Managing cross-training to perform.


“Making the sessions” is the trademark of many athletes. From Monday with the threshold session to Sunday of the long ride, everything is often planned, sometimes routinized, rarely standardized – fortunately. Indeed, if this reproduction of training programs can be helpful, it only becomes more limiting when pushed to excess. Explanations and proposals.



The answer to this question comes indirectly from our motivations, our ability to recover or even to “do the job” on nutrition and sleep. And it comes directly from what we call the plasticity of the organism: this body’s capacity to initiate an adaptive response in response to a given stress in order to better function when it is next exposed to this stress. With a single aim: survive!

In the short term, this plasticity can be understood at the level of a single session. For example, so-called intermittent sessions (type 30s/30s, 1mn/1mn, etc.) stimulate our aerobic system fully: the extraction of oxygen by the muscles reaches its maximum capacity, and that improves the transport and use of oxygen. The benefits then translate into greater physiological economy at a given exercise intensity, which is reflected by our lower heart rate.

However, within a few weeks, repetition of this type of session would be difficult to cope with – even if the goal would be to raise your VO2max. Who could pretend to carry out only qualitative sessions without entering step by step into a state of overreaching?! These intense demands are indeed accompanied by an important state of fatigue that everyone feels immediately after the session. What’s more, the monotony of the drives exacerbates this process…




Within the dynamics of your trainings, we know well that the goal remains to make converge the adaptations of the organism towards a common objective: a greater capacity of performance. Standardization is then not welcome. In fact, whatever we talk about intense, sub-maximal, muscular or cardiovascular stressors, if the sessions are repeated and similar and also that the the buddies aren’t there to “push the limits”, it is then difficult to drive the organism into new ranges or express physical qualities that have been neglected. And it is therefore difficult to bring about new adaptations…



Most of us cannot afford the volume of training (or recovery) that is typical of an high level athlete. Without this, it is often the maintenance of acquired qualities that arises on the horizon… Really? Last years, many works on endurance performance have revealed the benefits of what are called “cross-training” sessions: authentic sessions, independent of the targeted discipline, whose object is to improve 1 performance factor other than by stimulating it in a reference situation. This allows to get rid of certain effects of standard training! Any ideas?

Spontaneously, you probably think about the benefits of strength training (or repeated short sprints) on endurance performance. In running, this type of reinforcement provides a better musculo-tendinous tonicity (delaying the deterioration of the technical movements over a long event), a better feet quality and therefore a better running economy. All without any additional weight! When cycling or swimming, such work encourages the development of anaerobic abilities, which are highly sought-after during relaunch or sprint starts. Another example of inter-activity transfer is the benefits of cycling or swimming sessions on running performance. These benefits reflect less musculo-articular trauma generated and/or specific muscle strengthening.

We recently discussed in “Choose or suffer: are you really lucid during exercise?” of the cognitive benefits of endurance training. Indeed, by increasing the number of neurons, their connections and lifespan, endurance training allows a greater cognitive control in the form of a refined lucidity during exercise. A person trained in endurance will then be better able to remain concentrated in the race, to adapt to the behavior the group, to keep control of his stride… compared to a less trained practitioner.

From the same physio-psychological point of view, it has also just been demonstrated that proprioception training has a positive effect on the ability to inhibit, this very function that intervenes in race situations when you have to adjust your behaviour according to your objective, resist pain, discriminate relevant information among others or correct an imbalance to avoid falling. In short, we are talking about an a priori physio-mechanical training (proprioception) for a better cognitive accuracy (selective inhibition). A non-intuitive but interesting transfer.

In a physio-physiological logic this time round, several recent studies have studied the potential cross effects of training in specific environments on performances achieved in other contexts. A bit like the famous high altitude training camps, which are used to perform at sea level. In this way, the adaptations initiated during a heat-acclimation (in a heated room) or an acclimatization (in a warm natural environment) are studied on possible benefits during tests taking place in a temperate environment. And it seems to be working! The mechanisms involved have yet to be defined (we are on the way of a better cell tolerance)… but the idea is seductive! It also invites everyone to schedule a few home-trainer sessions in his bathroom or living room before the competition, radiator turned on.



The idea is finally simple: it is a question of targeting a key performance parameter (psychological or physiological) and then soliciting it in other ways than the one by which it is initially activated. In this way, this parameter can be specifically trained to make it more efficient while at the same time removing (in whole or in part) the constraints associated with its usual solicitation. Strategic, right?! The reflection suggested by the cross-training system is therefore based on a triple process:

  1. A first step is to identify the benefits associated with a particular session of your training program. This requires a minimum of expertise on training (e.g. “HIT sessions help me to better withstand high temperatures because I sweat a lot during these sessions”).
  2. Behind this, the idea will be to envisage authentic and specific solicitations of this benefit (e.g. to do sauna in addition to normal training to teach the body to better evacuate the internal heat).
  3. The third part is complementary. The aim is to identify the costs associated with these new sessions (e.g. a higher level of mental fatigue is the natural consequence of an excess of sauna).

With this reflection, you will be able to play on both sides: reinforce a physical quality and limit the possible harmful effects of training.



Get rid of a doubt. If the question of the real effects of these practices can of course be raised, it is now established that the qualities worked on a daily basis and for a long time are very robust and therefore not very “desentrainable”. Nothing then prevents you from using, during a few blocks of training, new ways to modify the stress, bringing novelty and finally adding another string to your bow. Your individual curiosity constitutes THE essential parameter here: an “ingredient” that allows you to learn how to work on your weak points without neglecting the strong points.