In a previous post (part 1 in the series) I discussed mental toughness during times of injury and illness. Sometimes those situations are unexpected and unpreventable, but there are a lot of things you can be doing to keep yourself as healthy as possible, both physically, and mentally.
Yoga – As with any of the following recommendations, Yoga (as long as it is practiced correctly and cautiously) can help keep your body and mind healthy and fresh. Yoga (or just general relaxation) has been shown to lower blood pressure, relieve back pain, help with chronic fatigue in cancer patients, and even improve your memory. In the study regarding back pain (here), it is mentioned that joining a Yoga class does not improve back pain more than a general stretching class, but with the other benefits of Yoga, why not try it? There are so many variations that it’s pretty likely you’ll be able to find one that fits your needs, and you’ll be able to keep your routine varied enough to keep it interesting. The best part? You don’t even have to go to a class or buy some videos if you’re unsure. There are quite a few websites that offer free, online videos to get you started and even for some more advanced practitioners. My favorite is DoYogaWithMe.com. There is a big variety of quality videos there and, in my experience, offers even better “virtual classes” than most DVD’s I’ve found. Try it!
Meditation – I know this sounds a little bit on the edge of reality, but there are some on-going studies to show the physiological changes that occur during long time meditation. A pilot study has been performed to determine the effects of a certain type of meditation on schizophrenia patients, determining that there is some potential for the reduction of negative symptoms and an increase of positive emotions. Scientists are even studying and hypothesizing the changes in brain structure, and its effects, in subjects who have participated in meditation over the long term. In layman’s terms, meditation may be able to increase the communication within your brain, potentially leading to greater coordination, an increased ability to process and store thoughts and memories, and a whole host of other improvements.
If nothing else, meditation is a block of time for you to wind down, clear your head, and relax. And those all sound like perfectly fine benefits to me.
Stability Training – There has been some controversy in recent years as to whether stability training was really needed for the average person trying to get fit. One camp says that its silly and unneeded, and one camp says that it is a vital part of everyone’s training program and that anyone that does not do it will undoubtedly injure themselves. My belief lies somewhere in the middle.
For some people, stability training should be viewed more as an accessory exercise. Are you naturally coordinated? Been athletic all of your life with no significant break in time from exercise? You’re probably fine at about 2 days per month dedicated to stability training. Are you the opposite of that? Then you could probably benefit from a period of time focusing solely on stability training as you begin your exercise program, mostly to ready your body (joints and muscles) for the extra work they’re about to take on. Its about injury prevention and body maintenance.
Stability training should also be used as a “cycle off”, of sorts, from high intensity work. If you’ve been really going at it for 3-4 weeks, take a week to recoup and recover. Instead of spending that week completely sedentary, work on the accessories. Do some balance and proprioception work (stand on one leg and do your normal exercises with lighter weights, or try to throw a ball against a wall while standing on one leg). I find that this will keep my muscles active and I can still get warm and feel like I’m achieving something fitness related while giving my body the rest that it needs.
Mobility Work – Ok. The term mobility work sounds sort of intimidating. This is, essentially, stretching gone wild. While studies have shown that acute bouts of stretching (or, only stretching once in a while) do absolutely nothing for performance, they also show that chronic stretching does, in fact, improve your performance for force output, jump height, and speed. In other words, stretching regularly makes you better at nearly everything you do that requires physical movement.
In the past, you always “stretched out” before a workout so you didn’t hurt yourself. I propose that, instead of doing those static stretches for 15 minutes before your workout, do a dynamic stretching warm up. Dynamic stretching means moving your muscles and joints through their full range of functional motion continuously, instead of finding and holding a position at the end of your current range of motion. Examples would be high knee pulls,arm swings, Frankenstein kicks, inchworm walkouts or a whole host of Yoga poses. Save static stretching for its own routine, performed on off days or for 20 minutes first thing in the morning.
In my opinion, static stretching is best used to increase range of motion in a joint to allow better body mechanics and form throughout your exercise routine. Having difficulty getting into a deep squat? Work on your hip and ankle mobility. Finding trouble with your shoulders while doing chinups? Work on general shoulder mobility, specifically carefully working external rotation.
One often overlooked aspect of mobility training is a strengthening portion. You shouldn’t be using heavy weights for this, but, using the examples above, after stretching your hips and ankles, stand on your toes for a few seconds and do a few full depth squats, focusing on activating your hip muscles, to try to strengthen those now-elongated muscle fibers. For your shoulders, after stretching them out, do some isometric wall presses at various angles.
I didn’t cover self myofascial release here, but mostly because I want to cover this in a post of its own!
Rest – This may, in fact, be the most important way to keep yourself healthy. In the pursuit of weight loss, I see many people try to rush. They’ll spend 7 days in the gym, 2 hours a day, often mostly on the treadmill or stationary bike, trying to burn away those calories. Don’t do this. There are many, many negative side effects to chronic cardio. Obviously, if you’re training for a specific event, some of these things are unavoidable, but adding in rest and a weight training day or two to your 2-6+ hour running sessions will not only lead to a healthier you, it can also make you faster. Switching from a low intensity 7 day schedule to a medium + high intensity 3-5 day schedule means you spend less time in the gym, experience less mental fatigue, don’t risk “chronic cardio”, and can even find yourself losing “bad” weight faster, or moving toward (or beyond, in most cases) your performance goals. Work harder, for a shorter amount of time on your training days, and on rest days, go for a walk, light hike, easy bike ride, do some stability or mobility work, or just catch up on chores. Enjoy your life outside of the gym, while keeping active.
It becomes increasingly difficult to work toward your goals if you’re feeling tired, fatigued, sick, or injured often. Listen to your body. Use the above techniques, along with a good, clean, healthy diet, to keep exercise fun and interesting. You also might just be able to keep yourself out of the doctors office and on track as well. Of course, if you need help with designing a health and wellness program, I am always available! Email me for more information!