are unable to train regularly. There may even be an increased training effect when this is done, with studies showing “cross-training allows for improved recovery between more intense running sessions allowing for a greater training adaptation” (2). With the added benefits of keeping your training sessions fresh and reducing the mental fatigue of training, different training methods seem like a no-brainer.
Cross-training in youth
This effect can be clearly shown in high-school athletes as often they are prone to injuries due to early specialization. One study examined the effect of introducing outdoor cycling, stationary elliptical, and elliptical bike training to the training program of high-school cross-country runners. They then measured the effects of each modality on running economy and 3000m performance. The addition of outdoor cycling decreased 3000m times by nearly 15% while only the elliptical bike group had improved running economy (2). Keep in mind these results were compared against the “only running” group which had lesser improvements despite running more.
The benefit of cross-training can be compounded when resistance training is introduced. Again looking at youth due to their quick training adaptations from increased neural plasticity, training modalities such as free weights, complex, and plyometric resistance training are well-suited to improve muscular fitness and athletic performance, showing
“training-induced improvements in maximal muscular strength result in concomitant enhancements of muscular power and muscular endurance” (3). With youth sport engagement rates declining and the pool of youth with athletic potential to be introduced to long-term athlete development [becoming] smaller in western industrialized countries due to demographic change and secular declines in motor performance, it is paramount these training methods be introduced at a young age (3).
How to use this to your benefit
Regularly schedule different training methods into your training cycles. Ditch an easy run for cross-training in the pool or on the bike to freshen up your training regime.
Add resistance training throughout the week. Besides breaking up training, your improved strength and coordination will have compounding benefits on your training, allowing you to go faster for longer.
Incorporate multi-planar movements into your activity choices. Especially triathletes who are moving in a single direction–incorporating multi-directional activities such as pickleball, tennis, or resistance training can reduce risk of overuse injuries (just be sure to use the proper equipment).
Include activities that involve skills you don’t train on a daily basis. Such as reaction timing, hand-eye coordination, jumping, or agility, these skills are essential for a long training lifespan.
This off-season, go ahead and try something new! Whether that be swimming at your local rec center, a new fitness class (check out our fall offerings), working on areas of your training that may be lacking (core and mobility), a winter sport such as cross country or downhill skiing; switching it up can help you hit next season with renewed vigor.
- Coach Landon
Tanaka, H. Effects of Cross-Training. Sports Med 18, 330–339 (1994). https://doi.org/10.2165/00007256-199418050-00005
Paquette, Max R.1; Peel, Shelby A.1; Smith, Ross E.1; Temme, Mark2; Dwyer, Jeffrey N.1. The Impact of Different Cross-Training Modalities on Performance and Injury-Related Variables in High School Cross Country Runners. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 32(6):p 1745-1753, June 2018. | DOI: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000002042
Granacher et al. Effects of Resistance Training in Youth Athletes on Muscular Fitness and Athletic Performance: A Conceptual Model for Long-Term Athlete Development. Frontier Physiology. May 2016. doi.org/10.3389/fphys.2016.00164\