A Beginners Guide to Cross Training
We’ve all been there; whether its persistent injury, recovering from a long race, or just plain old bored with the routine.
There are times when you just don’t run as much.
But how do you feed the endorphin addiction while your running shoes are getting a well-earned rest, not to mention avoiding qualification as a contestant on the Biggest Loser?
Cross training! Hell, you can even do it while still clocking up the kilometres, smug in the knowledge your extra effort might just give you the edge over your nearest age-group rival in your next 10km race.
So, for the uninitiated here are a few tips on what to expect when you first lace up your new cross trainers and step into that brave new world.
On Your Bike
Cycle classes come in a range of guises all essentially designed to do the same thing, leave you exhausted and humiliated at the end.
So here are my top tips on leaving the cycle studio with at least a shred of dignity and the tiniest inkling that you might want to return.
Tip #1 – Pick a bike at the back of the room
The first thing to do when you enter the cycle studio in any gym is head for the bikes at the back of the class.
The unwritten rule of the pecking order states ‘thou shalt not head for a bike up the front until class #5’.
And when you can hardly keep the pedals turning cos you got a bit carried away at the start, you don’t want it to happen right under the steely glare of the 25-year-old lycra-clad teacher/bully who rattles off 5 of these classes a day.
Tip #2 – ‘Add more gear’ at your peril
As a runner, you may have mastered the tricky art of pacing but it’s a whole different ball game in a cycle class.
If you belong to a decent gym, you might be lucky enough to find yourself astride a state-of-the-art static bike for your first class.
So when you respond to the teacher/bully’s call to ‘add more gear’, you know there will be a gentle increase in resistance, and you can build up to breaking a sweat in your own good time.
But it’s more likely you’ll end up on a bike that’s been ridden non-stop by large, sweaty men and women since the gym first opened.
It won’t be until you have adjusted all the adjustable bits and strapped yourself into the barely functioning foot pedals, you realise even a slight increase in gears feels like cycling through mud.
You can turn it down, but to save face this needs sleight-of-hand techniques that look like you are turning it up and not advisable for beginners.
Chances are you will spend the rest of the class fighting a sudden and painful build up of lactic acid.
And the realisation that the merest nudge of the whisper-sensitive dial adds what feels like the weight of a semi-trailer to your effort.
Tip #3 – Keep the running shorts for running
It might seem like a clever way of making gullible runners spend more cash on gear, but this simple tip will make your first ride on a static bike a happier one.
Most runners have chafed, and we know what parts of the the body will suffer if we’re not careful.
But on a bike the introduction of ‘equipment’ adds a whole new dimension to the potential (ahem!) exposure.
Let’s just say that to hold on to your dignity and minimise chafing in normally unchafed parts of your runner’s anatomy, knee length Lycra or fitted shorts are advisable.
You’ll avoid spending the entire class with one hand permanently pulling your shorts out of places they have no business to be.
The only thing ‘riding up’ should be you … at the next seated climb!
Pump Pump Baby
So you’ve mastered the cycle class, and you’re feeling brave enough to try a body pump class.
A bit like spin, never judge the ability of anyone in these classes merely by the apparent bulk (or otherwise!) of their muscles.
Don’t be fooled into thinking you can keep up with that puny looking bird/fella chatting with the teacher like an old friend.
Tip #1 Keep the weights light
You’re probably thinking, ‘I’ve done weights before, how can a class be any different?’
Be warned, getting through a pump class is not the same as gently guiding yourself through a solo weights workout.
No chance here to modify the number of reps and give yourself enough of a break in between to double-check how you look in the mirror.
Your first pump class is not the time to go all Alpha male (or female).
Piling 20 kilos on to the bar during the warm-up is a sure-fire way of finding yourself face-to-face with a version of you that looks like it’s been turned inside out!
Tip #2 I said keep the weights light
So you’ve hastily removed 19 kilos from your warm up weight and after 5 minutes it’s starting to feel a bit easy.
Resist the urge to start building the weights back up too quickly.
Pump is a choreographed class set to music, and at the very least you’ll need to find a bit of a rhythm to keep up with the everyone else.
Unfortunately except for the Arnold Schwarzenegger’s among us, the rhythmic, choreographed pumping of too-heavy weights in time to music is a sure-fire recipe for disaster.
The sudden arrival of muscle fatigue is guaranteed to be quickly followed by disorientated stumbling and a potentially fatal collision with your mat/step/neighbour/the floor!
Tip #3 I told you to keep the weights light!
Any decent weights class is broken up into sections that focus on different parts of the body.
As runners we all know our upper bodies could do with a bit more work.
But we’re runners, so when it gets to the part where the teacher yells ‘legs’, it is with an inward grin the we are likely to reach for the big weights.
Alas, it is because we are runners, notorious for our non-existent stretching, that we need to squash this urge.
The legs section of the class is one long stretching exercise for already overworked quads, glutes, calfs and hamstrings.
Add to that whatever exorbitant weight you incautiously added to the bar and you might never get up from the lunge position again.
Come back soon … or not!
So there it is, a brief guide to tackling your first cross-training sessions without losing all your dignity and the will to live.
Follow these tips and you may just find you begin to enjoy the ritualised nature of this punishment.
Or at the very least see enough benefit in your running that you are persuaded to come back.
Alternatively after two weeks you may just find that your ‘running mojo’ has miraculously returned, and you never want to see the inside of a gym again.
Now let’s see you try to cancel that gym membership …
A version of this article first appeared in the Sydney Striders Running Club Magazine in spring 2010