For access to all of our training, gear, and race coverage, plus exclusive training plans, FinisherPix photos, event discounts, and GPS apps, sign up for Outside+.
Got an invite for ultimate? Just can’t stand another minute on the bike? Sometimes, it’s OK to skip your regularly scheduled workout for a little side piece.
You’ve still got a race or two ahead of you, but right now the thought of yet another bike or another visit to the pool is as appealing as putting on wet neoprene. Experts say it’s fine—and even good—to do different workouts sometimes. “A prime cause of injury is from muscle imbalances created from always being in the same position or movement pattern,” says Alan Couzens, a Boulder, Colorado-based coach and exercise physiologist. Switching up your sports—if you choose the right ones—can help you become a more three-dimensional athlete. Plus, not turning down that pickup soccer game invite again “because you have to ride 60 today” can be a great opportunity to shake out your mindset and just have fun with friends
“People often don’t realize that rowing is such a good leg exercise, along with working your core and back,” says Zoe Cohen, assistant professor in the department of physiology at the University of Arizona. “And you can easily adjust it depending on the type of workout you need,” she says. If you’re subbing it for a strength workout, increase the tension. If it’s taking the place of an interval workout, you can do sprints, she says.
“Triathletes are notoriously non-adherent to strength training,” says Patrick Sims,
a Tucson, Arizona-based exercise physiologist and a triathlete himself. “I think it’s
because it’s unstimulating and feels highly arbitrary—the only accomplishment you feel when you finish it is that you finish it.” He recommends rock climbing. “It’s total- body strength training that has a point and a strategy—you have a starting line at the bottom, and you finish at the top.” It requires strength and power, and it recruits a lot of back muscles, “a great counterbalance to the trunk flexion cyclists are getting from hours in aero,” he says. “Plus, it’s not at all repetitive, it’s not arbitrary, and it tends to be quite social.”
Want a nice run? Try it with a frisbee. Ultimate is a great way to get miles in and do a purposeful activity at the same time. “The sport demands really significant changes in your metabolic workload. It goes from long, steady runs to short, fast sprints,” Sims says. If you crave training-log details and constant quantification, he recommends wearing your Garmin to see how far you’ve run in a game. (Or you could just enjoy being outdoors with friends.) If you’re only used to road running and your race is right around the corner, Sims says to stay aware—the same grass or dirt field that’s easy on your joints can also have ankle- or knee-crushing holes and divots. “And incidental contact is almost guaranteed,” he says. If those things bother you, consider pushing your ultimate debut to a post-race weekend.
More Ways to Mix It Up
“It uses almost every muscle in the body,” Cohen says. “And it recruits the big muscles, which causes a huge increase in heart rate. It’s great for building a strong heart and lungs.”
Fast feet, core engagement, and the opportunity to get out of the front-and-back plane that triathlon puts you in makes this a great cross-training candidate.
Soccer & Basketball
These sports can bring you similar benefits to ultimate. They just tend to require higher skill levels, so it can be harder to step into a pickup game if you haven’t played in a while.