Making Cross-training Fun

I'm currently involved in several fitness challenges, including Holiday Sweat (I accidentally typed "Holiday Swear" at first which is actually pretty appropriate considering swearing can be tempting when you're trying to balance all the holidays AND all the working out). Each week, Holiday Sweat has a blog prompt. This week's prompt is around how we make fitness fun so I'll go into that in a second.

I also like to link up with PattyErikaand Marcia for Tuesdays on the Run so I'm sharing this post with them as well.  Their theme this week is Holiday Gifts for Runners and you all know the #1 thing I'm going to say for that is my book

So back to fun. My post today is actually an excerpt from the book that describes some things I do to keep "cross-training" fun. So after that long intro - here is my actual post:

Making Cross-training Fun


Runners’ blogs and fitness magazines contain many tips on how to improve form or increase strength and speed, but sometimes what I really need is the motivation to keep going when I’d much rather be reclined in front of a Real Housewives marathon, my face covered in Cheetos dust and resignation.

Staring at a photo of a toned runner who I want to look like only takes me so far before I give up and convince myself that life can be just as fulfilling in a pudgy and breathless body. Thankfully, along the way, I’ve stumbled upon my own personal tricks for staying motivated. I still don’t resemble the fitness magazine cover girls, but I’ve managed to stay in decent shape, enough to continue running races with the middle-to-back-of-the-pack folk.

One of my big motivators is fun. If something isn’t enjoyable, I typically don’t see the point in doing it. I also need variety. Boredom has always been one of my greatest fears, so much so that as a child I would pack 10 different toys when I went to Grandma’s house, just in case I felt the urge to read a book, then play Go Fish, then color a picture, then create a Care Bear vs. My Little Pony epic battle, all within the first hour. I can’t just play with Barbies all day, Mom. Do you want me to die?

Thankfully, to be a good runner you need to do more than run. You also need to cross-train, which shakes things up.

 “Cross-training: training in two or more sports in order to improve fitness and performance, especially in a main sport.” – Oxford Dictionary.

I play fast and loose with the word sport in that definition. Here is a list of ways I’ve cross-trained (which are really just ways I keep exercising when I’m not running, or things I do that resemble exercise when I don’t really feel like exercising):

Zumba. The class where you can feel like Shakira until you accidentally glance in the mirror and realize you look more like a baby deer trying to salsa dance.

Yoga. Where everyone’s a calm adult until someone accidentally passes gas in Tree Pose.

Rowing. I have nothing funny to say about rowing because this sport is no joke and will use muscles you never knew you had, while making you so exhausted you actually nap after practice and you never nap. (Ok I lied, there is one funny thing about rowing and that was when my friend and I had to sit through the safety video where the symptoms of hypothermia were explained, in case we ever fell out of the boat in frigid waters. One symptom? “Apathy.” My friend has wondered daily if she is hypothermic at work ever since.)

Indoor climbing. I’m scared of heights equipment and/or human failure, so this is always a particularly masochistic type of exercise for me. I’ve had moments of panic 40 feet in the air, when I’ve yelled, “TAKE! Taaaaaaake!!!” at the poor guy belaying me below, a guy who’d already taken all the slack humanly possible out of the rope holding me, and I still felt too vulnerable. Climbing is a good workout for different parts of the body used for running, though. And if nothing else, doing it makes me love running more, merely for the fact that running doesn’t require me to wear a diaper-like harness—unless I want to.

Trapeze. Yes. My philosophy in life is pretty much summed up as: Do everything you possibly can, even if it scares you. So, in spite of my fear of heights, I have tried the trapeze, too. It turned out to be incredibly fun and empowering. Judging from my soreness the next day, it was also very good for building a strong core. Moreover, my instructors wore tight pants and no shirts and I am now considering joining a dating site for circus staff.

Moon Bouncing. Ok, this one isn’t actually a regular sport that I do—nor is it an official sport at all—but I have adult friends who rent those inflatable bounce house things for parties. I’ve not only jumped in them (which totally counts as a workout), but I’ve taken part in an original game called Deflate Escape. Deflate Escape was created when my friend Ryan realized we could pull the plug on the moon bounce house, which would begin to deflate it, and then everyone inside could attack each other while trying to escape out the hatch on top before we all suffocated. It was very cut-throat, so I consider that cross-training for life in general.

Pro tip: A perk of being a non-competitive runner is that you don’t have to take cross-training terribly seriously unless you want to. Just do something besides running, call it cross-training, and then call it a day.

Spin class. Spinning—riding a stationary bicycle—is one of my favorite things to do, and not only because I had an instructor at Gold’s Gym who used to get so excited in spin class that he would yell at all of us as we pedaled furiously, “Give Daddy what he wants!” (He was later fired, I heard. I guess I can understand why.) Something comes over everyone when they enter a spin room. Even highly intelligent people get sucked in and blindly follow an instructor’s orders to “Get up that hill!” or “Race!”—even though at the beginning of the class we all knew we were getting on bikes that couldn’t actually go anywhere. It’s like we turn into trusting dogs whose owners tease by making a throwing motion -- but not actually throwing anything. Is that a hill? Is it?! Are we coming up on a hill!!? Because I’m totally pedaling harder if we’re coming up on a hill!! Plus, with the dim lights and pumping music, it feels like what I imagine a rave must feel like, except no one is on drugs (except maybe those instructors who see imaginary hills ahead).

Boot Camp Classes. I don’t know the actual definition for what a boot camp workout is, but I’ve taken classes called boot camps in which we've done everything from running around with sand bags over our shoulders to hitting a tractor tire with a sledge hammer. The workouts feel primal and oddly satisfying. Plus, if I’m ever in a situation where I have to do 20 burpees (a sadistic jump/push-up move) or someone will kill one of my family members, I’m now totally prepared to be the hero.

Me and my friend Gina taking out our D.C. traffic aggression in a boot camp class.

Me and my friend Gina taking out our D.C. traffic aggression in a boot camp class.


I also enjoy pretty much any class at my gym because it’s really nice to let go and shirk the responsibility of whipping myself into shape. When I’m running, I control how hard I push myself or how far I go. That’s a lot of pressure. I’d rather blame a class instructor when my thighs still touch each other, because obviously she didn’t push me hard enough, and that’s her fault. Classes are also preferable because sometimes it’s nice to have someone bear witness to how hard I’m sweating. Otherwise, it’s like working out and not posting it on social media. Did it really happen if no one knows it happened?

There are other fun ways I’ve found to fit exercise into my schedule. Sometimes I’ll sit on a stability ball instead of a chair at my desk. Doing that works your core and allows you to bop up and down while on boring webinars (word to the wise—just remember to turn off your webcam). Sometimes I’ll ask friends to meet me for paddle boarding instead of dinner. Even if they refuse, it can be fun to be that friend, the one who makes everyone else feel like they aren’t working hard enough at their fitness levels. It’s a win-win, really.

Moral of the story: Find a way to make working out fun—by any means necessary. Trick yourself, find an overzealous spin instructor, or attend a class that allows you to stare at shirtless men—you’ll probably see me there too.