Cross-training - If you don't, you should!

This week I attended a brilliant workshop at The Box Brighton combining the benefits of Pilates with Boxing.

For me, Pilates has been a constant in my exercise routine for almost 10 years. It works for me, it continues to challenge me, it improves my performance and reduces my risk of injury in my other constant - running. As a student in a class, a Pilates teacher myself, and as a physiotherapist I believe it's a form of exercise that can benefit almost anyone. That being said, it does need to be taught at the right level for you, you should expect close supervision to ensure you are performing it well (read: NOT an oversubscribed gym class with a single instructor!), and you should explore what type of Pilates most appeals to you (eg. Mat work, equipment or reformer).

I completely appreciate that for exercise to be a long-term commitment the first rule should be that it is enjoyable. Sometimes that alone means Pilates isn't for you, but I'd always recommend you try it before dismissing it as an 'easy' exercise, or 'just stretching' or 'for women'(!!!). Google 'professional sports people and Pilates' and you'll soon find a wealth of people at the top of their game who use Pilates in their rigorous training schedules. It's no coincidence - combining mobility, breath connection, core, upper body and lower body strength and balance all lead to improved performance, greater longevity and better focus for the sport they specialise in.

Before this workshop I had no experience of boxing at all. I am always open to trying new things and finding other ways of keeping fit, so was intrigued to see what I could gain from a boxing inspired exercise class. Those of you who are familiar with it will not be surprised to hear that I felt the cardio challenge immediately - the quick rounds of work felt similar to HIIT classes I've done before. I loved the cross-over with the breath connection to Pilates, the instructor explaining that this is how to conserve and draw upon energy stores as fatigue starts to take over. It enabled me to put the slower, controlled movement patterns from Pilates into a higher octane exercise and the combination was really effective. Personally, the focus that was required to keep up with the different sequences of each round was my favourite part of the workshop. It meant I completely switched off from anything else I had going on and that felt like a real release of stress and mental fatigue. Sometimes this is more important than any physical effect. Despite feeling strong during the session, the muscle soreness in my arms, shoulders and upper back in the following days was a welcome reminder that doing something different can be really effective at firing up different muscle groups - and this is the key to cross-training.

Whether you specialise in a certain sport or exercise, there are endless gains to working the body in a variety of ways. It reduces overload on structures which are repeatedly working, provides support to joints / muscles / connective tissues to enable them to work more efficiently, improves mobility to otherwise stiff joints and benefit other systems such as the cardiovascular system to improve overall fitness and ability. All of these physiological changes will reduce your risk of injury and enable you to train longer or harder for your preferred sport. Mentally, trying something new can often provide you with new focus or enthusiasm and reduce stress and anxieties, giving you the motivation to work better when you return to your 'constant.'

Whether it's Pilates or Boxing or something else entirely, look at your current programme and consider whether one session per week could be swapped for an alternative form of training. If you need further advice or guidance about what is missing from your programme consult a physiotherapist or exercise specialist who can work with you to develop a preventative or 'prehabilitation' plan.

(Thanks to Lucy Pinto of The Box & Ellie Priest of Brighton Pilates for putting together such a great workshop).

Emma Bradley