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What is Cross Training and Should I be doing it?

Cross training refers to an activity, complementary to your main sport that helps to give your body a break from the specific demands of your main sport while at the same time improving your skills at it. Runners, for example, might cross train with cycling which still hits the respiratory system and helps build quadriceps muscle without extra stress on the knees. Below are some examples of what cross training activities might benefit a figure skater and their unique drawbacks:

  1. Ballet: The traditional cross training discipline of choice, ballet helps skaters with their artistry on the ice by improving posture in aesthetically pleasing positions like the arabesque. Ballet will also help train your body in hip rotation and core control. Ballet will not help build respiratory endurance nor will it help you become a more powerful skater.
  2. Running: Another traditional sport that figure skaters engage helps build respiratory endurance to help skaters get through their programs on the ice with ease. Correct running form will also strengthen your quadriceps and glutes, both important in producing power and speed, and has the added benefit of working your ankles. If you are a freestyle skater who frequently practices jumping both on and off ice, the stress running places on your knees might be too much to sustain long-term.
  3. Swimming: Like running, swimming will help build respiratory endurance but unlike running, swimming places very little strain on your body. Correct stroking during swimming (all strokes would be welcome for skaters, but breast-stroke and free-stroke might be the most useful) will help with establishing proper rotation – crucial for spins and jumps – and strengthen your ankle, glutes and lats. (Lats – or your latissimus dorsi – are essentially your back muscles that help keep your torso upright.) It is not always easy to access a pool and, while swimming will make you a stronger and more powerful skater, it will not allow you to “practice” any moves the way ballet might.
  4. Kickboxing (MMA style, not cardio kickboxing): A slightly unorthodox cross training discipline, kickboxing will help skaters learn to shift their weight quickly between their feet, rotate their torso, be stable on one leg and train their respiratory system for intense spurts of activity. Kickboxing will also build muscle all over your body, particularly in your glutes and quadriceps. Kickboxing, like boxing, will require raising your shoulders to protect your head regularly so skaters who choose this type of training will need to be conscious of this trait transferring onto the ice. Additionally, kickboxing values function and power over looking pretty so skaters who choose this discipline may have to focus extra on establishing artistry and clean lines on the ice.
  5. Strength Training: Strength training which includes both calisthenics (bodyweight exercises) and weight lifting are a phenomenal addition to any athlete’s training. Under the supervision of a trained fitness professional, strength training can help correct muscular imbalances (which is important in a sport like figure skating that is inherently unilateral – you’ll always have a dominant side), build both muscle strength and endurance, and train stability which is an often overlooked element of skating. While strength training, done properly, does tax the respiratory system, it is likely not enough to train your aerobic system sufficiently by itself. I have stressed this before and I will do so again, strength training is more effective and safe under the direction of a knowledgeable fitness professional and done 2-3 times a week. While costly, it is well worth the investment if you are able.

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