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Cross-Training vs. Single-Sport Training: Which is Better?

Cross-Training vs. Single-Sport Training: Which is Better?

You may have heard the debate about whether or not being a single-sport athlete is better than being a multi-sport athlete. This kind of argument, however, doesn’t provide a black or white answer.

 

For many, the answer ultimately ends up being “it depends.” The purpose of this blog is to emphasize that for an average Jane or Joe who doesn’t necessarily plan on becoming a professional athlete, it’s better to cross train.

Why is it better to cross-train?

One factor that plays into this debate is the frequency of injuries. Studies conducted by the National Federation of State High School Associations have generally shown that performing in a healthy mix of physical activities as opposed to dedicating oneself to one and only one sport leads to a decreased incidence of injury.

Typically speaking, one of the most common types of injuries associated with sports is overuse of certain muscles.

 

Single-sport training and the increased risk of injury

While I was living in Arizona, I resorted to having one primary outside-of-work hobby and preoccupation: badminton! It made sense at the time to dedicate my time to an activity that would offer me both a physical and social outlet in an otherwise foreign place—and it did. BUT, I started to see more and more injuries not only for myself, but also the other players. Sure, one might attribute these injuries to aging, but their frequency and consistency suggested something more. One pattern rang true among me and all the players: all of us played badminton as our only form of exercise. Some injuries, such as ankle injuries, were a little bit more uncommon yet very recurrent. More common injuries secondary to ones caused by over-usage included shoulder/neck, forearm tendinopathies, and muscle strains.

What tissues are stressed regularly with badminton?

  • Forearm and wrist: The vast majority of racket control comes from the forearm and wrist, specifically in the lightweight but super-fast sport of badminton.
  • Shoulder: The rest of the swing, i.e. power, comes from the shoulder, especially for those strong overhead shots.

If an individual is playing approximately 3-4+ times per week for 3-4 hours at a time, that’s a lot of stress and barely enough recovery time especially if it includes back-to-back days of playing, as it tended to every weekend.

So what should I do if I’m experiencing frequent sports injuries?

It is important to moderate the amount one plays by breaking up that specialized play time to perform other forms of exercise and activity. This will allow for (active) recovery of those tissues specifically affected by that one particular sport (i.e. forearm and shoulder muscles).

  • Cut the playing time down within that 3-4 hour chunk of time and save the remainder for something like running or swimming, or even an entirely different sport such as basketball or rock-climbing.
  • Don’t push those tissues to their limit every time you participate. If you’re playing more competitive and intense games, you can expect to tire out sooner than later. If you’re playing more casual games, you can expect to play a little longer before reaching your typical point of energy expenditure.

How do you balance your exercise routines and sports? Share with us in the comments below!

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Charles Wang, PT, DPT
Charles’s primary hobbies include playing badminton, playing modern tabletop (board) games, hiking (especially if there’s a water destination along and/or at the end of it), and participating in cooperative interactive challenges such as escape rooms. He also values practicing yoga and swimming as well as more interactive physical activities like playing basketball and rock climbing with friends. He has been known to dabble periodically in obstacle course race events. Eating food is certainly one of his favorite things to do, too.