Improve Fitness With Cross-Training

Cycling

  • Make sure your bike is in good order and that it fits you properly. A good fit is important for efficiency and better for muscles and joints.
  • Wear an ASTM-Snell- or CPSC-approved helmet that's snug and fits level on your head. Dress to make yourself visible but ride as if you're invisible to vehicles.
  • Progress slowly, riding 30 to 45 minutes initially and at a lower heart rate, a pace at which you're breathing easily enough that you can still comfortably talk.
  • Keep the spinning or cadence -- the rotations per minute - high, which means with less resistance, and then increase five or ten minutes an outing, says Stephen Higgins, a Seattle-area racer and owner of Zone 1 Sports Science Coaching.
  • The higher cadence works aerobic muscle groups, stimulating slow-twitch muscle fibers. Rotations per minute should be 100 to 130, which can be measured by a cadence-counting device or by counting pedal rotations for 15 seconds and multiplying by four. Also be sure to keep your heart rate low.
  • When you have a good base of fitness, you can increase resistance and add workouts for the fast-twitch or anaerobic muscle groups, dropping the cadence to 60 to 65 rpm for 15 or 20 minutes two or three times a week.

"Even in that lower cadence workout, stay in the lower heart rate," Higgins says.

The best way to pedal: Using toe clips or cleats, work on a "round" pedal stroke to keep motion and pressure on the pedal through the entire stroke.

The goal for effective pedaling is to push forward before pushing down at the top and to pull back before you reach the bottom of the down stroke and then pull up before you get into the upstroke.

Try thinking of your chain ring as a clock facing outward. Start the push forward with your right leg at the eleven. Start pushing down at one. Then start pulling back at five and start pulling up at seven.

"Each action needs to lead into the next," Higgins says.

For a program on how to train and prevent injuries, check out the Web site of the University of Washington's television station: www.uwtv.org and type in "Mountain and Road Biking."

Try www.bicycling.com for information on pedaling and braking.

Swimming

Swimming has a number of good things going. It's soothing, it builds the upper body, and it's easier on joints and muscles than most sports.

But it's technique-intensive, and to improve, you may need a knowledgeable set of eyes to offer suggestions.

"One crucial improvement in your swim technique is worth six months of just building your condition in terms of performance," says Fitzgerald.

Beginners should take swim classes and "just practice," says Pat Patterson, aquatics supervisor for the Covington Aquatic Center at Tahoma, Wash., which offers classes for triathletes.

For More Advanced Swimmers

  • Increase the distance each stroke takes you. Count how many strokes it takes to go a length of the pool and work on cutting one stroke a length.
  • Don't think of your arms as merely pulling through the water, Patterson says. Focus on anchoring your hand in the water and pulling your body past it.
  • Don't lift your head. Keep the top of your head pointed toward the end wall of the pool and your eyes pointed downward.
  • Rotate your head to breathe. Lifting the head pushes the hips and legs down, causing unwanted drag.
  • Train with fins once in a while to build cardiovascular ability.
  • Try interval training to relieve boredom, monitor consistency of speed and improve quality. Swim four lengths of the pool. Rest five seconds. Repeat for 30 minutes.

The New Strength Training

Many strength trainers who work with fitness athletes borrow more from Pilates exercises and yoga than from Charles Atlas, believing that the core or torso of the body is the foundation of power.

They still work on arm or leg muscles, but do so in cooperation with exercises that strengthen the trunk so the movement has a flow, as it would when riding, running or swimming.

Along with or in place of free weights and weight machines, athletes use large fitness balls, resistance tubing, cables and medicine balls to work on balance, stomach and control while in motion, says Brent Davidson, a trainer at Ironworks Gym in Bellevue, Wash.

Here are two exercises to get the feel of strength training:

  • The "plank" is a pushup position on the floor where you balance on your forearms (fists together) and on the balls of your feet with your legs extended straight behind you. Squeeze in your stomach muscles and buttocks and keep your body as straight as possible. Hold for about 45 seconds.
  • "You have to engage your hips and core in order for the bridge to stay straight," Davidson says.

  • The "two-arm twist" uses a resistance band attached to a door (either by a device attached to the door frame or loop on the other side of a securely closed door that opens away from you).
  • Stand in a wide stance with your left side facing the door, Fitzgerald writes in "Runner's World Guide to Cross-Training."
  • Grasp the handles in both hands low by your left shin, pull the band upward and across your body, finishing above your right shoulder. It combines twist, bend and lunge movements to create a total-body exercise.
  • Or attach the band high on the door and do the movement from high to low, Davidson says. (You can buy exercise tubing or resistance bands for under $50 at sporting-goods stores.)

  • Consult with a certified fitness trainer to learn safe techniques. The American Council on Exercise says it's important to work all the major muscle groups to avoid strength imbalances or posture problems.
  • Davidson advises people to warm up first with eight to ten minutes on a cardiovascular machine, and then stretch. Start with a weight you can lift for eight to twelve repetitions in a set.
  • If you plateau after six months, vary your routine and increase the intensity.

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