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The Best Alternative Workout for Every Type of Athlete

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Finding the perfect fitness activity can feel a lot like dating: You try a bunch out until you find one you really, really like…and then you spend tons of time with it and leave the others behind.

But when it comes to athletics, it's good to keep mixing up your roster, even after you’ve found a workout you love, says exercise physiologist Marni Sumbal, co-owner of TriMarni Coaching and Nutrition. Not only will it help keep you injury-free, but cross-training actually keeps you fresh for your primary sport, she says, so you can avoid burnout and Crush Your Fitness Goals.

If You’re: A Runner
Make Sure You: Hit the Weights

Runners are a perfect example of a group that needs to cross-train more, says trainer and exercise science professor Jessica Matthews. “Since they primarily run, they often don’t have a regular routine of strength training. But to excel, they need to think about muscular strength and endurance and flexibility, which require different types of training.” Use a weight that you can do 15-20 reps with, and train your upper body, which helps with the mechanics of running (your form), your core (to prevent injury), and your hamstrings and glutes (to balance out your leg muscles, since women tend to have stronger quads). The Ultimate Strength Workout for Runners is a great way to start.

If You’re: A Swimmer
Make Sure You: Walk, Run, or Hike

The great thing about swimming, says Sumbal, is that it’s a full body workout—it trains your cardiovascular system as well as strengthens your muscles, and those gains transfer to other sports. What it doesn’t help with is bone strength, since it’s not a weight-bearing exercise. To improve your bone density, make sure to incorporate some walking, running, or hiking into your routine.

If You’re: A Cyclist
Make Sure You: Practice Yoga

Most people sit at a desk all day, keeping their hips in a flexed position. And then cyclists get on a bike…where they sit in a similar way. All that flexing can cause tightness, which can throw off your posture and lead to inefficient movements, says Matthews. So incorporate flexibility training into your routine to balance it out, she advises. Yoga classes in particular usually focus on opening the hips. And keep in mind that—like swimmers—cyclists need to do some weight-bearing activity to keep their bones strong.

If You’re: A Yogi
Make Sure You: Do Some Cardio

Yoga is a great form of exercise, helping with balance and strength, says Matthews, but it does fall short on cardio. In fact, many hatha yoga classes are the cardio equivalent of a light walk. So if you’re a mat regular, try to work some more moderate intensity cardio into your week. (You can even Take Your Om Outside!)

If You’re: A Sports-League Regular
Make Sure You: Do Plyo

Whether your play tennis, basketball, or another recreational sport, be sure to incorporate cardio (like jogging) and strength training (like weights) into your routine so you can run around the court, swing a racket, and more. Amp that up with plyometric training, which will give you the power you need to respond quickly during a game, says Sumbal.

If You’re: A HIIT Lover
Make Sure You: Do Steady-State Cardio

High-intensity interval training has become so popular—and there is so much research to support it—that many people assume that it’s opposite (steady state cardio) is inefficient, says Matthews. But actually, you need both, especially since lower-intensity sessions can help you recover from a brutal HIIT class. “They train your energy systems in different ways,” she says. So mix in some steady-state training—like jogging, swimming, or using the elliptical—for 20 to 30 minutes.

If You’re: A Triathlete
Make Sure You: Strength-Train

Since they’re training in three different sports, triathletes are always cross-training. But the one thing they consistently leave out is strength training, says Sumbal. “It makes them more powerful and will reduce the risk of injury, but it needs to be sport-appropriate.” That means you don’t necessarily need to do CrossFit—but you should definitely train your core. (Get triathlon-ready in 12 weeks with this Sprint Triathlon Training Schedule!)


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