The Value of Cross Training: Learning from Our Ancestors About Fitness

Jim Thorpe: America's Greatest Athlete

“You sir, are the world’s greatest athlete.” King Gustav of Sweden to Jim Thorpe in 1912 after winning the decathalon.

What can we learn from decathaletes to optimize our health and fitness? First, a touch of history to appreciate why this matters to us non-athletes.

The Olympics were the most famous of the four Pan-Hellenic Games of ancient Greece. They were held at Olympia, beginning in approximately 776 B.C. Held every four years, they were celebrated as solemn religious festivals, complete with sacrifices to Greek gods. Truces were declared as Greek city-states were invited to send their best athletes to compete.

Included were a variety of events, many of which still exist in the modern Olympics. Then, and now, the one event that the world declared as the greatest living athlete was determined by the decathalon. The decathlon includes 10 different events during two days of competition. The events, in order, are:

• 100-meter run
• long jump
• shot put
• high jump
• 400-meter run
• 110-meter hurdles
• Discus
• pole vault
• javelin
• 1500-meter run.

Every track and field discipline is included in the decathlon, except for long distance running. Decathletes must nevertheless possess the stamina of a long-distance runner in order to compete successfully in the 10 events over two days.

Why does this matter to me? I can’t emphasize enough that you do not need to be a distance runner to be incredibly fit. In fact, distance runners will never be considered great athletes or particularly fit. Look at the world’s 2008 decathalon gold medalist Bryan Clay. Although I don’t have a Bryan Clay body and have no shot at the Olympics, we should all strive for a balanced fitness regimen that emphasizes strength, power, speed and endurance; just like the champion.

While I understand that most of us mere mortals are not Olympic material, I believe that all of us should train like decathaletes. With the exception of the pole vault (which requires very specific training), I strive to incorporate the other 9 events into my regimen.

Your action plan.
1. To train like a decathalete you must first see yourself as one. It all starts with how you view yourself.

2. Stop logging endless miles on the treadmills and start training like Bryan Clay. Jump, throw, hop, hurl, sprint,

3. Get out of the gym – Play a variety of sports and do activities that challenge you both aerobically and anaerobically.

4. Jump and Throw – explosive power in both the lower and upper body are needed for what amounts to be a full body workout. While most of us don’t have a javelin laying around, throw anything. Rocks, stones, anything that varies the weight will work.

5. Sprint – Speed training is an excellent way to burn excess body fat and get lean. I go to a high school football field and sprint various distances from 30 to 100 yards.

6. Run – but not mega distance. Build stamina to be able to run three to five miles on any given day. Although you will be training for speed, strength, and power, it’s good to have an aerobic base. I like to run occasional 10K road races.

7. Recover – all athletes, especially the best in the world, need to take a day or two off a week in order to let their bodies regenerate. For you, this means getting enough sleep and eating quality food so that your hard training pays off.

To learn more about decathalon training, see the following sites:

1. Train Like a Decathlete

2. Decathlon Training Plan

3. Decathlon Training Ideas

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