In a word– durability.
Tell me if you’ve heard this one before:
A triathlete hanging out with friends, gets into a pickup game of basketball. Everything is fine, until, after a quick juke move to the basket, and POW! An audible snap, and the athlete falls over, grabbing his knee.
Or maybe this one…
An all around endurance athlete is coaching little league football. He is demonstrating a button hook during practice, when BOOM! On the ground in a crumpled heap, muttering words not suitable for little league ears, lays coach.
Unfortunately, the individual in both of these scenarios was me. In a pickup game of basketball in 2001, I partially tore my right meniscus. A year later, I strained my MCL in the same knee coaching little league football for 7 and 8 year olds.
The moral of the story, I wasn’t doing the right kind of cross training.
Most age group (non-pro/elite) endurance athletes are considered very athletic and fit by their peers, yet something so simple can take them out of commision and out of races for weeks or months.
Because endurance athletes focus on specializing in their sport of choice. They often exclusively run, or swim, or bike, or some amalgam of the three. And when they do “cross train,” it is often sport-specific exercises.
In 2001, I was 27 years old, I lifted weights 3 times a week and was an avid runner and triathlete. I thought I was in great shape, but as it turned out, I couldn’t move laterally, a huge weakness that ultimately led to injury.
If you’re a high performing endurance athlete, on the brink of turning pro or landing a contract, then disregard this, but, if you’re not, and you’re still reading this, then I hope you pay attention.
You have a life outside of your sport. Having a hobby in triathlon will not pay your rent, doing 18 minute 5k’s won’t buy you a car, either. I’m not saying that these aren’t impressive feats, but you probably have a regular day job, or a spouse, and kids, a yard that needs maintenance.
And that is why you need to be very deliberate in your cross training. Don’t just do exercises that will make you better at your favorite sport, but do exercises that will make you a better human.
We all want to have faster times, but those are short term goals. Think about life beyond 40, 50, 60, and even beyond 70. Establish sound movement patterns when you are young, and not only will you perform better in your chosen sport, but when you’re a grandparent, you’ll be youthful enough to play with your grandkids, do yard work, or get out of a chair by yourself.
And you don’t have to be the sharpest spoon in the drawer to figure that out…