For any active adult or athlete, no matter how old or how many years you’ve been doing a sport or activity, cross-training will build your longevity in your sport. Many sports, like tennis and golf, are one sided, where you either swing in one direction or dominate with one side. Other sports, like running and bicycling, only move in one plane of motion. This creates over use of some muscle groups and under use of others. This is fine if you are participating in your activity once or twice. But over the course of months, years, and sometimes decades, this can create a very imbalanced body, which can lead to pain. This is where cross-training comes in. The purpose of cross-training is to rebalance the body, and create balanced strength and mobility. This helps your body feel better, and you might even notice improvements in your performance overall.
What happens when we don’t cross-train
Moving in Fewer Planes of Movement
There are 3 movement planes: Sagittal, Coronal, and Horizontal. The Sagittal plane is the plane of forward and backward movement, like with running or bicycling. The Coronal plane is side to side movement, like ice skating or rollerblading, and the Horizontal plane is rotational movement, like swinging the bat in softball.
As an example, in the Sagittal plane, there is no lateral or twisting movements, you just keep moving forward. This can strengthen certain muscles, like the quads, and hamstrings, but can leave other muscles, like adductors (inner thighs) and abductors (glutes) underdeveloped. Doing sports that only move through one plane of motion, affects how our body performs. Our lives move us through multiple planes, our physical activities should reflect that.
An Imbalanced Body
When your body is imbalanced, some muscles work harder than others. The body is a Master Compensator, so if one muscle group is weak, your body will find a way to do the movement, even if it’s not efficient, or ideal. Over time, this can lead to injury, like repetitive strain. Many lower back pain conditions come from using the body unevenly from an imbalanced base. The fact that we are one-side dominant creatures starts us off a bit imbalanced. When was the last time you ate or brushed your teeth with your non-dominant hand? Have you ever tried to walk up the stairs starting with the other leg first? When you play sports that dominate with one side, like tennis, golf, or sometimes swimming (if you only breathe to one side), it may leave you stronger on one side than the other. Then when you do a symmetrical movement, like lifting up a heavy box, one side can get injured. Either the stronger side over works and spasms, or the weaker side is forced to work in a way for which it’s unprepared. Bad news either way. I can’t tell you how many people come in injured after shoveling snow or raking leaves, because they didn’t warm up properly, and they only shoveled or raked to one side.
How Yoga Helps You Cross-Train
1. Yoga Moves Our Body Through All Planes of Movement
Yoga is a practice that moves the body through all planes. There are poses that move in the Sagittal plane, like Low Lunge and Airplane pose, poses in the Coronal plane, like Triangle pose and Goddess pose, and poses in the Horizontal plane, like Revolved Half Moon and Half Seated Spinal Twist. When you move through all planes of motion for cross-training, it creates the balanced strength and mobility that you lack in your sport. This strength and mobility will enhance your performance in your sport by giving you more stability and efficiency in your movements.
When you can strengthen the muscles that move us in other planes, the body feels more comfortable, not only during the sport, but in daily life. You will have less hamstring strain and tightness if you strengthen your glutes. You will have less lower back pain and better balance and stability if you strengthen your core. Doing intentional rotational movements, like twists, strengthens the obliques and lower back so that you can run, swim, ski, play tennis or golf with more power coming from your center/core.
2. Yoga Creates Body Awareness for Better Control
Practicing yoga also helps you develop better body awareness so that you can be more intentional with your movements. When you have better control over your body placement and muscular engagement, you can get more power from your movements and move more efficiently over all. This can also lead to fewer injuries because you are moving your body more evenly.
3. Yoga Creates a More Balanced Body and Mind
Yoga stretches the muscles that are tight and strengthens the muscles that are weak. This functional strength and mobility translates to your body moving better in your sport or activity. Yoga is a symmetrical practice, where everything you do on one side you do to the other. Any imbalances in the body will even out over time with a regular yoga practice. While your body will never be perfectly symmetrical, yoga brings you toward that center place.
Yoga also teaches you to be present, meaning focusing your mind on the task at hand. This is a useful skill when you play a sport and things get tough. Having a calm mind helps you respond to any situation that comes up with more clarity and wisdom. The balance of strength and ease applies not only to yoga, but to any physical activity that you do. Tensing your muscles doesn’t make them work better, but intentionally activating them does. Staying relaxed while you activate your muscles gives them the blood flow that they need to function at their peak.
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Join me in my Facebook Group for “Core and Lower Back Master Class Weekend,” May 5-7, 2023! The class line-up is:
- Mechanics of Walking
- Fun with Foam Rolling
- Core Activation in Yoga
- Stretching Safely As We Age
Click here to sign up!