We all want to be the kind of guy who’s able to join any group of friends in all kinds of sports and activities. Soccer? Sure, why not. Intense intramural football? Of course. A half marathon next month? Uh, I’ll get back to you on that…
Let’s face it, not all of us were three-sport athletes in high school. A lot of guys settled on the sport they excelled at most, and focused on improving and honing their skills, more or less abandoning other sports. This hyper-sensitive specialization happens to a number of guys in workout regimens, too.
If your're a muscle-bound guy with no cardiovascular endurance, you might want to avoid the torture of struggling around the track; likewise, if you're a distance runner, you might fear the embarrassment of benching the bar plus a few mini weights in the gym. Part of this has to do with maintaining a sense of pride; the other's a complacency to settle into a comfort zone. To better your athletecism, though, you need to break out of the norm. Here's how:
Add more variety to your training
You're sacrificing some huge potential gains by avoiding the exercises you hate doing.
“I certainly love variety,” says Todd Durkin, a trainer who's successfully worked with several top athletes, such as NFL star Drew Brees. He's also the owner of Fitness Quest 10 in San Diego and the author of the IMPACT! Body Plan. “I think variety allows for maximum diversity and maximum results. I don’t always think in terms of exercise, I think in terms of movement,” he adds.
To put it in practice, complete variations on your usual go-to exercises, such as squats (split or one-legged, with a barbell, with kettlebells, etc.) or pushups (plyometric, incline, leg-kick, etc.). These are all similar at their core, but effectively work different areas of the body. Switching up the exercises you already do can go a long way in diversifying your workouts and skillset.
For a guy with a relatively undefined workout program, or for someone who gets bored and loves trying different things, a versatile training schedule that includes strength training, steady-state cardio, and interval training should be pretty easy to set up. This will also help in any impromptu games of pickup basketball, rec league soccer, even softball. If you're a more specialized athlete (marathoner or powerlifter), Durkin and Greg Robins, an accomplished Boston-based strength and conditioning coach, have some tips for you, too.
For the strongman who wants to run
Robins says guys who've spent a long time keeping cardio out of their training need to take baby steps at the start. “The first thing you need to do is increase your mobility,” Robins says. “Maybe spending a little more time upfront in your workout increasing motion… start with quick runs and sprints, stuff like that.”
“I think mentally, it sometimes plays tricks on guys if you start to lose size or strength, but if your goal is to improve your conditioning, then you need to make sure you get [that done],” says Durkin.
He recommends for a guy like this to simply cut back on strength training and fill that void with cardio. For example, if he’s used to doing one-hour sessions, he should think about cutting the strength training back to 40 or 45 minutes, then finishing with 20 minutes of cardio—two days of steady-state cardio (often constant speed jogging or cycling) and another day or two of intervals. He says you should be able to get the same results whether you knock them both out (steady state and interval) on the same day or spread them out over the course of the week.
For the marathon man who wants to lift
Likewise, for distance runners, guys that only focus on cardio, he recommends two to three days of strength training each week for at least 30 minutes. He also says incorporating plyometrics into one of those sessions will help to increase explosiveness and power. Also, according to Robins, resistance training is hugely beneficial for someone who wants to improve strength while maintaining strong cardio levels.
While CrossFit is great for bettering overall fitness, Durkin and Robins say don't say everyone should jump in a class. You need to be careful you don’t go overboard at the start.
“If someone wants to be versatile, the idea makes sense, but going to a place and just taking a workout that’s not necessarily built for how someone moves can be unsafe,” Robins says.
The best exercises for versatility:
Incorporate these protocols into your regimen.
> Dead Lifts (Romanian)
> Core Rotations
> Plyometrics and Sprinting
All these tips and exercises may not make you a phenom in the next sport you participate in with your buddies, but they’ll definitely help to provide a base of strength and endurance for whatever comes up. Any athlete needs superior stamina and power to succeed, so strive for the skill sets that'll make you the most well-rounded and versatile.