Overload Principle: Training with Purpose

This article by Nate Martins was originally published on HVMN, adapted for use here on Lorieb.

How do you know you’ve hit a plateau?

Have you trained for countless hours with sparse results? Strict dieting with little to show for it? Strength training without the ability to increase weight? When was the last time you hit a PR, anyway?

Plateauing happens to athletes at all levels. It’s good for training regimens to become a way of life, but doing those sessions over and over again can become like mindlessly checking a box. Inputs remain the same–which can be detrimental to increasing performance outputs.

Incorporating overload principle into training may be one of the steps you need to get off that plateau.

Building Muscle–How it Actually Works

Overload principle states that in order for muscle to increase in size, strength and endurance, it must be regularly challenged to produce an output that is as near as possible to maximum capacity. The technique pushes the body past its limits, further breaking it down to force adaptations that lead to performance gains.

Skeletal muscle is composed of fibers that contract when our muscles are put to work. During high intensity, challenging exercise, muscle fibers are broken down. These small breakdowns are called “microtrauma,” and cause the muscle to rebuild stronger, overcompensating to protect itself from other breakdowns with new muscle-building protein.

The rebuilt fibers increase in thickness and number, resulting in muscle growth. To support this, we need enough dietary protein to ensure the rate of muscle protein synthesis is greater than the rate of muscle protein breakdown; this is how our muscles grow.

The same process happens in all of the muscles of our body. The heart muscle also gets bigger with training, enabling more oxygen to be used by other muscles. An exercise-induced release of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) stimulates the formation of blood vessels, leading to the capillarization of the muscle, allowing increased blood flow, oxygen, and nutrient delivery (which is a critical factor in muscle growth).1 More enzymes are also produced that are utilized in energy production.

A woman squatting in the weight room using overload training, which says that muscle fibers and broken down during exercise, then muscle growth is a result of the fibers increasing in thickness and number

Interestingly, when it comes to muscular hypertrophy (the building of muscle), the exact mechanisms aren’t totally understood; there are likely many factors at play. Current hypotheses include some combination of mechanical tension, metabolic fatigue and muscular damage.

But with training adaptations like overload principle, there can be results like slower utilization of muscle glycogen, greater reliance on fat oxidation, less lactate production during exercise, and adaptations to skeletal muscle.2 To produce muscle growth, athletes must apply a load of stress greater than what those muscles have previously adapted to.3

The idea of overload principle is rooted in how muscles grow–and it begins immediately after exercise, but can take weeks or months to actually manifest.

Practice Before Overloading

Before introducing heavier weight or adding more miles to an exercise program, it’s essential to have the correct technique for those exercises cemented. Muscle memory and the repetition of techniques with proper form are crucial for executing an exercise flawlessly.

But once introduced on top of a good skill base, overload principle can be a powerful tool to reducing the overall risk of injury (as it did with this study on junior elite soccer players).4

Implementing Overload Principle

Without overload principle, fitness level is less likely to increase; training programs might not yield strength gains because the body adapts to static repetition.

There are two basic components of overload principle: the overloading, and the progression. Overloading is what we’ve discussed above, the adding of stress, weight, etc. to achieve greater fitness.

Progression is the way in which the overloading should be added to training. This can be achieved through an increase in frequency, intensity, time of exercise, or a combination of these. Workout smarter

Are You FITT?

The FITT principle is a way to approach overload training strategically and safely, by overloading these different aspects of exercise.

Frequency: How often physical activity is performed, which is normally about three to five times per week.

Intensity: How hard a person exercises during physical activity, which can be measured in different ways and is different for everyone. Heart rate is one way to monitor intensity during endurance, while weight can illustrate intensity of strength training; however, neither of these measures something like flexibility.

Time: The length of physical activity. Again, time varies depending on the person and fitness goal. Stretch-training for flexibility may take 15 minutes, but the minimum for aerobic activity is about 20 minutes of continuous exercise.

Type: The specific physical exercise one is training to improve. Someone trying to improve strength might overload weight and reps; a runner looking to improve endurance might overload distance and time.

By using the FITT principle to understand overloading, this may also help with burnout. Often, we seek performance gains, increasing intensity wildly in the hopes of achieving our goals. This can lead to overly-fatigued muscle and even injury.

Compartmentalizing overload training, and already knowing the movements on which you’ll overload, can help reduce some of the dangers of pushing your body past its limits.

How to Overload

You probably already have a training plan. It has days with long runs and short runs, rest days and strength training days.

A note: if you’re serious, it may be worth getting help from a coach. You can’t keep overloading the same thing over and over–that defeats the purpose of overload training in the first place. Always increasing the same element, like volume, may lead to another plateau. It’s important to mix it up, looking at your training plan like a journey: there will be peaks and troughs to keep the body guessing.

A runner using overload principle, which stats that runners should increase distance, increase intensity and increase speed

When Running

Running with overload principle in mind applies the same techniques as strength and resistance training: increase difficulty (in some way) systematically.

Adding intensity to your workouts is a good place to start. Speed workouts and hill training can help improve muscle strength, overall speed and eventually, race day performance. These intense workouts should come twice per week, incorporating things like interval training, tempo runs, hill workouts or lactate threshold training (which could serve a dual purpose as being both a difficult workout and help you improve your lactate threshold).

Adding duration to runs is also an essential way to overload. One long run per week should be added to a training plan. Many runners prefer to conduct these long runs on weekends (specifically Sunday), because Monday is a popular rest day. You can even add mileage to this run over the course of several weeks.

There are also tools that can help overload training. A weight vest can be added while running or walking to increase lower-body strength and endurance. And running with a training mask on can make your respiratory muscles work harder, which increases respiratory compensation threshold (RCT) and can improve endurance performance.5

Ample recovery time is also important; muscles need time to recover. Work in a rest day after a day of overload training. Since you’ve just pushed yourself further than you’re used to going, recovery will help encourage those gains. If resting isn’t an option, try alternating hard training days with easy training days.

When Weight Training

You probably already strength train or cross-train between regular workouts–these strengthen muscles and joints, decreasing the risk of injury.

The type of strength training varies by athlete depending on their goals. Many employ circuit training, weightlifting or plyometrics training. In general, overloading would include increasing the number of sets or increasing weight used in this training.

The safest way to overload is first to increase reps or sets, getting as comfortable as possible with the exercise, then increase weight. For example: let’s say you’re doing three sets of eight reps of bicep curls with 10lb dumbbells. When overloading the following week, jumping to 15lb dumbbells would be a 50% jump in weight–which is too much to overload. Instead, overload by increasing the number of reps or sets. Try for three sets of ten reps or four sets of eight reps before increasing weight.

On the flip side, someone pushing 100lbs on a bench press would likely be able to increase weight to 105lbs–that’s only a 5% jump in weight. For exercises with larger muscles, the overload increment can also be larger. Still, it’s best to focus on increased reps or sets before jumping up in weight.

To approach overloading systematically, make sure you keep a training log to track each increase in weight for all your exercises.

Overloading Outside of Exercise

Even though overloading happens in the gym, building muscle happens outside of it. All that overloading might be for naught if you don’t recover properly.

BCAAs: These branched-chain amino acids provide the body with building blocks to maintain lean muscle mass.6 The body breaks down protein into these amino acids, which then are sent throughout the body to be used again in protein building–and thus, muscle building. One study even showcased they alleviated skeletal muscle damage.7

HVMN Ketone: Can be used before, during and after workouts. HVMN Ketone has been shown to increase the efficiency of working muscle by 28%,8 and in testing, athletes went ~2% further in a 30-minute time trial.9 For recovery, HVMN Ketone decreases the breakdown of intramuscular glycogen and protein when compared to carbs alone,9 while also expediting the resynthesis of glycogen by 60% and protein by 2x.10,11

Protein: Whey, casein and soy protein are the most popular choices here, and all should be taken post-workout. Whey is a great source of BCAA, and is absorbed the fastest by the body. It’s largely considered the most effective protein for building muscle.12 Casein protein is slower to absorb, so it can be taken before bed. One study showcased consuming it before bed led to a 34% reduction in whole body protein breakdown.13

Overloading to Measurable Gains

Overloading may be the best way to break the body out of its routine and spur the growth you’ve been looking for. By pushing the body past its limits, even for a set or an extra mile, your body will adapt to be able to handle that stress during the next training session.

It’s important not to over-overload. This can lead to injury and be detrimental for your overall training goals by putting you on the sidelines for a few weeks. Measured overloading is the best approach, tracking the increases to understand how they’re helping work toward your goals.

Take it one step at a time. Before you know it, you’ll be off that plateau and on your way to climbing a whole new mountain. You train, you work hard, you put in the hours–you should be seeing results.

Scientific Citations:

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Running Motivation: tips for runners at every level

Originally published on HVMN by Nate Martins, adapted for use here on Lorieb

You can’t buy motivation. Most runners probably wish they could.

We hit walls. Life can seem to get in the way of running–so having a playbook of motivational techniques is important for runners at every level who are fighting the same battle to log miles.

Running motivation can come in different forms when the finish line isn’t in sight–new running shoes, a new training plan, or even joining a running club. But at its purest, motivation is the human desire to do something; unlocking that desire may be even more difficult than the task itself.

Joshua Sommers finds it within himself–the hedge fund VP is also a triathlete who has competed in over 100 races. When asked what motivates him, he keeps it simple.

“The pursuit of excellence and self-improvement.”

Joshua Sommers

We aren’t all like Joshua, but we can learn from him. In this piece, we’ll explore what types of motivational tools different runners can use, and how they can impact your training–and your life outside of running.

Motivation for Beginner Runners  


As a new runner, it can be daunting to look at the miles ahead and know the only way to get there is with your own two feet.

Set a Goal

Begin at the end. Setting a goal provides something a runner can work toward. It can be a number of different things: maybe it’s weight loss, or picking a 5k race, or a certain number of miles a week, or even a half marathon. Whatever that goal is, keep it in mind each time you lace up those sneakers for a jog.

This will also help track progress. Write the goal down and place it somewhere you’ll see it every day, keeping markers of the steps taken to achieve it. After a few weeks, look back at the work accomplished and you’ll be able to see it actualized. See yourself achieving those goals and surpassing them.

Get Social While Holding Yourself Accountable

Incorporating a training partner into your new life as a runner has layered benefits. Finding a running partner will provide an immediate desire to run, even if simply knowing that person is counting on you.

Executing on a training program together, with a shared goal, can increase the level of accountability. Joining a running club or finding a running partner removes the element of choice, the ability to reason with yourself and find ways not to run. Excuses are ever-present, and a good running partner won’t take “no” for an answer.

Even though running is an individual pursuit, clubs and teams are everywhere. Besides the motivational aspect, things like networking and safety and developing a sense of community are all extended benefits of making running social.

Make it Routine
A morning run can ripple positively into the rest of your day. Acute aerobic exercise activates the prefrontal and occipital cortices in the brain, increasing “executive control.” This can help improve cognitive ability and can help control emotion.1 Morning runs can have effects that last into the night, like improving sleep quality.2 And it doesn’t stop there; studies suggest running can have overall health and cognitive benefits, especially later in life.3

Besides the mental and physical benefits, there are less social obligations in the morning. You won’t get stuck at work or be tempted by a happy hour at 6am. Even if you’re not a morning person, you can likely train to become one. Pack all your running gear the night before. Set an alarm and place it across the room, forcing you to skip the snooze button.

Developing a morning running routine provides a nice reset of the body’s clock; it can feel like adding hours to the day. Another benefit? A solid training schedule can positively impact your regular schedule.

Ted Bross is a newly-graduated medical student starting his residency. He has participated in almost 30 ultra marathons, and developing a running habit helped him with medical school.  

“Part of what helps me get through several of the mental stressors of medical school is pushing my body physically and relieving that stress. It makes me more of a disciplined athlete and is something that has given me a lot in my life.”

Ted Bross

Develop a Training Plan

Checking boxes on a training plan can feel really good. It also answers some of the mental questions runners ask themselves before setting out: Where should I go? How long should I run? What pace am I aiming for? Just look at the running program, where it’s all outlined. Remember to develop your training plan in alignment with those goals you’ve set. And try to incorporate one long run per week.

A comprehensive training plan should incorporate all aspects of your routine. Account for extra pre-run warm-ups and post-run stretches. Add in weekly or monthly goals. Budget some days off. Your training plan doesn’t have to be a bible, but should be a document frequently returned to, and one around which other aspects of life can be considered.

“I train on average for about ten sessions a week, for a total of ten hours a week,” Sommers said. “I’m spending all this time on it, so I want to get the most out of my workouts.”

Motivation for Experienced Runners

There’s a fine line between getting into a groove and finding yourself in a rut.

Buy Some New Gear

Sometimes you need to pick low-hanging fruit. Purchasing some new running clothes, like a new pair of running shoes or running shorts, can provide motivation to run and test all that new gear. Depending on what you buy, it may also improve your training (like a fitness tracker).

New gear can also serve as a reward; small goals can be treated as important steps to accomplishing larger goals.

There’s also the “gear guilt.” Shiny new toys should be used instead of sitting in the back of a closet. Some may think using money as a type of running motivation is shallow, but there are few drivers in life like cold hard cash.

Introduce Supplements

So much of success when running comes before (and after) feet hit the pavement. Nutrition should be looked at holistically, because supplements can provide a boost during the run and also help with recovery.

“Especially in the longer races, figuring out nutrition is something most people don’t spend enough time on.”

Ted Bross

Pre-run supplements include caffeine for energy, calcium for bone health and even creatine to reduce muscle inflammation. Post-run, focus on protein for muscle recovery and fish oil to reduce muscle soreness.

HVMN Ketone, a ketone ester drink, can be used both as a pre-run supplement and a recovery mechanism. By elevating ketone levels in the blood, HVMN Ketone unlocks a fuel source the body produces naturally, one fundamentally different from carbohydrates or fats. Post-workout, taking HVMN Ketone can expedite the resynthesis of glycogen (by 60%) and protein (by 2x), which enable faster recovery.4,5

Cross Train

Varying training can provide easy motivation to try a new sport–one you know can improve your running–and it’ll also keep you active on days you’re not running. It can also supplement during rehabilitation periods from physical injury, and improve overall physical performance.6

Specifically, cross training can improve VO2 Max capacity (the measurement of the maximum amount of oxygen utilized during intense exercise).6 Swimming and cycling are great choices, but things like yoga can also increase flexibility and balance.7

By introducing strength workouts or cross training into your regimen, motivation can be found in presenting new challenges and accomplishing new goals.

Switch Up Locations

Don’t become a running rodent. Running on a treadmill can feel like a hamster on a wheel, just like running the same path multiple times a week can feel Groundhog Day-esque. The essence of running harkens back to being outside, and in a more spiritual sense, connecting with the space in which you’re traversing.

It’s easy to feel invigorated by discovering a new place or hitting a new distance, so trail running or cross country running are always good motivators for the simple fact that they place you out of your element. The simple feeling of dirt under the feet and soaking up the essence of the trail provides an immediate lift and motivation.

We’ve also heard from runners that there’s something special about running in the rain (even if it’s the last thing you want to do). It presents a new challenge, and almost a primal sense of motivation; you’re miles away from home, and the only way to return is to run back. Your heart is pounding, you smell the rain, each wet step is experienced in a totally new way–it’s an hour that can feel different than all the other hours in the day.

Motivation for Advanced Runners

Advanced runners can have the most difficult time finding motivation because running is such a part of their life that it becomes an unquestioned obligation.

Remember (and Embrace) the Pain and Vulnerability

Stop and ask yourself: Why do I run? If running has become numbly intrinsic, this question can serve as a reinvigorating reminder to look within and remember why you fell in love with running in the first place.

Because running is hard; it hurts; it requires time; it takes mental fortitude. Some might think this is admitting defeat–but reminding yourself that you’re accomplishing something difficult can inspire you to keep going.

In a physical sense, powerful running comes from your core. So, in essence, you’re running from the gut. There’s something vulnerable about exposing yourself in that way, and showcasing the ability to be broken down (and thus built back up).

It can all come to a head at the end of a race. Ted Bross has been there.

“You share some really special moments. You’re pretty raw emotionally, when you get broken down physically there’s less barrier to connect with people.”

Ted Bross

Ditch the Tech (This Includes Music)

Technological tools have forever changed running, giving anyone the opportunity to track pace and miles and calories burned. These also changed training by providing actionable targets to hit and measure performance.

Select one day to run untethered by technology. It can serve as a great way to reconnect with the simple joy of running, ditching the gadgets to escape the metrics. Sometimes you have to operate on feel, and it can be motivating to find that energy within yourself instead of hitting a number on your wrist. Some of your best runs aren’t necessarily your fastest.

Many of us train with music, but that can act as a barrier between you and the world in which you’re running. If you’re participating in a race that doesn’t allow music, it’s especially beneficial to train without tunes and run to the beat of your own pace.

Improve Your Diet

Seeing results provides motivation to continue working. The results garnered from eating healthy show themselves in training. While carb-loading has been a staple of many runners’ race day routines, growing evidence suggests that a periodized approach to nutrition is optimal, especially for long distance races. For example, a marathon runner might undertake periods of training with a low carb, high fat diet to boost fat burning followed by maximizing carb fueling for a race.

Exercise after an overnight fast can also increase fat oxidation, which can help with weight loss and, when the body gets better at burning fat, it can also help increase endurance.

“My diet isn’t as good as I would like it to be,” admitted Sommers. “But that’s more a function of time and other stress factors, like if I’m traveling or if I don’t have time to cook what I want.”

Even the most elite triathletes struggle to incorporate diet into life.

Trying a new diet can have results both in training and recovery, and noticing the difference provides a motivation to continue pushing your personal best with newfound fuel. But that happens on an even smaller level. Incorporate a new fruit or vegetable into your diet.

Haven’t had Brussel sprouts since your grandma served them boiled? Give them another try (and maybe try roasting them) and fold in more vegetables over the course of your training.

Even for those unwilling to make extreme dietary changes, there are incremental benefits to be had by cutting back on refined sugars, avoiding seed oils and getting plenty of omega 3s.

Enjoy the Small Wins

Advanced runners arrive at a point where they can only improve so much. It’s a point of fear for many–that they’ll plateau, and eventually decline.

So the small wins are important to celebrate. Seconds off your mile pace, or increased weight while strength training or even a feeling of energy after a run–individually these are small, but together they can make a big impact. The world’s elite athletes understand the power in recognizing small successes.

Accomplishing small wins while training provides a motivation to keep achieving them, and the confidence they’ll translate to race day.

Motivation is an Endless Cycle

Remember: motivation comes and goes. But recognizing when you’ve lost motivation is almost as important as getting it back.

The struggle challenges all different levels–from beginner to expert runners. On the running journey, goals will be accomplished, routines will become stale, good habits will wane. This is all part of the process.

Finding the ability to motivate yourself won’t just improve your running. It’ll improve your life overall, and some of these strategies should translate to life off the running road.

Go forth. Run. And maybe find a bit of yourself in the process.

Scientific Citations

Cross Training, add it to your workouts

Originally posted on HVMN by Nate Martins, this article on cross training was adapted for use here on Lorieb.

Dedicated training is something to be admired. Many athletes strive for the ability to get up and get out every single day whether it’s for a specific race or event or even, simply driven by a goal. Often that can mean adhering to a training plan based on both repetition and incrementally increased difficulty–monotony and overuse be damned.

But you may get hurt. Or plateau. Or experience a disruption in your training schedule. These can all be detrimental to accomplishing a goal. Then there’s also that inevitable boredom of doing the same training day in and day out. You swear that footprint on the trail was yours from yesterday.

Enter cross training, an exercise program usually employed outside of these intense training blocks to add some variance (physically and mentally) to workouts. It keeps the body guessing, and has many athletes reap the benefits for their main sport: decreased injury potential, and added strength to the most-used muscles.

Here, we’ll detail the science behind cross training, how to work it into your schedule, and some new exercises to try. Your main sport will thank us.

This is Your Body on Cross Training

Simply put, cross training is training in another discipline in improve your main sport. The options are almost limitless–runners can strength train, swimmers can paddle board, cyclists can do yoga. The goal is to supplement your main sport with training that’s beneficial for certain muscles, movements, or even, your brain and mood.

For most athletes, the inclusion of cross training into a workout plan is triggered by an injury sidelining them from regular training. I was no different–hours of basketball and running led to knee pain (from patellar tendonitis, known as “runner’s knee” or “jumper’s knee”) . But I was stubborn. When I should have stopped the joint-pounding activities, I continued to beat them like a drum. It got to a point where the pain wasn’t worth the workout; but I couldn’t give up working out all together. So I started swimming and incorporating yoga into my routine, which delivered positive and painless results.

Turns out, I’m not alone. Up to 56% of recreational runners experience injuries, with most of those relating to the knee.1 Supplements can help (like glucosamine, which promotes the development of cartilage), but up to 75% of those are overuse injuries.1

Since a majority of injuries happen due to time dedicated to a single sport, cross training can help prevent injuries for the simple fact that it forces athletes to spend less time training singularly. Cross training doesn’t just maintain activity by reducing the risk for injury–it also can increase performance.

A study of 27 male runners were assigned one of three different resistance training regimens (in addition to their normal endurance training): heavy resistance, explosive resistance or muscle endurance training. In all three groups, running endurance performance increased.2 The heavy-lifting group in particular saw improvements to high-intensity running characteristics, like sprinting at the end of the race.2

The benefits of cross training aren’t just physical; there’s also a potential mental benefit of switching it up. Mental fatigue can impact physical workouts–you may be less likely to workout knowing that you’re facing the exact same exercise every day. Especially if an athlete is in-season or training for a specific event, cross-training can provide an exciting challenge. It’s easy to be training heads-down; cross training can help you see the forest between the trees.

Implementing Cross Training

Divorce yourself from the idea that cross training takes away from your regular training schedule. While you’ll inevitably be spending time away from your sweetheart sport, absence makes the muscles grow stronger.

There are three main groups of cross training for endurance athletes: strength training, aerobic low-impact work and aerobic impact work, and each can be part of a cross training program.

Strength Training

Touching upon all major muscle groups is important for effective strength training.

Incorporating strength training into an endurance regimen can enhance physical fitness, as it did in this meta-analysis of distance runners.3 Even just 30 minutes per week, once or twice a week, can suffice. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be done in a gym; you can take the at-home approach to incorporating plyometrics or things like push ups.

Regardless of where you strength train, a full body workout will maximize the time you spend training. Consider hitting all the major muscle groups such as arms, chest, shoulders, back, core and legs (more on this later).

Aerobic Low-Impact Work

Probably the reason many athletes experiment with cross training: take stress off those weary joints and reduce injury risk.

Low-impact activities or no-impact workouts can be done two or three times as week. It’s easily implemented, as it can replace an active recovery day or even a harder workout day depending on the exercise; so for those who think they’re losing gains because of cross training, you may actually find yourself enjoying the cross training more than your main exercise.

Cycling, swimming and rowing are some of the most popular low-impact workouts. For flexibility and core exercises, yoga and pilates are go-tos. And you may even be able to workout longer and more frequently using these types of workouts due to the lack of stress they cause the body (swimmers can work out every day, and they’re hitting all the major muscle groups). For example, if you planned on running 45 minutes, you could easily spend 70 minutes cycling.

Aerobic Impact Work

Maybe the reason you’re reading this article is because of too much aerobic impact work.

If you’re training, the amount of aerobic impact work will likely be higher (and may be your only focus during that training block). But in the off-season, or times when you’d like to give your body a break, aerobic impact work should be done once or twice a week. As a general rule, cross-training is meant to limit the impact on the body.

Typically, cross training is meant to offer your body a break from the impact it faces during regular training. You can play team games, train run, circuit train or do CrossFit as a cross training method, as the impact is likely different from your normal routine. But be mindful: any impact work still puts strain on the body.

The Importance of Rest

Before getting into the specific exercises to try, remember the need for rest. Your muscles are asking for it.

The goal of every training session is to break down muscle and without recovery, a portion of that work might be wasted. During recovery, the body begins the process of rebuilding what has been broken down.

Muscle protein synthesis can increase by as much as 50% in the hours after a workout, helping encourage muscle growth.4 Concurrently, muscle fibers are rebuilt. These processes are a normal part of exercise, and recovery allows the muscles to become stronger. Fluid restoration is also key, as it helps deliver nutrients to organs and muscles through the bloodstream. And acids (via that hydrogen proton associated with lactate) accumulate during workouts–so recovery provides time for the body to restore intramuscular pH and blood flow for oxygen delivery.

In-season, professional triathlete, Kelsey Withrow, is laser-focused on training. When she’s not training, it’s all about recovery.

As a professional triathlete, I focus all my time on swimming, running and biking. The rest of the time is for recovery.

Kelsey Withrow, professional triathlete

Even though cross training is meant to give the body a break from regular training, it’s still is a source of stress and requires recovery time (or you might burnout). For most athletes, it’s difficult to slow down. Many of us are goal-oriented, hardworking and ultimately–a bit stubborn. Budgeting recovery time is essential, as is providing your body with the necessary fuel to recover properly.

Doing the same exercise can be mentally exhausting, leading to a mental fatigue that wears down on your desire to even do the workout. Research has shown that the mind is usually a good gauge of the body,7 with a mental strain reported by a questionnaire being closely related to stress signals in the hormones of the body. By switching it up with cross training, and also ensuring rest days, the mind will get a chance to recharge too.

Cross Training Exercises

Now is the time to incorporate cross training workouts. The exercises below touch on several different areas of exercise, from strength training to both low-impact and impact aerobic activities.

You can begin by folding in some additional exercises to your existing workouts. Runners may try hills or cyclists may try 30 second sprints–this isn’t cross training exactly, it’s just extra training. The benefits of cross training come with learning something new and focusing on different areas of the body that regular training can neglect.

Try working some of these exercises into your routine. It’s important to pick which is best for your personal needs.

Swimming

A great whole body workout, swimming is one of the low-impact exercises most often used for recovery or cross training. Interestingly, reports show many people enjoy water-based exercise more than land-based exercise.8

Swimming works the whole body; it increases heart rate without the joint-pounding stress of running, it builds endurance and can also build and tone muscle. Because of these benefits, it’s a great option for recovery–a study showed that patients with osteoarthritis showed reduced stiffness, joint pain and overall less physical limitation.9

It also torches calories. Swimming has shown improved body weight and body fat distribution when compared to walking.10 An average person can burn almost 450 calories when swimming at a low or moderate pace for one hour. At increased pase, that could go north of 700 calories. For comparison, running for one hour at a leisurely pace burns about 400 calories.

Outside of the aerobic benefits, swimming (and water training, like deep-water running) has shown to improve cardiovascular health and lung capacity.11,12,13

To incorporate swimming into your cross training routine, first find a place to swim. Then gather the necessary tools (like goggles, swim cap, fins, etc.), and brush up on form before jumping in the pool. Try it one to three times a week for 30 minutes to start.

A cyclist riding through the city with the benefits, concerns and ways to try cycling beneath him.

Cycling

Another low impact workout, cycling is a great way to reduce stress on those joint while still clocking in the aerobic hours.

Similar to swimming, cycling burns calories at an impressive clip, anywhere from 400 – 1,000 per hour depending on the intensity of the ride. And since cycling is also a resistance exercise, it’s not just burning fat–it also builds muscle.

A systematic review analyzed the benefits of cycling, showcasing a myriad of results. There was a positive relationship between cycling and cardiorespiratory fitness, cardiovascular fitness and general fitness.14 Whether on the road, the track, or in the gym on a stationary bike, the benefits of cycling as a cross training mechanism stem from the fact it’s a low impact, muscle building, aerobic workout. It can help athletes train if they have experienced an injury.

There are several ways to train on a bicycle. You can ride hills to build muscle and strength, or do shorter sprints to build speed. There’s also an option for endurance, with riders cycling hundreds or thousands of miles over the course of a long session. For beginners, get a feel for the workout on a stationary bike. As you advance, visit a local bike shop to get your bike properly fitted.

Strength Training

Many endurance athletes don’t consider strength training as part of their workout routine, but it can help prevent injury while improving strength for your main sport. For runners, maybe that’s improved core strength for economy. For cyclists, maybe the outcome is a higher power output. Regardless of your sport, strength training is imperative to improving endurance for runners15 and cyclists.

In a study of postmenopausal women, high-intensity strength training exercises showed preserved bone density while improving muscle mass, strength and balance.16 It can also help prevent injury. In a study of soccer players who strength trained in the offseason, hamstring strains were lower (and that group also saw increases in strength and speed).17

You spend so much time beating your body down in-season, but I find that I’m healthier and stronger when I lift. With long distance, being strong helps. I try to put on a lot of muscle during a short period of time.”

Kelsey Withrow, professional triathlete

The mental benefits of resistance training have also been documented; studies have shown it improves anxiety and depression.18,19

A good strength training regimen will focus separately on different muscle groups. There are several options for lifters of all different levels, but starting with some simple bodyweight exercises (like push-ups or pull-ups) can allow you to build toward free weight training, weight machines, or rubber tubing. A meta analysis of periodized training–varying your strength training workouts–has shown results for greater changes in strength, motor performance and lean body mass.20 So don’t get stuck doing the same routine over and over again. A good way to push yourself is to incorporate overload training into some of that strength work.

If you’re strapped for time, a full-body workout once or twice a week (with dedicated recovery time) should suffice. Make sure to also spend some time nailing down form in the weight room, as improper form and too much weight can lead to injury.

Yoga

An ancient practice designed to create a union between the body and mind, many athletes seek out yoga for its ability to increase strength and flexibility while also promoting mental health benefits.

Yoga can improve performance by targeting specific aspects of flexibility and balance–one study, which took place over the course of 10 weeks in male collegiate athletes, saw improvements in both balance and flexibility.21 In older adults, studies have shown improved balance and mobility.22 Strength is also a target of many yoga programs, especially in the core. Even a study in which a specific pose (sun salutation) was used six days per week for 24 weeks, participants saw increased upper body strength, weight loss and endurance.23

But with yoga, the body is only half the game. It has been shown to decrease cortisol levels (the stress hormone),24 along with the ability to lower levels of depression, stress and anxiety.25 There have even been studies which showed overall quality of life improvements in seniors.26 Maybe part of these mental benefits are linked to better sleep quality. One study illustrated that a group participating in yoga fell asleep faster, slept longer and felt more well-rested in the morning.27

Yoga isn’t an aerobic workout, but it stretches muscles, builds strength and has been shown to improve mood. Because it’s low-impact, yoga can be done every day. Typically gyms or studios have beginner classes, and they will typically last between 60 and 90 minutes. Athletes can use yoga as recovery days, so between one and three sessions per week would be perfect.

Remember: listen to your body. Athletes always want to push the limit, and many may scoff that yoga is difficult (compared, say, to running). But extending a stretch too far, or practicing yoga without learning form, can lead to injury.

Other Exercises

There are different activities that may be considered cross training, outside of the usual suspects we detailed above.

Hiking, for example, is a great way to build strength and get outside during a recovery day. Same goes with exercises like kayaking or stand-up paddle boarding28–these can help build upper body strength while encouraging an athlete to get out of their comfort zone (literally, and figuratively).

“I spend a lot of time training indoors, so getting outside is a lot of fun. I’ll do one long run per week outside, and I’ll bring my dog. It’s a reset for me.”

Kelsey Withrow, professional triathlete

We wouldn’t recommend team sports because there’s a risk of injury. But tennis might be an exception. While there are of course injury concerns with every sport and exercise, tennis has shown to improve aerobic fitness, lower body fat percentage, reduce risk for developing cardiovascular disease and improve bone health.29

For more passive cross training, think about everyday things you can do to improve strength and balance. Even investing in a standing desk, or sitting on a medicine ball at work can encourage better posture and more movement overall.

Cross Training for Athletes

During peak training season, athletes feel the grind. You’re putting in the hours with a race or event or goal in mind, laboring over the same path, the same laps, the same routine, with little variance.

Cross training is meant to serve as a break, but one that’s productive. It can be a break from your normal routine, both physically and mentally. But it can also invigorate the mind, providing it with a new task to learn, a new challenge to face. And of course, the physical benefits of testing the body in new ways are evident.

To incorporate cross training, try one or more of these exercises a couple times a week. See how you feel. You’ll likely find one you enjoy more than others, one that maybe provides better results than the rest. It’ll take some time to find a balance.

Scientific Citations