Updated 17 June 2020 by Marc Woodard
I recall cross training during the 80’s. The training facilities didn’t have all the fancy exercise equipment and indoor obstacle and Parkour setups, but the principled fitness programming strategies were the same. Today those same cross train exercise activities are used by a new generation of athletes and fitness enthusiasts to sustain a superior fitness and competitive sport condition year round. Cross training is not a new concept…
The cross train fitness concepts were branded and made popular two decades ago by CrossFit training. CrossFit, Inc. is a fitness company founded by Greg Glassman and Lauren Jenai in 2000. Its training philosophy and programs make use of a wide variety of age old sports conditioning, physical activities and exercise to sustain high fitness and performance levels. They popularized and evolved cross training exercise and activities throughout the globe. In 2014 a mix of cross train facilities were offered in over 9,000 affiliated gyms with the CrossFit brand.
Cross fit facilities may consist of various indoor and outdoor obstacle courses, or exercise stations specifically designed to cross train and condition the body to free-run with free-form type acrobats around-over structures, climb, jump, roll, leap, as seen on a Parkour setup. The first Parkour field courses originated within the military and are still used today to condition and cross train soldiers for the rigors of war.
To better relate to cross train principles and competitive events, think of the popular game show survivor, ultimate tag and American Ninja Warrior for example… which uses a variety and variation of Parkour type obstacles that are mentally and physically challenging. To be competitive in Parkour, one should consider cross-training in multiple task specific exercise to be competitive in these types of events. To win Parkour and other obstacle events requires a customized cross train program; that includes, but not limited to: running, gymnastics, and various exercise that targets and develops muscular endurance and strength and explosive speed, with jump, leap and bound capabilities. Free running makes use of environmental structures outside of the gym.
When free running and cross train programs are combined… you have an unbeatable Parkour training and fitness conditioning program.
Cross train training programs often incorporate a mix of other high-intensity interval training: i.e., rope/peg/ring/bar climb, girevoy sport (Russia KettleBell lifting), plyometrics (jump training), strongman tasks: powerlifting… swimming, boxing, calisthenics, gymnastics and other cross train exercise activities that include rock face climbing.
If a gym offers CrossFit programs then there will be exercise area(s) that offer more than free weights, stationary weight lifting equipment and aerobics room and equipment, swimming pool, racquet ball courts and aerobic dance floor areas, etc.
There are now numerous facilities throughout the globe offering cross-training classes with Cross Fit certification. As a matter of fact the CrossFit brand and principled ideology now falls under many cross train fitness facility brands.
In the 80’s fitness enthusiasts including myself used cross train techniques and routines to sustain superior physical conditioning. Other cross fit conditioning programs and activities I used to sustain competitive fitness levels included: martial arts, gymnastics, rope/peg climbing, field and track events, running, jumping and leaping through field obstacle courses, natural rock face climbing, free weights, power lifting, racquetball, handball, squash, kettlebells, hiking, swimming, kayaking, racquetball, hiking and cycling. My primary competitive sport of choice: football, baseball, track and field, martial arts and bodybuilding.
Nothing was off the table when developing a customized cross train program to achieve a superior fitness condition and competitive edge within any sport, or fitness challenge.
Before CrossFit was a house hold word, our generation created custom built cross train facilities in our local gyms, back yards, field, or natural wooded area, or garage. We customized our cross training space based on the best fitness training information of the day.
Cross fit facilities back then didn’t exist in the marketplace like they do today. For instance, you couldn’t go into any gym and find a rock climbing wall, Parkour obstacle course. The floor design and equipment layout catered to bodybuilders. This was an era of Joe Weider and other bodybuilding celebrities’ who ruled the fitness industry, which included promoting the next Olympia bodybuilding champion and anabolic supplement. “He popularized bodybuilding and spread the message of health and fitness worldwide with such publications as Muscle & Fitness, Flex, and Shape. Schwarzenegger himself is the executive editor of Muscle & Fitness and Flex” [The Guardian, 2013] .
Today you can find a plethora of cross train programs, equipment and bodybuilding resources and services built into one fitness facility. If you want to take your fitness and competitive skill sets to the next level… I’m convinced a competitive athlete regardless of chosen sport must incorporate cross train programming into a customized fitness program. This is especially true if one hopes to compete against the best in any professional sport.
Take rock climbing for example… ? I’d say it qualifies as a unique and professional sport. What type(s) of cross fit or specialized fitness programing should they focus on seasonally and/or annually?
Should a rock climber climb only vertical walls to be the best at what they do? Or should they focus more on gym workouts? What I’ve learned… to be the best at something, you have to train specifically for that skill set. However, incorporating a cross train program will make a better and more competitive climber. How should he/she cross train in preparation for the real event?
In consideration of selecting a gym for rock climb conditioning… I would look for an indoor and/or outdoor rock climbing facility, or rockface outcrop nearby to train daily, even during inclement weather. Other secondary fitness conditioning should include: yoga and high intensity interval dance and karate classes, with programmed resistive weight and hang time training that develops grip and lower and upper body strength and improved muscular endurance for extended periods of hang time. If you can’t hang for a minimum of 2-minutes at one-two points of contact [e.g., leg-foot], until finding a vertical rest hold position… your fall risk increases.
Cross-training “mostly” indoors is in no way a substitute for the real thing. You have to train in a similar environment if you expect to be the best at what you do. Rock climbers that don’t cross train and within natural environmental are at greater risk of injury or worse. If your chosen sport is rock climbing you must also plan a safety/survivor backup strategy in the event you become injured and/or stationary affixed in place. For example, how will you shelter, hydrate, perform first aid, consume calories, make contact with emergency task force and survive until rescued. …
If your training to become the next American Ninja Warrior then your cross train program must focus on upper body and grip strength, powerful and explosive legs for jumping, vaulting, swinging and leaping; also free-form running up, around, through obstacles… achieving the cardio and muscular endurance of a gazelle.
I’ve studied professional sport players who compete in physical challenges outside of their trained profession. Body type, passion, genetics and training techniques, medical history, fitness goals, etc., all count. And genetics is a thing. Whereas others like you and I have to work and train very hard to achieve the competitive fitness condition. Every one of us is wired to be competitive at different levels of sport play within certain exercise activities within similar environments. Understanding your competitive strengths and weaknesses must be considered when programming cross train exercise to excel in any chosen competitive arena.
The point is, if you’re looking to be physically good or competitive at something, you’ll have to cross train similar to your competitor in a similar environment. But if you simply want to body build, stay in shape, and/or sustain superior physical fitness: strength, cardio and muscular endurance and flexibility, you don’t need to cross-train, or workout at elite levels.
Cross training, or certified CrossFit centers may not offer a training program specific to your competitive or specific fitness or sports activity needs. However, if you’re serious about taking your physical condition to the next level… you can find a skilled cross fit trainer-consultant who specializes in a customized program to help you achieve superior fitness and competitive and winning results.
Author: Marc T. Woodard, MBA, BS Exercise Science, ARNG, CPT, RET. 2014-20 Copyright. All rights reserved, Mirror Athlete Inc., www.mirrorathlete.org, Sign up for your Free eNewsletter.