Why It's Better To Change Up Your Training
Back when I was 25 I didn’t like any sort of exercise. I didn’t run, I didn’t play sports and the handful of times I went to the gym every year were lacklustre to say the least. When I actually started experimenting with exercise it wasn’t to find hobbies that I’d enjoy, it was simply to lose a bit of weight and start being healthier.
My history of sport and fitness was lost far into the ether of my schooldays. A time where I was awful at football, wasn’t very good at running, couldn’t play rugby and generally just hated everything that any of my fit and healthy friends enjoyed to the point where I avoided it. The only thing I did enjoy was tennis, but even that I was never particularly good at.
Aside from a brief spell of going to the gym at university, I did very little for the best part of ten years, until I signed up at a local leisure centre gym where I started to pick up weights and try to put on a bit of muscle. I got into it very quickly and started to go not through necessity, but through enjoyment. Finally, I’d found a fitness thing that I actually enjoyed.
Then came running. I remember the first few times I went out I felt like I was going to faint. Just a few streets of light jogging down in my Bermuda shorts and my lungs were dying. I hated it. But having signed up to a 5km race with work, I knew I had to stick at it. It was a slog, but after a few weeks, I got a lot better. By the time the race came round and I actually managed to get a good time, I was into it. Running was on the fitness CV. I could do it. Tick.
"It was a slog, but after a few weeks, I got a lot better. By the time the race came round and I actually managed to get a good time, I was into it."
That was over ten years ago. But, I’ve found over that time life has a way of fluctuating massively in terms of hobbies and fitness. For three months I can be the most obsessed runner; signing up to races every weekend and training every night. I’ll get faster, I’ll learn about the best stretching to do and I’ll have dreams of taking part in some ridiculous multi-stage event the other side of the world. Then in an instant, I’ll just stop. Something inside my head just clicks off and I’m done for a bit. No more running for a while, thanks.
If running was my only thing, then I’m not sure what would happen. Maybe I would spend a few months reading or hitting up Netflix boxsets. Maybe I’d spend a lot more time eating out after work or having lie-ins. I don’t know. But one thing I’m fairly sure about is that I wouldn’t be anywhere near as active.
Luckily, I found my interest in the gym at the same time as running, and not only that, but I found other things as well. It was like a gateway to experimenting with activities. If I could suddenly find two things that I really enjoyed then maybe there were more things.
I tried, swimming for a while - didn’t really enjoy it, I started cycling loads - it was okay for a while, I started climbing - loved it but didn’t quite have the time, and then hiking - my new favourite hobby and something I spend whole weekends doing throughout the year.
It doesn’t end there, I add new things to the list all the time. This exploratory search for new things is ongoing.
But why do I think it’s so important to have multiple things to do when it comes to an active life? Why is cross training so beneficial to living a fit and healthy existence?
Well, in my case it’s about motivation. I go through interest phases and I need to have a break from things. If I only did one thing I’d burn out, which in fitness terms means that I’d more than likely see negative results in my health and fitness. Cross training stops that happening. I can jump from activity to activity on a sort of rotation. Sometimes I find a new activity that I didn’t even know I’d like, I add it to the list and see how far it’ll take me.
"If I only did one thing I’d burn out, which in fitness terms means that I’d more than likely see negative results in my health and fitness."
My motivation and a constantly fluctuating attention span may not be something that is an issue for everyone. But one thing that anyone can have to deal with is an injury, and when that affects the one activity that you’re interested in, that can become quite debilitating. For a runner that loves running, and focuses all their efforts into it, an injury can mean that you’re effectively out of action for a prolonged period of time. If you don’t pick up another activity that you can do, you’re at risk of rapidly losing a lot of the hard work you’ve put into training. Mentally it can be a major struggle as well.
Add to that the fact that cross training actually helps you get better at other sports - say for example strength training or yoga, both of which have a massive positive impact on any sort of fitness you already do, and you can see why I’m such a cross-training fanboy.
Ultimately, trying out new activities in fitness is not just about getting fitter, it’s about opening up new doors that you maybe weren’t interested in before. You may not like what you try, but why does that matter? If you find one or two things that stick and you enjoy them, you’re automatically giving yourself opportunities that can help your fitness as well as the scope of things that you can enjoy in the future.
"Ultimately, trying out new activities in fitness is not just about getting fitter, it’s about opening up new doors that you maybe weren’t interested in before."