Skills vs Attributes: The Benefits of Cross-Modal Training

By on February 5, 2020

I was never sure what it was about training that appealed to me. I’ve always been a fan of martial arts, rock climbing and parkour. But whereas I have trained in those things sporadically, I’ve always stuck to my strength training and general fitness routine.

Lately though, I’ve been reflecting on this and I have come to some kind of answer. I think that training the way I do appeals to me, because it developed traits and attributes, rather than skills. As such, when there isn’t enough time in the day to pursue all of my interests and activities, training strength, speed, agility, balance, and even focus will help me to improve in ALL those areas.

Battle ropes traits vs skills

I call this SuperFunctional training. Functional training is training to become more comfortable and stronger during everyday tasks. Sometimes this means training to supplement your abilities in a particular sport or athletic event. SuperFunctional training, means training o be able to do more than is required by everyday life. Or to train in ways that will benefit sports you never plan to compete in.

And I think that everyone should train this way. They shouldn’t train conservatively with rehab to help them feel and move a bit better. Not just vainly, to build a sexy six-pack. And not only for a specific skill or sport. I think we should all train to be the very best we can be.

Everyone should train this way.

A trained martial artist will kick your ass no matter how strong you are. The coordination and muscle memory required to deliver a perfect punch is far more important than the muscle behind it. But while that is true, a martial artist will become better at their craft by building more strength, speed, reflexes, and mobility. Someone who has trained these attributes will likewise still last slightly longer against the trained martial artist. They will acquire the skills necessary to fight more quickly. And if you take two people with no fight training, the fitter, stronger one will win.

Farmers' Walks

By training mobility, their kicks and knees will reach further, increasing their likelihood of making contact. By training strength, they will have access to greater reserves of power – even the perfect technique is limited by the size of the muscles. And by training endurance, they will last longer before their strikes lose that power and speed. This is why I think that Conor McGregor’s (the MMA fighter) training with Ido Portal (the movement guru) is more than a publicity stunt. And it’s why Brazilian Jiu Jitsu benefits from kettlebell and clubbell training to open up and strengthen the shoulders, and to increase stability.

Likewise, being fast and explosive will make you better at parkour and sports. Greater muscle endurance and grip strength will help you with rock climbing. Being focussed and having greater emotional control helps the athlete or the orator not to croak under pressure. A working memory with more capacity will allow a footballer to visualise the positions of every player on the pitch. Having a strong core will make you better at pretty much everything.

Even the perfect technique is limited by the size of the muscles.

Of course, all these traits can help outside of athletic pursuits too. Whether you’re gardening, moving furniture, or arm wrestling a friend – all those things benefit from being strong, fast, agile, and focussed.

Crawls

And they help you to be ready for the unknown. For the things you can’t predict or prepare for.

That’s the reason I love training: it helps improve performance across the board, so that you’re able to rise to any challenge, and perform in any capacity. It drastically increases the number of options available to you at any moment.

But only if you train the right way. And that’s why I like this kind of training in particular. And it’s why I believe that cross modal training is superior to doggedly focussing on just one aspect of performance.

You’re able to rise to any challenge, and perform in any capacity.

Because if all you’re doing is the three big lifts in an attempt to get stronger, that won’t translate to greater performance in parkour, or martial arts. It won’t help you to run faster or swim a mile. You may be extremely strong, but you’re only used to exerting that strength in one plane of movement. Your body composition may be slowing you down. Your range of movement might be missing in some areas, and entire aspects of your strength will be overlooked. How is your straight arm strength? Your shoulder mobility? Your rotational strength?

Supinated support hold

Bodybuilding creates strength with a lower peak output as compared with powerlifting, but greater endurance. It crafts a super heroic physique, and it targets muscles missed by powerlifting. But it also does little to train intramuscular coordination, or maximum muscle fibre recruitment. And it still misses out crucial whole muscle groups like the obliques.

Callisthenics will build your straight arm strength for sure. It will create amazing relative strength that helps you to perform incredible, gravity-defying movements. The handstand trains immense proprioception and body control.

How is your straight arm strength?

But calisthenics alone can provide no substitute for the heavy squat or the deadlift. A plyometric jump squat is not the same as loading a huge amount of weight onto your shoulders and then bracing against it as you move into a deep squat for multiple reps. That builds huge peak strength, intramuscular coordination, and denser bones. Nor can calisthenics provide the same kind of hypertrophy and muscle size due to the maximum weight available.

Kettlebells best training tools

No one type of training hits every attribute needed for complete performance, but each brings something new and important to the table.

Kettlebells will open up your shoulders, build your work capacity, and provide ballistic strength – not the same thing as plyometric explosive strength. High intensity interval training and metabolic conditioning will increase your lactate threshold, and your mitochondrial count. Low intensity steady state cardio will build will and determination while growing your left ventricule for a lower resting heart rate and superior physical health.

Passive quasi-isometrics create amazing muscle control.

Yoga, Pilates, and gymnastic strength training will increase your free range of motion, undoing the stiffness that comes from years of sitting and repeating the same few movements.

The old-time strongman favourite overcoming isometric will develop crazy grip strength and enhance muscle-fibre recruitment. Passive quasi-isometrics create amazing muscle control, making sure you aren’t weak at any point in the movement, and teaching you to move more efficiently by contracting only the muscles you truly need during a given movement.

One arm press oblique strength

Don’t even be limited to things we typically think of as “training.” Borrow tips from science, from history, and from counter culture. Think outside the box and realise that everything can be trained.`

Meditation will help you to stay focussed on task. Mental toughness will ensure you can keep going and stay strong in your lowest moments. Ambidexterity will let you perform equally well with all four limbs.

Now if you take someone who has trained in all these different disciplines and get them to throw a punch for the first time, they’ll be able to call upon impressive max strength from powerlifting, powerful torque through the obliques thanks to calisthenics, and a powerful posterior chain from kettlebell swings. They’ll be focussed, quick to learn, and able to loosen their entire body before contracting at the moment of impact.

They’ll be focussed, quick to learn, and able to loosen their entire body before contracting at the moment of impact.

When sparring, they’ll last longer in the ring. When throwing kicks, they’ll benefit from superior balance and mobility.

But those same skills will also help them to climb, to flow over obstacles, to win games of chess, and to excel at any sport.

I’m not saying don’t specialise. If you want to compete in powerlifting or long distance running, go for it. And choosing a skill – be it dance, martial arts, or memorizing decks of cards – and honing it to perfection is a noble pursuit indeed.

Martial arts training

But if you’re not training for anything in particular, then train to be the most well-rounded version of yourself. Don’t just get obsessed with your numbers on one lift. Don’t just train your abs. Don’t just fix your bad posture.

Don’t train to be better at what you already are. Train for what you want to become.

So, why not have a go at climbing that rope you’ve noticed in the corner of the gym? Why not get outside your comfort zone and try a heavy deadlift? Why not train your brain, just like you train your body?

Train for what you want to become.

And whoever you are, don’t be jealous and tribal by sticking viciously to your “one kind” of training, claiming superiority. Recognise the unique value that all these systems have to offer.

Hybrid training

And it’s just the icing on the cake that training this way keeps things exciting, action-packed, and varied.

Training should be the furthest thing from boring. If you don’t like working out because it’s “boring,” then you’re doing something wrong!

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About Adam Sinicki

Adam Sinicki, AKA The Bioneer, is a writer, personal trainer, author, entrepreneur, and web developer. I've been writing about health, psychology, and fitness for the past 10+ years and have a fascination with the limits of human performance. When I'm not running my online businesses or training, I love sandwiches, computer games, comics, and hanging out with my family.

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