Being an athlete means doing the same thing over and over, becoming better at it and learning to excel. However, when one sport or activity is focused on to the exclusion of all others, it can cause wear and tear on your joints, causing slow damage build-up that can manifest in injuries that are difficult to heal.
Bodies work better when all working parts are exercised and strengthened, and there is no one sport or activity that will accomplish full body workouts. This means that one set of muscle groups can become overworked, while surrounding muscles, tendons, and joints start to feel the strain.
Cross training can help you build up surrounding tissues and strengthen them to support the ones used every day. Engaging in different sports in off season and varying your athletic and sports routine even when your favorite sport is in season can help keep your body strong and create an internal support system.
Diversifying your fitness routine can take many forms, but the simplest is to find an activity that works a completely different set of muscles and parts of your body that your top activity during playing season, and branching outside your comfort zone in off-season.
For example, if you play baseball or tennis, your pitching or batting arms will get a lot of repetitive use. The elbow joint can feel the wear and tear, and giving yourself a break during off months can give your body time to heal.
You can strengthen the rest of your arm and shoulder by doing an alternate activity like weightlifting to help build extra muscles and strengthen your joints in different direction than the ones they are pulled in repetitively by throwing a baseball or swinging a bat.
Likewise, if you play basketball or volleyball, your knees and ankles can take a lot of repetitive motions that can cause joint pain, including patellofemoral pain syndrome. Spending time on an exercise bike or stair stepper followed by yoga, Pilates, or Tai Chi can help strengthen your core and improve flexibility in your legs and ankles. Even bowling can help flex your legs in new ways to improve their strength and tone.
Cyclists and swimmers can benefit from strength training, using resistance bands and weight training to improve muscle tone and build stronger bone and joint connections. The key is to step into a completely different kind of activity and allow your tired joints to rest and heal while you strengthen other parts of your body to help handle the strain.
Cross training lets you include low-impact, alternative training and explore your creative side as well. If you are highly competitive in your chosen sport, try something fun that only pits you against yourself, like skiing or horseback riding. Your body will reap the benefits both in the short term and the long term for changing things up.
Always check in with your sports medicine doctor before instituting a new exercise regimen. Dr. Strasburger can help you design a workout plan that provides whole body health benefits and builds a stronger, healthier you.