T Nation

Anyone Believe in Cross-Training?

I’m having this discussion on another board.

It’s a question of training specificity: Cross-training vs. highly specialized training.

I am all for the latter and I think the former is for idiots and housewives.

  1. The only people who can see improvements across multiple areas of the fitness spectrum are TOTAL beginners. As soon as people get over their newbie gains, they are going to stall and hit a plateau on a cross training routine.

  2. Cross training practically ensures that a mediocre person will STAY mediocre

  3. It’s impossible to become “good” at anything without specialization. The law of specificity applies to everything in life.

At a typical commercial gym, probably 90% of the people there are engaged in some sort of “cross training” routine. In other words, they pursue multiple, vaguely defined goals and training methods. They do cardio, weight lifting, stability ball crap, and some stretching, but they don’t put all of their focus into one particular area.

Is it any coincidence that 90% of the people at commercial gyms look and perform the same from year to year?

I have been training at a commercial facility with thousands of members for 5 years and I can pretty much count on one hand the number of people who have actually made any visible progress. Naturally, they are the ones who use highly specialized training routines.

So, can we get a universal condemnation of cross training on principle?

If you consider cross training to be 30 min on the elliptical then hitting up the machine circuits and then maybe doing some bosu ball situps, I totally agree with you.

On the other hand, you have programs like crossfit which are not specialized, but can turn people into what I consider to be athletic freaks. It might not be the best approach for someone trying to squat 700+ lbs, but for general athleticism, I think it is a good training program.

I was looking at the website for the crossfit games the other day, and was pretty blown away with some of the competitors.

In fact, I would recommend some of the more intense cross training programs to some of the guys I see in the gym who are really into upper body specialization.

They look great, until you look at their legs and then are like you have got to be kidding me. I would even recommend these programs to the guys specializing in squat rack curls supersetted with dumbbell pullovers.

If you are an advanced athelete you would probably stick to practicing your sport.

If you are currently not practicing a sport, I think a broad and varied training stimulus, including me and de lifts, hiit in the form of sprints, bw, or barbell circuits, with work on some of the olympic lifts to be a pretty good strategy for getting stronger, faster, tougher, etc. It might not be cross-training, but it is in my opinion a perfectly acceptable approach to training.

I think the best example is Lance Amstrong who is of legendary physical status and yet his marathon time was nearly three hours. That’s not bad, but not what you’d expect from arguably the best endurance athlete in the world - IF cross training worked.

[quote]theuofh wrote:
If you consider cross training to be 30 min on the elliptical then hitting up the machine circuits and then maybe doing some bosu ball situps, I totally agree with you.

On the other hand, you have programs like crossfit which are not specialized, but can turn people into what I consider to be athletic freaks. It might not be the best approach for someone trying to squat 700+ lbs, but for general athleticism, I think it is a good training program. I was looking at the website for the crossfit games the other day, and was pretty blown away with some of the competitors.

In fact, I would recommend some of the more intense cross training programs to some of the guys I see in the gym who are really into upper body specialization. They look great, until you look at their legs and then are like you have got to be kidding me. I would even recommend these programs to the guys specializing in squat rack curls supersetted with dumbbell pullovers.

If you are an advanced athelete you would probably stick to practicing your sport.

If you are currently not practicing a sport, I think a broad and varied training stimulus, including me and de lifts, hiit in the form of sprints, bw, or barbell circuits, with work on some of the olympic lifts to be a pretty good strategy for getting stronger, faster, tougher, etc. It might not be cross-training, but it is in my opinion a perfectly acceptable approach to training.
[/quote]

I haven’t really paid attention to the Crossfit “phenomenon” although I’m aware of its presence in the industry.

I know that they’re really into the “functional” stuff. However, that doesn’t imply they are cross-training. It’s entirely possible to specialize in functional training only, and if you do it, you will surely become very good at it after a while.

I have other problems with functional training, but at least it is a more-or-less specialized training modality (or can be).

Personally, I am not impressed by “strong” people who look either skinny or fat. I’m an aesthetics guy. That’s my personal bias. And I think the majority of people out there could do with improving their physical appearance before they improve their squat or deadlift numbers.

I do not buy into the mentality that “the fastest way to improve your appearance is to get better at the deadlift” or some such exercise. My inclination is to put people on a bodybuilding-style hypertrophy routine if they are more concerned with appearance improvements than performance.

Higher level competitors (weightlifters or piano players) always get there through tons of practice and specialization.

You look at how pro bodybuilders train - that is the OPTIMAL training method for hypertrophy. Anybody who claims that “it’s all drugs” and you’re better off training like a powerlifter or hopping around on a ball is either clueless or lying through their teeth.

Blah blah blah.

whoa i disagree with a lot of that.

maybe you should post this in Bodybuilding?

[quote]gi2eg wrote:

maybe you should post this in Bodybuilding?[/quote]

Yup. Shouldn’t be here.

[quote]Nominal Prospect wrote:
I am having this discussion on another board.

It’s a question of training specificity: Cross-training vs. highly specialized training.

I am all for the latter and I think the former is for idiots and housewives.

  1. The only people who can see improvements across multiple areas of the fitness spectrum are TOTAL beginners. As soon as people get over their newbie gains, they are going to stall and hit a plateau on a cross training routine.

  2. Cross training practically ensures that a mediocre person will STAY mediocre

  3. It’s impossible to become “good” at anything without specialization. The law of specificity applies to everything in life.

At a typical commercial gym, probably 90% of the people there are engaged in some sort of “cross training” routine. In other words, they pursue multiple, vaguely defined goals and training methods. They do cardio, weight lifting, stability ball crap, and some stretching, but they don’t put all of their focus into one particular area.

Is it any coincidence that 90% of the people at commercial gyms look and perform the same from year to year?

I have been training at a commercial facility with thousands of members for 5 years and I can pretty much count on one hand the number of people who have actually made any visible progress. Naturally, they are the ones who use highly specialized training routines.

So, can we get a universal condemnation of cross training on principle?[/quote]

You will not win the discussion. Most elite level athletes do some sort of non-specific training and it helps them in their sport. It allows them to get a training effect while avoiding the overuse injuries.

For what it’s worth, 90% of the people in commercial gyms do not know what they are doing and it is their lack of knowledge and intensity that results in poor progress.

So, you’re saying that I can’t train to get faster AND stronger AND more flexible? Man, I wonder how people in the NFL do that then.

Haven’t you guys learned to ignore this guy yet?

[quote]TheSolution wrote:
So, you’re saying that I can’t train to get faster AND stronger AND more flexible? Man, I wonder how people in the NFL do that then.[/quote]

Speed and [relative] strength are not opposing qualities.

Performance and appearance are.

This is the biggest mistake that people make: Thinking that training like an athlete is going to give you a great physique. Guys read some magazine and want to look like [insert athlete]. So they start doing all sorts of sport-specific bullshit that’s great if you are an athlete but completely unnecessary for someone whose goals are entirely appearance oriented. They would be far better off training like a bodybuilder. Isolation WORKS for hypertrophy. Anyone who denies that is claiming that the top level competitors in the sport of bodybuilding don’t know what they’re doing. Such a person must be an idiot.

There is simply NO REASON why an average person should train like an athlete instead of a bodybuilder. An average person needs to look good more than he needs to perform well. A 350 lb. deadlift doesn’t do shit for you in your office job.

To the guy who said that people in gyms don’t make progress because they don’t know what they’re doing: that’s irrelevant. On a specialization routine, you don’t need to know what you’re doing. All you need to do is stick to one thing and practice it consistently until you get good at it. This has worked for millions of people across all fields.

By its very nature, specialization will make people good at particular tasks. Likewise, non-specialization will keep people mediocre at many tasks.

I am tired of seeing training modalities being sold as “one-for-all” solutions. This is the current rage in the industry. Boxing, martial arts, “combat training”, and all that crap, is being wrapped up in a shiny package and sold to the average joe as “the best way to get strong/lean/fast/flexible/etc”.

Martial arts training is the best way to become a good fighter. It is NOT the best way to get lean and simply improve your appearance. It should not be that difficult to understand, but tons of people don’t seem to get it.

In reality, those are contradictory qualities and you simply cannot improve all of them at the same time unless you’re a complete beginner. Therefore, these courses are marketed to beginners (the most profitable market segment) and people never advance beyond their newbie gains.

I’m sick of this “boot camp” nonsense and the concept that you can “get fit by doing something fun”. Exercise that is geared towards fun is simply not as effective as exercise that is geared towards results. Never has been and never will be.

[quote]905Patrick wrote:
You will not win the discussion. Most elite level athletes do some sort of non-specific training and it helps them in their sport. It allows them to get a training effect while avoiding the overuse injuries.

For what it’s worth, 90% of the people in commercial gyms do not know what they are doing and it is their lack of knowledge and intensity that results in poor progress.[/quote]

I already have won it. Nobody is going to refute the law of specificity. It’s simply impossible.

Elite athletes do non-specific training as an adjunct to their highly-specialized, formal training routines. The delineation is very clear.

Plus, it’s hardly “non-specific”, upon closer examination. If you have an injury, you HAVE to do some rehab work. That’s not “cross-training”. Cross-training is doing something unrelated to your goals for no particular reason. An athlete has a legitimate reason to do mobility and activation work. An average joe has no legitimate reason to be doing sports-specific drills.

You don’t have to agree with me about which particular modality is “best” for the most people, but who would seriously deny that specialization trumps cross training in its ability to bring about measurable results?

[quote]Nominal Prospect wrote:

Speed and [relative] strength are not opposing qualities.

Performance and appearance are.
[/quote]

Says you. Ivan Stoitsov clean and jerks 205kg and thinks otherwise.

[quote]Sneaky weasel wrote:
Nominal Prospect wrote:

Speed and [relative] strength are not opposing qualities.

Performance and appearance are.

Says you. Ivan Stoitsov clean and jerks 205kg and thinks otherwise.[/quote]

The only people who attain a muscular appearance from performance-oriented training are <5’8 midgets from China/Bulgaria and women (also midgets).

That guy has been muscular since he was 14 years old (probably had a full beard by then, as well). He is not muscular as a result of his training. He is obviously built like that, and it’s the same thing with strength athletes.

The guys who squat and deadlift a ton did not start out as 90 lb. weaklings. They were born to lift heavy weight.

If that guy started training as a bodybuilder, he would get even MORE muscular and balance out his physique.

The only type of training that can legitimately transform someone’s appearance is bodybuilding (hypertrophy) style training.

Oh, I get it now. You’re a troll.

[quote]Sneaky weasel wrote:
Oh, I get it now. You’re a troll.[/quote]

I’m right and you are unable to prove me wrong. I don’t “troll”, never have and never will. I mean everything that I write 100%, if you were standing here in front of me I would recite the exact same thing to your face and back it up fully.

Employing a confrontational writing style doesn’t diminish the sincerity of my posts.

You think I don’t know what I’m talking about, it should be easy to prove me wrong. Find me a single instance of the proverbial “90 lb. weakling” who turned into the 1,000 lb. squatter or the star Olympic Athlete.

I can tell you right now to save yourself the trouble, because the ONLY area where you find such transformations is in professional bodybuilding.

Markus Ruhl was skinny before he started lifting. So was Kevin Levrone, and Tom Prince. Even Arnold. I guarantee you that every single WSM Competitor, every single HW PLer, every single HW Olympic Lifter was already beefy before they ever touched a weight.

Don’t sit here and try to tell me that people who are PAID to train for hypertrophy and NOTHING ELSE are somehow comparable in that area to people who train for performance. It is a lie. You are bullshitting yourself and me. Top level athletes do NOT look like top level bodybuilders. Bodybuilding style training IS superior for hypertrophy. If it wasn’t, they would’t use it. They are not idiots and you do not know more than they do.

Stop posting 5’9 hairy midgets from Bulgaria.

I just wonder where all these “average people” are who are training “like athletes.” Most of the people I see in the gym train like bodybuilders, with their Muscle and Fitness routines, and they look like shit. Seems to me more people would do better to train like athletes, because your method obviously isn’t working for them.

[quote]Ryan P. McCarter wrote:
I just wonder where all these “average people” are who are training “like athletes.” Most of the people I see in the gym train like bodybuilders, with their Muscle and Fitness routines, and they look like shit. Seems to me more people would do better to train like athletes, because your method obviously isn’t working for them.[/quote]

No, they don’t.

What do you think bodybuilding style training is? Very simple:

Isolation and Exhaustion

Most people don’t isolate because they don’t know how to. It requires some degree of knowledge in the area of basic anatomy and muscle physiology. Using an isolation machine doesn’t necessarily mean that there is a lot of isolation going on. There are tons of ways to cheat on every exercise. People like to throw their entire body into every lift. This is the antithesis of bodybuilding training.

Very few people in normal gyms ever train to exhaustion. Everybody does 15 reps with their 25 RM. That is not even approaching exhaustion. If you don’t approach muscular failure on a regular basis, then your training will accomplish nothing in the way of hypertrophy. It’s that simple.

People in commercial gyms are also getting increasingly fond of all the “functional” stuff, which, likewise, does nothing for hypertrophy.

It can be stated quite accurately that anyone who has more than 2 training goals at one time doesn’t know what they’re doing and isn’t likely to improve in any way, shape, or form.

These people want strength, flexibility, endurance, and appearance all at the same time, and the con-artist trainers are telling them that it’s possible. It isn’t.

[quote]Nominal Prospect wrote:
Sneaky weasel wrote:
Oh, I get it now. You’re a troll.

I’m right and you are unable to prove me wrong. I don’t “troll”, never have and never will. I mean everything that I write 100%, if you were standing here in front of me I would recite the exact same thing to your face and back it up fully.

Employing a confrontational writing style doesn’t diminish the sincerity of my posts.

You think I don’t know what I’m talking about, it should be easy to prove me wrong. Find me a single instance of the proverbial “90 lb. weakling” who turned into the 1,000 lb. squatter or the star Olympic Athlete.

I can tell you right now to save yourself the trouble, because the ONLY area where you find such transformations is in professional bodybuilding.

Markus Ruhl was skinny before he started lifting. So was Kevin Levrone, and Tom Prince. Even Arnold. I guarantee you that every single WSM Competitor, every single HW PLer, every single HW Olympic Lifter was already beefy before they ever touched a weight.

Don’t sit here and try to tell me that people who are PAID to train for hypertrophy and NOTHING ELSE are somehow comparable in that area to people who train for performance. It is a lie. You are bullshitting yourself and me. Top level athletes do NOT look like top level bodybuilders. Bodybuilding style training IS superior for hypertrophy. If it wasn’t, they would’t use it. They are not idiots and you do not know more than they do.

Stop posting 5’9 hairy midgets from Bulgaria.[/quote]

Blah, blah, blah.

Blah. Who the f–k cares anyways… you’ve made your point, now STFU.

[quote]Nominal Prospect wrote:
Sneaky weasel wrote:
Oh, I get it now. You’re a troll.

I’m right and you are unable to prove me wrong. I don’t “troll”, never have and never will. I mean everything that I write 100%, if you were standing here in front of me I would recite the exact same thing to your face and back it up fully.

Employing a confrontational writing style doesn’t diminish the sincerity of my posts.

You think I don’t know what I’m talking about, it should be easy to prove me wrong. Find me a single instance of the proverbial “90 lb. weakling” who turned into the 1,000 lb. squatter or the star Olympic Athlete.

I can tell you right now to save yourself the trouble, because the ONLY area where you find such transformations is in professional bodybuilding.

Markus Ruhl was skinny before he started lifting. So were Kevin Levrone, and Tom Prince. I guarantee you that every single WSM Competitor, every single HW PLer, every single HW Olympic Lifter was already beefy and muscular before they ever touched a weight.[/quote]

The average joe isn’t going to use nowhere near the level of drugs needed to look anything remotely like Kevin Levrone used to. What is the point of training as if you’re going to ever look like him, if you’re a lifetime natural.

I consider myself the average joe. I’m not aiming to compete in any sports or beauty pageants (bodybuilding). I want a blend of power, relative strength, anaerobic/aerobic endurance, while trying to maintain long term healthy joints. Copying bodybuilder, powerlifting, or marathon running routines is the last thing I want, as I don’t want specificity. I’d rather follow some of the MMA strength and conditioning routines out there. Heck, blend in some strongman training for the odd objects. I want a good mixture of strength/fitness qualities. In short, I don’t want to be the BEST in any specific quality.