As bodybuilders, we naturally focus most of our effort on strength training exercises to deliver the results we want. However, non-strength training exercises can also have tremendous physical benefits in this area, either because they help build muscle mass themselves or they make strength workouts even more effective.
Cross training has mental benefits as well, because just like your body occasionally needs a break from strength training reps, your mind could often use a little time off as well.
Intensive bicycling is a good way to build leg strength that’s so critical in a number of lifting exercises.
Since the hamstrings and quadriceps do most of the pedaling work, these are the muscles that will develop the most, and that means better results from squats, deadlifts, and numerous other exercises. To optimize your cross training time, try incorporating one or more of these tips while riding:
Stand While Riding: Sitting while riding is great for endurance and dropping fat, but this posture simply does not produce enough resistance to build significant amounts of muscle mass. Raising your heels slightly while biking slowly brings your entire weight to bear on each down stroke.
Find Your Cadence: Typically, most people ride between 90 and 100 rpm, because that’s the best level for overall fitness. To focus on strength, drop down a gear or so and reduce your rpm, thus creating more resistance.
Uphill Riding: Gravity alone significantly increases resistance, and when it comes to strength training while cycling, resistance is pretty much everything.
Attaching weights to your ankles and your bike is another good way to increase resistance and therefore build more muscle mass while cycling.
This cross training exercise increases endurance along with lung capacity. Both of these things — especially better endurance — help translate to more strength training reps. Longer exercises are easier to perform in the water, and the controlled breathing is ideal for improving lung capacity.
A 1,500m set (three 500m laps) is a good way to start. Go at an even pace throughout each lap in the set. The overall time really doesn’t mean anything; what matters is that there is no dropoff in times between laps. After all, the goal is to build endurance not win a race. Some people do better with five to ten 200m laps. That’s still enough distance to build additional endurance, but the distance is not quite as intimidating.
Be sure and pick up a few items of swimming gear before you hit the water. Goggles and so on may not substantially improve your performance, but they make you look cool.
A few days a month away from the gym is a great way to get a mental break from the rigors of weight training. Moreover, high muscle mass nearly always translates to better performance on the field, regardless of the sport.
Most people consider basketball and soccer to be the best sports for overall fitness. That combination of cardiovascular exercise, increased endurance, and better muscle tone is usually what most lifters want out of a cross-training sport. If non-team sports are your thing, try surfing or tennis. Dancing is a good way to get in shape and refresh your mind as well.
The one big downside here is that weekend sports usually have rather high injury rates, so protect yourself by wearing a knee brace when playing sports and taking other precautions.
If weightlifting is a way of life for you, it may feel strange to take up another activity a eight or ten days a month. But the results you see in terms of increased muscle mass will almost certainly be noticeable, and that makes getting out of your comfort zone a worthwhile endeavor.