What’s the value of cross training? And why Tai Chi? If you already swim, bike and/or run, why invest any more of your time and energy?
As discussed in Crucial Element #3: The Physiology Triangle, you get the greatest athletic benefit from training your neurological system.
The purpose of cross training: Improve your ability to execute each stroke, each stride perfectly.
You use unfamiliar movement patterns to strengthen your neurological system and your proprioception.
Here’s a simple way to evaluate your proprioceptive ability:
Take off your shoes and socks. With your eyes open, walk in slow-motion across the room. And I mean slooow motion.
Now close your eyes and walk at the same slow speed. What happens when you lift one foot off the floor and momentarily balance on the other foot, as you slooowly move the lifted foot forward? Do you rush the lifted foot into place?
As you develop your proprioceptive ability, this will get easier. And here's a tip: Focus on relaxing the muscles of your legs and the connective tissues in your hips, knees, ankles and feet. This helps your skeletal alignment and enhances your proprioception.
The real challenge is to maintain this same degree of relaxation and sensitivity as you get close to the finish line of your race.
In my experience, Tai Chi is the most effective way to develop proprioception and neurological strength. It is the ultimate form of cross-training.
For over 35 years, I have begun each and every day with 15-30 minutes of slow-moving Tai Chi meditation – it’s the ideal warm-up for my body and my brain.
And, I do it with my eyes closed. I call it “Blind Tai Chi”. Like the slow-motion walking exercise above, I have to rely entirely on proprioception for balance.
To go the distance – no matter how far – I just have to execute that next stroke, that next stride perfectly. Neurological strength and proprioceptive ability enable me to do that – for 24 hours or more.
Tai Chi is my “secret weapon”. But, it has a downside: it can take a significant amount of time and energy to learn the complex sequence of a classic form. Not too many endurance athletes have that reserve of time and energy. Balancing training with family and work is enough already!
In light of this, I produced the DVD T'ai Chi for Athletes. It offers a set of 6 easy-to-learn movement patterns derived from classical Tai Chi. Practice these simple exercises with your eyes open or closed, and synchronize the movements with your breath. You will steadily improve your proprioceptive ability on as little as 10 minutes of mindful practice a day.
As you learn to circulate the chi energy throughout your body, you will enjoy many health benefits. Here are just a few:
This is the ultimate purpose of cross training - to strengthen and build your chi energy. The benefits of strong chi extend far beyond athletic performance: Your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health benefit from any form of cross training that strengthens your chi.
Perhaps you are you wondering “What the heck is chi”? I urge you to visit this link on Danny Dreyer’s ChiRunning website for a description.