The Birth of Intelligent Cross Training {& What It Looks Like Now}

When I first launched Iron Octopus Fitness (before there was a website or a Facebook page or even a name), I was basically just begging people to let me train them during the off-season because I wanted the experience.

I was in school studying Exercise Science with an eye toward becoming a Certified Personal Trainer and I just needed to get in their and do it. Some members of my team were gracious enough to volunteer as guinea pigs and Iron Octopus Fitness was born. It was scraggly, dirty, and probably premature, but it was born.

Once they signed on, I proceeded to freak most of them out by introducing them to the idea of Intelligent Cross Training (again, before it had a name).

At the time, it was very specific:

  • Workout 3 days a week
  • Rest 2-3 days a week
  • Active recovery 1-2 days a week
  • Lift as heavy as you can safely
  • No cardio
Take a minute to recovery your heart rate after reading that "no cardio" rule.

Take a minute to recovery your heart rate after reading that “no cardio” rule.

That experiment ended up being my first attempt at an Intelligent Cross Training Academy. Which later became the Clear the Pack Training Program.

  • Do you know how hard it is to get a derby skater to commit to no cardio?
  • Do you know how hard it is to convince a derby skater that she won’t die come the on-season if she only focuses on strength?

A lot.

So while I was teaching my clients how to collect data, I was collecting data of my own. I wanted to know what they had been doing for cross training before. I made them tell me what they were frustrated with. I learned where they struggled on and off the track. I watched them while they watched themselves. (It wasn’t as creepy as I describe it.)

I ended up with a couple spreadsheets worth of data. And a lot of ideas about how to apply it.

The problem was: what had been very specific and prescriptive in the beginning was now very nebulous and vague.

For example:

SKATER A performs best during the season when she attends 2 practices per week and does 3 heavy lift days with a taper during bout weeks or when she starts to get tired.

SKATER B performs better when she attends practice 3 times a week and does 2 HIIT days with moderate weights and a day of yoga. She only needs to taper every 6-8 weeks.

SKATER C does her best with 2 days of practice, 1 long endurance run, 1 heavy lifting day, and 1 interval training day. But she has to taper more frequently, so she drops down to a moderate lifting day every 3 weeks and occassionally shortens up her endurance run.

And so on. And so on.

But it worked. Each skater started seeing improvement where before they had been stuck. Or at least frustrated.

And Intelligent Cross Training took it’s very first steps.

The problem with “real” Intelligent Cross Training is that it’s not easy to explain. It differs from person to person and it, more often than not, brings more questions than answers.

Questions like…

I like to workout until I’m dripping with sweat and vomiting in the corner. I can’t do that on Intelligent Cross Training, can I?

First of all, do you REALLY like to workout until you’re vomiting? I mean REALLY?

Secondly, I’m not telling you that you can’t Fran it up every day of your life if you want to.

Intelligent Cross Training is about balancing what you want/like to do, what will help you reach your goals, and what will keep you from having a physical breakdown mid-season (or, you know, mid-life).

If your body is giving the green light for Fran (or Grace or Annie) 7 days a week, then go for it. But if your body is not giving you the green light, stop and take a break. Simple as that.

Simple, but not easy.

I really like what I’m doing now. It’s been working for me for a whole season. I don’t have to change it, do I?

Maybe. Maybe not. It depends. (That’s pretty much the standard Intelligent Cross Training answer.)

When you say “working for you” what do you mean? Are you still making progress towards your goal? Do you really still enjoy it? Are you just too lazy or unsure to change it up?

Chances are good that if you stick with the same thing, with few to no adjustments, your body is going to get stuck on a plateau. Remember when you first started skating and JUST SKATING was enough to have you making mad skillz gainz? This is kind of the same thing.

If every workout I do is 3 sets of 5 back squats at 135lbs, 3 sets of 5 bench presses at 75lbs, and 3 sets of 5 deadlifts at 155lbs, then I’m eventually going to stop getting stronger.

Your body excels at adaptation. If you teach it something new and then ask it to do that thing over and over, it gets REALLY good at doing that thing. It will do that thing more efficiently and effectively every time.

That’s great news for skating skills. Not so great for gaining strength (or other things).

I can’t rest that much. Does that mean Intelligent Cross Training isn’t for me?

I focus a lot on rest and recovery when I first start talking to people about Intelligent Cross Training because that’s where skaters struggle the most.

Chances are good that: if you are a skater and you currently cross train, you’re doing too much.

This is kind of a blanket statement because it also sometimes means that you’re not doing the right things. Or you’re doing too much of not the right things.

Let me put it this way…

I have an instructor that competes in Olympic Lifting (you know, snatches and cleans) and he’s pretty good at it; like competition-winning good. And he always jokes that for him, everyday is leg day. I’ve seen his training program and that’s pretty true; 6 days out of 7 he’s doing some sort of leg work.

But he mixes up how he’s working his legs and whether he’s doing light, moderate, or heavy work. He’s also careful to check-in on every lift to make sure that everything’s feeling up to par.

So you can train 6 days a week; legs every day. But you can’t do that indefinitely. Intelligent Cross Training is about recognizing when it’s time to taper down your work, so that you don’t burn out.

You’ll have to rest eventually. And the amount you have to rest is directly related to how long and hard you’ve been training.

I don’t even know where to start…?

Then Intelligent Cross Training is perfect. Because you just have to start somewhere. Anywhere.

Then pay attention.

Write shit down.

Assess what’s working.

Keep what is, toss what’s not.

Add something new. Or don’t.


All things that are incorporated in the Clear the Pack Training Program.

It’s pretty simple. Simple, but not easy.

Intelligent Cross Training is like being an explorer or a scientist. Go where you think the prize is. If your ship hits the mainland, you disembark, and the natives are restless, turn around and go somewhere else.

Want more?

If you’re interested in more exclusive content, access to my FREE resource library, and the slightly weird workings of my inner mind, you can sign up for the Iron Octopus Fitness email list HERE. Wherein I harass you weekly with all things intelligent cross training, mindset, and…other.


About IronOctopusFitness

Online athletic training and nutrition coach, full-time mom, okay skater, and connoisseur of all things tea, chocolate, and roller derby. I'll help you unleash your inner athlete by building a strong, capable body that can withstand whatever life throws at you.

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