Switch-Hitters: How to Cross-Train like the Pros

Coming to a yoga studio near you: the Phils, Flyers and Sixers. Take a cue from pro athletes and cross-train your way to super-fitness.

I’m soaking wet and panting in the pool at Sweat Fitness on Arch Street—not exactly a place I’d envisioned meeting the Philly Roller Girls, our city’s roller derby team. The pool is a far cry from their usual venue, a track at Temple University’s Liacouras Center where they compete in a sport with enough pushing, pulling and full-body checking to give the Flyers a run for their money. But they’re here tonight to cross-train, as they do for an hour each week, swapping their skates for some lower-impact strength and cardio.

“Our sport is really hard on our joints, and many of us have injuries,” says Beth Mast, an eight-year derby veteran who’s separated her shoulders twice. “Cross-training means we can train with intensity without being so hard on our bodies.”

In fact, cross-training is important for athletes and gym-goers at all fitness levels—but it’s frequently ignored. “A lot of the injuries we see are from overuse and repetition that cause muscles and tendons to strain and cartilage to wear out,” says Christopher Dodson, a Rothman Institute surgeon and assistant team physician for the Eagles. “Cross-training gives those areas a break.”

Anything out of your ordinary routine counts, he says, like rowing for runners (who should dedicate two workouts a week to cross-training) and swimming or biking for basketball players.

Or, well, yoga. The 76ers made headlines last season when they incorporated yoga into their practices to help stave off injuries. The Flyers roll out yoga mats during the off-season, says the team’s athletic trainer and strength coach, Jim McCrossin. He also encourages players to take up racket sports to help with speed and agility. Some of them even play soccer for fun.

Scott Sheridan, the Phillies’ head athletic trainer, says cross-training provides an important mental break: “We play a 162-game season, plus six weeks of spring training. It’s a long haul. Our guys need to get away from it mentally so they can come back refreshed.” The Phils’ activities of choice? Pilates, yoga and spinning.

For the Roller Girls, the swim practices are part physical challenge, part diversion. “It’s fun to do something different that’s still a challenge,” says Mast. “Our bodies appreciate it.”