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Don’t be a mono-maniac: Here’s why you need to mix up your workouts

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Pilates, CrossFit, rowing and yoga are all great workouts. But to fight off injuries, consider adding some counterbalance workouts to your regimen. Your body will thank you.
(Clockwise from top left: Mariah Tauger / For The Times, Whole Life Challenge, Robert Cianflone and Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Lucky you — you fell into a sport or workout that you love and you do it every day.

But there’s good news and bad news if you are a mono-maniac, single-mindedly devoted to cycling, running, swimming, golf or another activity.

The good news: You feel super-fit and skilled, part of a tribe and proud of it.

But here’s the downside: That reliance on one activity can may contribute to or worsen osteoporosis, poor posture, destroyed joints and more.

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The simple solution? Broaden your athletic portfolio by cross-training. In fitness lingo, you’re trying to counterbalance all the mono-activity. The best news? You’ll be fitter for it.

After all, every sport has gaps in its overall fitness benefits and risks if overdone. Take bicycling. Maybe you ride outdoors on the weekends and take an indoor cycling class or three during the week. Numerous studies indicate that high levels of cycling have been linked to bone thinning. (Cycling not only lacks the skeletal loading and body-weight pounding that spurs bone strengthening, but depletes calcium through prolific sweating.) Serious cycling can be so damaging to bones that a 2018 New Zealand study found that it could nullify the effect of weight training, a known bone-builder.

But that’s not all.

Cyclists get poor posture, carpal tunnel and poor upper-body strength.

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“The bent-over seated position develops tight hip flexors and rounded shoulders — just like corporate workers sitting at a desk,” says Austin Martinez, director of education at StretchLab, a specialty stretching franchise that started three years ago in Venice. It would make sense for serious cyclists to cut back and add weight training, some yoga and Pilates, and feet-on-the-ground bone builders such as running, stair climbing and hiking with a heavy backpack.

Basketball and tennis would add valuable lateral motion movement and hand-eye coordination.

Runners, by contrast, generally have great bones and no major postural issues. But day after day, the same repetitive-motion pounding that builds bone can pulverize knee and hip joints with osteo-arthritis and accelerate sarcopenia, muscle wasting.

You may have planned on running marathons and 10Ks forever, but you probably won’t be doing them after age 55 or 60. Participation in running events radically falls off in the older age groups due to chronic injuries, such as wasted knee cartilage.

“For a long running career,” says Santa Monica physical therapist Robert Forster, “runners reduce the cumulative pounding by switching some recovery workouts to low-impart activities like cycling and pool running, my go-to therapy for injured runners but valuable at all times.”

The bottom line: Beware mono-sport mania. No sport or activity is perfect in isolation.

Swimmers and rowers, floating in water and not supporting their own body weight, have similar bone-thinning issues as cyclists. Golfers get back problems from the explosive twisting motion, bone density issues (walking alone does not build bone) and no real strength or aerobic. Yoga devotees may stand tall but may lack strength and aerobic capacity.

Crossfitters get awesome sinew and bone, but lots of muscle and joint strain from pushing heavy weights all-out, all the time. “A lot of our clients swim or bike to get a healthy break and active recovery, “ says Andy Petranek, founder of CrossFit L.A. and owner of the Whole Life Challenge, which inspires followers to embrace a healthy lifestyle.

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Counterbalancing your sport with complimentary activities will prevent injuries, increase performance and keep you in your sport longer.

In addition to weight training and stretching, aerobic athletes can simultaneously shorten their workouts and improve fitness with once-a-week interval training, and occasional forays into fun, multi-planar activities like tennis, basketball, cardio kickboxing or a multi-disciplined class such as OrangeTheory.

With all that in mind, and input from Martinez, Forster and Petranek, here’s a handy chart with some specifics. Just look up your sport and the counterbalance activities you should be adding to your routine regularly.

Are you a mono-maniac?

Yeah, us too. But you don’t need to give up your favorite workout, and just add in some cross training once or twice a week, and we bet your overall fitness will improve. Here are some ideas for breaking the mono-sport habit:

If you enjoy... Cycling

You might be at risk for... Bone density problems, poor posture and lacking in upper-body strength.

You might try mixing it up with... Running, stair climbing, basketball, tennis and kickboxing for cardio, weight training and Cross-Fit for upper body strength, and yoga and Pilates for active recovery, and flexibility.

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If you enjoy... Swimming

You could be at risk for... Bone density problems, and shoulder injuries

You might try mixing it up with... Running and kickboxing for aerobics, CrossFit and upper body strength training and yoga and Pilates for active recovery.

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If you enjoy... Rowing

You could be at risk for... Bone density, shoulders, posture

You might try mixing it up with... Basketball, tennis, and kickboxing, which will all help you work on core conditioning and upper body strength, weight lifting for overall strength conditioning, and yoga and Pilates for an active recovery and flexibility.

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If you enjoy... running

You could be at risk for... knee and hip joint injuries, and neglecting upper body strength.

You might try mixing it up with... Biking, swimming, rowing and pool running, which can give you a low-impact cardio boost. Tennis and Zumba are higher impact, and just plain fun. Weigh lifting and CrossFit can help with strength, while yoga and Pilates can provide active recovery.

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If you enjoy skill sports... such as golf and tennis

You might be missing out on... Aerobic conditioning, core conditioning and bone-building exercises, such as strength training. You also run the risk of sport specific injuries, like tennis elbow, or hip and knee strain.

You might mix it up with... Pilates and yoga for flexibility, cycling (indoor or road), swimming, rowing, running, CrossFit or kickboxing for a continuous aerobic boost. Or weight lifting for strength training and core training.

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If you enjoy... Yoga and Pilates

You might be missing out on... Aerobic conditioning, and bone-building exercises, such as strength training

You might mix it up with... Running, backpacking, basketball, tennis, kickboxing, weight lifting and CrossFit, which will all provide an aerobic workout, as elements of strength training.

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If you enjoy... HIIT, CrossFit and body building

You might be at risk for... joint wear, injury and burnout.

You might mix it up with... Cycling (indoor or road), which will still give you a cardio hit, and swimming, yoga and Pilates, which will give you an active recovery workout


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