Last week, we introduced cross training and discussed its benefits. This week, we’ll look into some specific programs and types of exercise you can use to cross train or to supplement your current workout regimen.
Low Impact Activities
We’ll begin by discussing three activities that are low impact and great for your overall health: yoga, Pilates, and walking/hiking.
Incorporating a yoga practice into your life can improve your flexibility, strength, and mental well-being (aka, stress levels). In their comparison review, Ross et al found yoga to be beneficial in nearly every category, and found that yoga was at least as beneficial if not more beneficial than regular exercise in multiple areas (including balance, flexibility, grip strength, stress, menopause symptoms, and sleep, among others). Some areas where regular exercise was more beneficial than yoga was energy expenditure and VO2max. This can vary, however, based on the type of yoga you do as well as the type of “exercise” you normally do.
As we mentioned last week, if you’re already stressed and your body is a bit overtaxed, restorative yoga may be best for you. This may also be true if you’re recovering from injury. If you’re fairly healthy, not currently overtraining, and don’t find yourself often overwhelmed and/or exhausted, you may benefit from a more strenuous yoga class, such as a Vinyasa flow class or an Ashtanga yoga class.
Remember, too, that not all yoga is asana (poses). Yoga can be entirely breath work, or a combination or the breath, meditation, and chanting. There is a wide range to choose from (and per Cowen et al, different types of yoga will confer different benefits), so you can certainly find something that suits your needs and your fits your current bill of health.
Per the Pilates Method Alliance, “pilates is a method of exercise and physical movement designed to stretch, strengthen, and balance the body.” Posture, proper breath work, and core strengthening are all emphasized, as is executing movements while maintaining length, which improves overall flexibility. This low impact form of training improves a wide range of bodily functions and systems, including lung capacities, circulation, core strength, flexibility, posture, balance, coordination, and bone density. And you don’t need to start out physically fit to enjoy the benefits of Pilates training. Sekendiz et al found improvements in core strength, flexibility, and endurance in sedentary women in their randomized control study.
While walking and hiking may not seem like “exercise”, they are, in fact, the oldest form of physical activity for human beings. Indigenous tribes walk miles a day, and humans having been using our feet as a main mode of transportation for thousands of years. There are definite links between walking and improved mood, cognitive function, decreased cardiovascular disease, decreased anxiety and stress, and improved sleep. Walking or hiking may also be beneficial if recovering from injury or if you’re too stressed, and your HPA axis is over taxed. If so, this would be a great way to get moving without risking deleterious effects from over-exercising.
If you’d like to include aerobic or endurance activities in your normal workout regimen, some popular and effective choices are running, swimming, and biking.
While running can offer increases in VO2 max and be a great way to spend some time out in nature, it can also be hard on your joints due to impact. So if you’re someone who already has joint issues, running may not be for you. There are several programs and apps out there now to assist with transitioning from a sedentary lifestyle to completing your first 5K, for example.
Swimming and biking both offer cardiovascular benefits, increases in VO2 max, and improved pulmonary function, and are less stressful on your joints (as they are lower impact sports). So if you find you have joint issues, you may want to consider these lower impact forms of endurance exercise.
Another word to the wise: if you’re already overstressed and over-exercising, aerobic and endurance training may not be suitable at this time. Consider yoga or walking instead.
High Intensity Activities
If you’re someone who is already in decent shape, isn’t overstressed or overwhelmed, and would like to improve your overall physical fitness, then you might be drawn to activities such as Cross-fit, Insanity, or P90X. These exercise programs focus on functional movement, which is good, but are definitely high impact.
Cross-fit is defined as “constantly varied functional movements performed at high intensity.” These exercises are usually performed in groups in a gym, and can be very beneficial….. if you’re the right type of person. Most already need some level of physical fitness or health to participate.
And again, if you’re overly competitive to the point of poor judgment or already overstressed and overtaxed, this type of exercise may not be for you. It may cause you to risk injury for the sake of competition or to risk injury from overtraining. Rhabdomyolysis, a condition when muscle breaks down and releases toxins into the blood stream, can occur when working out at high intensities, intensities that might occur with Cross-fit training. Making sure you can train hard and still know your own limits is important if you decide to participate in high intensity programs like this.
Home programs, such as Insanity and P90X offer the convenience of performing high intensity circuit workouts in your own home and when you have time. In addition, movements are functional and incorporate the whole body. These workouts are based on using different exercises so that your body doesn’t adapt as quickly, and subsequently, keeps being challenged.
But just as with Cross-fit, if you’re joints are impaired, or you’re too stressed and overtaxed, these workouts might not be what the doctor ordered. Rhabdomyolysis can also be a concern here, so make sure you’re not pushing yourself beyond repair.
Foundation Training was developed by Dr. Eric Goodman to help reduce back pain, improve posture, and improve overall athletic performance. It targets some of the fascial lines that run throughout the body proposed by Thomas Meyers that strengthen the core and gluteal muscles in particular. This program can be helpful for those recovering from back injuries or those who look to strengthen their core muscles and improve muscle activation. For more information on foundation training, please go here.
Eccentric training utilizes the repetition of eccentric muscle contractions for exercise. An eccentric muscle contraction is one in which the muscle is lengthening while carrying a load. The load could be your own body weight, or could have resistance, such as weights. Eccentric training is often done slowly (over time), and can result in stronger muscles, increased muscle repair, and increased basal metabolic rate. During eccentric movement, the muscle actually absorbs energy, which improves overall efficiency.
One downside to this ype of exercise is Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS), as this occurs more frequently with eccentric training verus concentric loading. Fortunately, DOMS decreases with repetition, so training in this matter consistently helps to mitigate those symptoms. One thing to note is that eccentric training can lead to injury if the person is unaccustomed to the exercise, but, if performed properly, it also leads to adaptation, which decreases overall risk for injury.
It can also be a wonderful tool for rehab, as many studies have found improvements in achilles tendinopathy and things likes jumper’s knee from eccentric training. It has also been helpful in rehab with older adults, as it does not require as much energy expenditure and risk for injury is low.
Incorporating Eccentric Training
Here are a few examples of exercises you can do if you’re interested in incorporating eccentric training into your regular exercise routine:
- Eccentric push-ups: These can be done by taking 5-10 seconds to lower yourself all the way from a high plank position to the ground. If it’s then too hard to push yourself back up, push back up on your knees, and then resume the plank position to start again. Keep in mind that overall repetitions will be low here, maybe in the 5-8 reps range.
- Eccentric shoulder press: You will need a weight here. Again, take 5-10 seconds to lower the weight. Then use one or both arms to put the weight back overhead.
- Eccentric squats: These can be done on one or two legs. Take 5-10 seconds to lower yourself down, and then return to standing. If doing one-legged squats, use both legs to return to standing.
- Eccentric lunges: Start standing with feet a few feet apart with one foot in front of the other. Take 5-10 seconds to lower down before returning to standing.
- Eccentric Lat Pull-down: Start with the weight in at your chest and slowly let the weight go back up over your head. This can be done with one arm eccentrically (depending on your grip attachment) and concentrically (when you’re pulling the weight back into your chest) with both arms.
- Eccentric pull-ups: Use a chair to start with your chin up over the pull-up bar. Then, take 5-10 seconds to slowly lower your body down. Use the chair again to return to starting position (if you don’t have the strength to pull yourself back up).
Remember, these are just a few examples, and not at all an exhaustive list. Keep in mind that while you can do this easily with isolated muscle groups, it’s often good to devote more of your workout to functional body movements that involve multiple, large muscle groups.
I hope you’ve learned something about different types of exercise you can implement I your exercise routine. Stay tuned as we shift gears next week, and talk a little more about stress and mental burn-out.
http://bjsm.bmj.com/content/39/11/847.full.pdf+html johnsson et al