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Major Muscle Groups - The Importance of Cross Training
Everyone seems to have their ideal form of exercise, whether it be running (personally my favorite), biking, swimming, walking, yoga, or Zumba classes that aim to work major muscles of the body. Whatever that form of exercise is, I would guess it is a main priority in your daily schedule.
But did you realize that it's good to change it up so you're working all your major muscle groups?
I love to run. It makes me happy and because I've been doing it for so long, it is pretty easy and comfortable for me.
Although I realize I need to work my other muscles, sometimes I just don't enjoy doing it.
Well, to put it simply, because it's hard work for me. My body is well trained to run. Even my 50 year old mother walks faster than I can because that is her preferred daily workout so her muscles are trained and toned for brisk walking whereas mine are well developed for running.
Isn't it true that when you don't enjoy something, it becomes a job vs. something you look forward to? This is how a feel inside about cross training. However, I make myself do it. I want to be a better athlete and have a goal to complete a triathlon. Of course then, cross training is imperative.
My favorite forms of cross training are swimming, biking, and yoga. Swimming is great to build up cardiovascular endurance and is a low-impact sport that allows your joints, bones, and ligaments to rest. Biking is also a low-impact sport that allows your body to rest from the repetitive pounding of running or other high-impact activities. Yoga has a plethora of health benefits that are great for toning muscles, flexibility, and reducing anxiety and stress. Of course, there are other forms of exercise that have loads of benefits, like dancing (read the benefits of dancing here). But, below are the key muscle groups that are used for each of the three exercises I enjoy:
Major Muscle Groups for Swimming, Biking, and Yoga
- Abdominal Muscles & Obliques - Key for rotating the torso and maintaining a steady stroke form
- Hip Flexors - Used to maintain a steady kick
- Glutes & Quads - Used for a powerful kick
- Pectoral, Shoulder, and Arm Muscles - Key for a steady, strong stroke to pull through the water
- Quads - Straightening the leg and driving the pedal down
- Hamstrings - Used to bring the pedal back up
- Glutes - Key for pushing the pedal forward
- Calves - Used to bring the pedal back up
- Yoga works all muscles of the body
- Improves flexibility which helps prevent injuries
- BONUS: Reduces stress and anxiety
Here are the Three Major Reasons I am sure to Cross Train Regularly:
1.) Even Toning for Different Major Muscle Groups for the Vanity within Us.
Here is one experience I recently had with this other muscle groups thing.
Over the summer, we went to Lake George for our annual family vacation. Lake George is the cleanest lake in the United States and is surrounded by the Adirondack Mountains. Being located in the mountains, there were TONS of hiking trails that led you to breath taking views.
Since we have family members who are avid hikers so I knew hiking was definitely in our itinerary. One of our hikes was up the scenic Prospect Mountain.
We were departing our house at 10:30 am for the 4 mile round trip hike. At first, I was thinking to myself, "Hiking isn't that much exercise. Tonight I'll go for a 3-5 mile run."
But, I soon learned that my judgement was completely off. The hiking trail we climbed was 2 miles straight up the mountain. There were absolutely no switchbacks. In case you didn't know, switchbacks in hiking refers to zig-zag pattern to follow as you climb versus the vertical ascention. Nope, there were no easy ways out this time.
To top it off, the trail was all rocks. There were points so steep that you had to use your hands to climb up. And to think we called this fun.
My max heart rate hit 142 and my butt and calves were definitely feeling it. When we got to the top of the mountain, the first thing I did was look at the elevation gain. We ascended 1675 ft. in only 2 miles!
And You Can Definitely Feel it!
After catching our breath, we stopped and took in the beautiful view that overlooked Lake George while we relished in our accomplishment. We snapped a few pictures and headed back down. Going down the mountain was much worse.
The footing wasn't good and the rocks were slippery. You had to use your shins and quads to brace yourself from falling down.
Although my heart rate going down hill only hit a max of 82, my leg muscles were screaming otherwise. When we finally got back to the house, I was beat. My legs were shaking and extremely sore. They have never hiked up a mountain before.
Another great example of how cross training works different muscles is me swimming. I enjoy swimming and I was excited to be able to get the chance to open water swim while at the lake. I usually swim about twice a month and every time my arms and shoulders hurt the next day. They are not used to working as much as my legs.
Correct me if I am wrong, but who wants a body that only looks half-good? We want to tone and build all our major muscle groups for vanity's sake.
But that's not the only reason, on to reason number two.
2.) Prevention of Injuries-Cross Training for Major Muscle Groups Prevents Injuries
You do not want to be extremely strong in on muscle group and extremely weak in another. This can cause injury. As I mentioned above, cross training works different muscle groups.
This helps strengthen the major muscles of the body that are not used frequently in your routine exercise. If one muscle group is weak and another is strong, the imbalance can cause injury.
In my junior year of high school, I was suffering from knee pain. It sucked. I was not performing at the level I wanted to and my knee would hurt after every run. Being the stubborn athlete that I am, I did not want to skip any sort of training.
I went to PT and they found that my right quad was smaller than my left and that my right hamstring wasn't as developed as my quad. The imbalance between my right and left quads along with my quad and hamstring was causing my knee to collapse inwards.
I needed to strengthen these muscles. Part of the reason they were imbalanced was because at that point, my coach did not schedule ANY type of strength training for us.
After correcting the imbalance, I was running pain free and exceling in my races and workouts once again. I then convinced my coach to start incorporating strength training to prevent anyone else from getting injured.
3.) Newness is Good for your Brain and your Body!
We can't do much if our brains aren't healthy now can we? So a third reason I cross train is to incorporate new things. I don't have to think much if I run every day and especially not if I am doing the exact same route.
Don't you get bored with the same exercise routine after a while? Studies show that something as simple as changing your route and seeing different things may help your brain health.
In addition to the points I mentioned above, learning and experiencing new things are good for your brain. It may help keep your mind young.
Summing it all Up
Your most used exercise muscles need a little time to rejuvenate. Work some different ones while they do. This gives you time to try something new and get some full body toning accomplished for all major muscles of the body.
You may end up hating it, loving it, or just feel like you're working harder. Usually after cross-training, you end up missing your preferred form of exercise (that's how I feel at least!) But that's okay, at least you're not bored, your brain is active, your evenly toned, and free of injuries!
Here are a few products that are must haves for my cross training for major muscle groups activities
- Yoga mat- I absolutely love this yoga mat. It is easy to carry and has just enough padding for all sorts of yoga poses.
- Goggles- I personally like these speedo goggles. The wider rubber padding around the eyes doesn't give you too much of raccoon eyes. They also seem to stay on my head better.
- Swim suit- Comfy and fitting!
- Bike shorts- No more sore butts!
- Good walking sneakers- These are my favorite sneakers. However, it is important that you find good shoes for your foot type. Everyone is different.
You may also want to check out our post on some must-have physical therapy tools for those days when you're feeling sore.