What Is Cross Training And Why Is It Necessary?

A few years ago, I was running 4-5 miles a day, four times a week, and I thought I was in pretty good shape. Then I started training for a triathlon and started swimming laps in a pool. After just one lap, I was shocked to find myself out of breath, huffing and puffing as if I never worked out a day in my life. I was wrong to think that fitness means mastering a single sport. According to Todd Schlifstein, DO, a sports medicine rehabilitation doctor at New York University Medical Center’s Rusk Institute, “When you only do one fitness activity- like running or weight lifting, for example- and you only work on the muscles involved in that sport, you may discover that you are far less fit than you think.”

Cross-training refers to combining exercises of other disciplines, different than how the athlete regularly trains. For instance, if a runner wants to cross-train, they may bike, swim, strength train or take a fitness class. Cross-training builds strength and flexibility that is not being utilized when the athlete always does that one sport or discipline. By correcting muscular imbalances, it prevents injury and the variety can prevent burnout. Schlifstein warns that “using one set of muscles repeatedly can also increase your risk of repetitive injury.”

So how do you incorporate cross-training into your fitness routine? If you do not usually swim- try it out. Swimming helps build strength, flexibility and fitness, all without risking injury.  Runners looking to cross-train should strengthen their pelvis, hips and upper body- try elliptical machines, stationary bikes or swimming. If you have been only weight lifting- you should add a cardio workout- like running outside or on a treadmill, rowing.

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You can incorporate cross-training by alternating between activities; one day lift weights, next day bike, next day run, then elliptical machine, rowing machine. Or you can alternate activities in a single workout; run on treadmill for 10 minutes, bike for 10 minutes, pushups for 10 minutes, elliptical machine for 10 minutes.

My 19 year old daughter had become a slave to the elliptical machine, crossing the fine line between loving and hating it at the same time. When the elliptical machine in our home gym broke and was awaiting repair, she was forced to use the exercise bike and she started running on the treadmill. It was the best thing for her, because although I had been stressing the benefits of cross-training, she refused to try another activity until she had no choice. My daughter had not realized how bored she had become with the elliptical machine and now incorporates all three machines into her workout.

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Cross-training stresses the importance of varying activities between aerobic conditioning, strength training, endurance and balance. For fun and a bit of variety- try cycling, yoga, hiking, jogging, rock climbing, skiing, pilates. To spice up my own fitness routine, I started the 100 burpee challenge on January 1st. Day 1 I did 1 burpee, day 2- I did 2 burpees, etc. until day 100. If I skip a day, I have to add the burpees from the day I skipped. If I do 9 burpees and I skip the next day, then the following day I have to do 10 burpees plus 11 burpees. If you do not know what a burpee is- google it- it is easier to watch than for me to explain.

I want to share an inspiring new project started by Gwyneth Paltrow and fitness guru, Tracy Anderson called, “The Restart Project.”  It consists of approximately six minute video segments focused on women who have overcome hardship, injury and setbacks and have triumphed in the face of adversity. The first few videos I’ve seen depicted women who have transformed their lives and bodies through diet and exercise. These uplifting and motivating stories are definitely worth watching at http://on.aol.com/show/the-restart-project-518018512/episode/51804516#sthash.P2yzR4U.dpuf

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Warming Up vs. Stretching- Is There A Difference?

For first time readers, I have been publishing posts twice a week, usually on Thursdays and Sundays. One post usually relates to a healthy body (generally fitness related) and/or a healthy mind. The other post discusses healthy eating and I try to find easy, healthy recipes that real people, with real jobs, real families and real lives, will want to make. I hope that my posts are interesting and informative, such that you will come away with a new idea, a new fact learned or perhaps a question. Comments are always welcome. Please join the email list to ensure that all new posts will be automatically sent to you.

Warm up exercises and stretching are often lumped together when discussing pre-workout routines, however they are two distinct principles. For an optimal workout, both are important. When performing warm up exercises, you are increasing your body temperature and slowly preparing your body for the workout. According to the Boston Herald, “If one stretches the muscles without proper warm-up, the muscles are cold and are more prone to injury, such as a muscle tear or strain.” Warming up can be achieved through a period of running in place, jumping rope or easy pedaling on a bike. Skipping the warmup and going straight to stretching can lead to injury as your muscles need warmth to achieve optimal stretch.

When stretching, you are specifically focusing on stretching your muscles. Research has shown that range of motion can be increased by a thirty second stretch for each muscle group per day. However, this may vary for each individual and some people may need to stretch each muscle group for a longer period of time. The Mayo Clinic advises that when you are stretching, “focus on your calves, thighs, hips, lower back, neck and shoulders. Also stretch muscles and joints that you routinely use at work or play. And make sure that you stretch both sides.”

An optimal workout consists of a solid warmup, a period of stretching, a strenuous workout which increases the heart rate and a cool down period which may include stretching. If you make time for each of these workout portions, you will experience fewer injuries and increase your workout potential. We are all pressed for time, trying to squeeze a workout into a busy schedule.  However, keep in mind that the warmup and stretching is as important as the main part of your workout.

Inevitably, we all are faced with an injury at some point in our lives. Hopefully, it is not too severe and with proper rest and possibly rehab we slowly work ourselves back to where we were in our pre-injury workout routine. It is the slow period of trying to get back to where were were that is the most frustrating. My husband is still dealing with his lower back injury and working with a physical therapist.  It may be another month before he will be able to slowly work his way back to his pre-injury workouts. So this weekend we went on a hike!

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We drove to Montauk Point State Park and went on a 3-mile, 2- hour guided Seal Hike. Our guide, biologist Tish, peppered the hike with interesting information about the seal population on Long Island and fun facts about the local marine life.  We hiked one and a half miles to the seal observation area and one and a half miles back, wearing hiking boots, heavy coats and backpacks. It was terrific exercise briskly hiking through the woods and on the beach in the dry sand. We were rewarded by the sight of five Harbor Seals sunning themselves on a giant rock close to the shore.  On a bluff above the beach, through binoculars, we watched the seals wiggle, arch their backs and playfully slide into the water. The cost is $4.00 per person, reservations are required and you can find out more information at 631-668-5000.

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Change Is Good

photo-8I am not one of those people who loathes change. I embrace it. To me, change can be a new beginning, a new adventure. Except when it comes to an unwelcome change in my workout routine. In the past, I stretched 5- 10 minutes before a workout and I was good to go. Due to a recent calf injury, I now have to warm up my calves for about 20 minutes before each work out. I use a roller on my calves and a rubber band to maximize my stretching exercises. Since I joined my current  gym, I have watched people stretching anywhere from 20-40 minutes, pre-workout. Now, I also incorporate yoga moves into my pre-workout stretches. It’s depressing because this extra warm-up time makes me feel like I’m getting old.

A few months ago, I would have spent 10 minutes stretching before a 5-mile run. I know, I know- it was a terrible practice. That is not the proper way to warm-up. Luckily, I have always gotten by with doing my workouts without much of a warm-up. At Crossfit, the trainers emphasize a 10-15 minute full body warm-up before every workout. The joke at the gym is, “My Crossfit warm-up is more rigorous than your entire workout.” It’s true- some of the warm-ups are that intense. It’s all part of the master plan to ensure that those body parts that are being used for the workout are properly warmed up to avoid injury.

I am generally a proponent of change in any aspect of my life. I changed up my entire workout regime almost a year ago. My workouts became stagnant and uninspired until I made some major changes to kick start my body and my brain. Change is good for your brain. According to a recent study discussed in the Harvard Gazette of Science and Health, with regard to Alzheimer’s disease prevention, prolonged exposure to a richer, more novel environment beginning even in middle age might help to prevent Alzheimer’s disease. Simply by changing up your routine, you can build new pathways to the brain to ward off the effects of Alzheimer’s. When I was 40 years old, I started a new job that required me to travel by train to downtown Brooklyn several times a week. I had to travel to a train station that I had never been to before. Needless to say, I was a little nervous about taking the new train and then finding the connecting subway train. I was worried about deviating from the path that I knew and was familiar with. But I did what I had to do ( latching on to friendly commuters the first few times) and I still take that route several times a week. I felt a sense of pride in my small accomplishment which reinforced the notion that you are never too old to learn something new.

Studies have shown that people who continue learning new things throughout life and challenging their brains are less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Activities requiring multiple tasks, requiring communication or organization are all forms of mental stimulation that can be key in warding off Alzheimer’s.  There are many things you can do to stimulate your brain. Learn something new: study a foreign language or a musical instrument, read a newspaper, a book or take up a new hobby. Brain teasers and strategy games provide a great mental workout: crossword puzzles, word games, Scrabble or Sudoku. To create new brain pathways, vary your habits regularly: take a new route home, to the office, from the market, eat with your non-dominant hand. Change is good.

Finding The Right Fitness For You

The hardest thing for an athlete to cope with is dealing with an injury. Athletes don’t like to rest or take time off to heal- it’s not in our nature. I am just coming off a 3-week sabbatical of no lower body workouts and no lifting. The Crossfit trainers have been helpful in tailoring what workouts I could and could not do during my “rest” time. That meant weeks of push-ups, weighted sit-ups and finally working on mastering my pull-ups. Honestly, some days I skipped the gym and did the same workout at home because it was a bit depressing watching everyone do all the things that I couldn’t do. Belonging to Crossfit means you have a personal trainer whenever you are at the gym. The trainers are constantly watching you, checking your form and looking at the weights you are using. The trainers are readily available to answer questions and are extremely patient, even with someone like me, who after ten months, is still asking, “Is my form ok? Am I squatting low enough?” The Crossfit trainers will encourage you to add more weight or to go faster with your workout but only if you want to be pushed. Contrary to a lot of rumors, the Crossfit I belong to does not promote pushing someone to a dangerous level or to a level that you feel is unattainable. But it’s not only the trainers who inspire, help and motivate, its the men and women at the gym. We all push each other. The guys and girls may have a friendly competition to encourage each other to squat more weight or bench press more reps. But it’s all in good fun to help motivate. At this point, although I can’t lift a considerable amount of weight, I know my strength lies in my cardio ability; to run faster, run longer and do more burpees. Most Crossfitters hate all forms of cardio, especially running. Everybody has their strengths and weaknesses. Find yours. Belonging to a gym, any gym, is not the only way a person can get fit and stay fit. There are many creative options for physical exercise. Push-ups, sit-ups, lunges and squats can be done anywhere. An inexpensive form of cardio that can be done almost anywhere is with a jump rope. Buy an inexpensive one and start using it. The jump rope I bought is from rxsmartgear.com and I have heard good feedback about the jump ropes from againfaster.com. Jumping rope is also a fast, fun way to burn calories and increase cardio strength. A jump rope is great for traveling because you can take it anywhere. Once you become proficient at jumping rope, you can try double unders. A double under is done on a jump rope where the rope makes two passes per jump instead of just one. It is much more effective than a single jump rope pass because it allows for higher work capacity- much more effort. Warning: the double under takes a great deal of coordination and determination to master- I am still struggling to get one.