The offseason can be both a positive and negative time of year for an athlete who spends the majority of the calendar year travelling and competing. Most look forward to a well -deserved break both mentally and physically, but depending on the length of time between seasons, some athletes begin to feel very out of sync with their routine and it can start to have negative mental impacts.
Whilst it is very important for an athlete to have down time after the season, it is also just as important for the athlete to feel like they are still motivated to move, learn, create and feel inspired. This is where cross-training has been an important staple in many successful athlete’s careers.
Cross training can be defined as the action or practice of engaging in two or more sports or types of exercise in order to improve fitness or performance in one’s main sport. Examples most commonly seen of this are professional footballers doing a team boxing session, cricket players having a game of touch football and motocross riders switching to mountain biking. The choice of sport or exercise modality is not just a simple random pick by the players of whatever they feel like doing on the day, there are some specific questions that need to be answered to find out what is the correct and most useful form of cross-training.
- What large movements has the athlete been doing all season that they still need recovery from? (Example may be a swimmer who needs to limit shoulder circumduction)
- What movements are still needed to be maintained and what cross training technique will allow them to perform these?
- What new skills can be learned and transferred to their main sport?
- What is going to be a fun new challenge for the athlete to engage in?
These questions are going to help the coach or athlete decide what sports or activities will be completed over the off-season. Studies have shown that the incorrect choice of cross training modality has shown little to no improvement in athletic performance or positive transfer to the main sport. Some examples and reasoning of well thought out cross-training choices may be;
- Football team boxing session – Boxing has been shown to have positive adaptations in anaerobic and aerobic conditioning. The high intensity intervals are a great way for footballers to engage in a conditioning session that feels very different from their normal seasonal running sessions.
- Cricket team playing touch football – Touch football is a very fast game with many short dynamic movements. The change of direction running at high speed benefits both fielders and batsman, and the skill development in agility reaction time transfers to their main sport very well. Also it is another form of high intensity conditioning that is very different from their seasonal training sessions.
- Motocross riders and mountain biking – This a very popular cross-training technique that I personally use for my athletes every season. The use of the mountain bike for motocross riders has many benefits for the continued learning of on-bike skill development at a slower pace, and the aerobic conditioning base is still able to be maintained and then increased during the course of the off-season.
The coach or athlete should be able to answer the questions above and have strong reasoning as to why a particular athlete or team is participating and using that sport or activity. The wrong choice could be costly both in wasted time and energy.
Cross-training has been widely used by professional athletes and teams for many years and shown to have many positive outcomes. Skill development, conditioning adaptations, injury prevention and mental stimulation can all be positively influenced by the use of a well thought out cross training program.
The off-season should be a very positive time of year for all athletes, as it can be used as a chance to rest and recover from a long and successful season, but also be full of opportunity to learn, create, move, explore and start the next season full of excitement and confidence.