Spring is in the air and you are ready to get out of hibernation! Or maybe you have decided that it is finally time to get back to that workout routine you had last year but abandoned because of all the changes you were trying to juggle. Either way, it’s a great time to be more active and get outside to enjoy all the benefits of exercise. However, to avoid injury, don’t forget to incorporate some cross-training.
(weight management, mental health, cardiovascular health)
What Is Cross Training?
When we think of cross-training, many of us will think of other cardiovascular exercises such as bike riding or swimming. While these exercises are great, we shouldn't forget about strength and flexibility training. Lower extremity injuries (like knee pain) can hold you back from your goals and keep you sidelined longer than you'd like to be. Incorporating a strengthening program can be very helpful at preventing these types of injuries so you can enjoy your favorite running or walking route.
Did you know that weakness in your hip and core can result in added stress and pain at your knee?
Weakness in our core muscles and hips is a very common problem, especially in our sitting dominate lifestyles. This weakness causes increased stress to your knees when you are walking and running. The good news is there are some great exercises you can do to help improve your hip and core strength. By adding these exercises into your workout program, you can greatly decrease your risk of knee pain when you are starting a new walking or running program.
Is there anything else you need to work on?
Yes, another key aspect of overall knee health is your flexibility. So many people suffer from chronic tightness in their quads and hamstrings. This tightness leads to abnormal pulling between your hips and knees. When you start a walking or running program lack of flexibility will cause increased stress on both joints leading to pain and injury.
I started running over 20 years ago because it was a simple exercise that I could literally do anywhere. Since I was a student and moved often as a military wife, running became my go to form of exercise. However, I started yoga 4 years ago and was shocked at my lack of flexibility! By incorporating yoga into my cross training, I have improved my flexibility and strength. This has led to decreased injuries with running as well as an improved stride length. Yoga also allows me a regular “check in” on where my strength and flexibility are on a given day.
One more important tip to keep in mind when walking or running!
The surface you are walking or running on has a huge impact on the forces through your knee. I recommend that my clients walk or run on unpaved surfaces as much as possible to decrease the impact through your knees. And, we have so many trails around here that it is pretty easy to find an unpaved surface.
However, if you find yourself needing to walk or run on the road then make sure you alternate which foot is “in the gutter”. Roads are cambered, or arched, to help the rain run off the road and into the gutter. This cambering causes one foot to be lower than the other when you are running on the side of the road. For short distances, this is not a huge problem. But, if you are walking or running several miles then you want to switch which foot is “in the gutter” or on the lower side of the road. This will help to balance the forces between both sides of your body over the course of your run.
Should I just walk on the sidewalk?
Sidewalks are made of cement which are the hardest surface that we run or walk on. Therefore, it is not generally recommended to walk or run on a sidewalk for more than one mile. I recommend my clients head to a local trail or find a road with a wide shoulder whenever possible.
What about using a treadmill?
Treadmills help to decrease force through the knees and hips because they have a little spring to them. This makes treadmills a great option to decreased force through your lower extremities if you have access to one and enjoy using them. I once had a patient who would use her time on the treadmill to watch the “gossipy” shows that she knew were not good for her. But, she loved the shows and it helped her look forward to her daily exercise. And, hey, if that works for you then certainly – go for it!
Personally, I enjoy running or walking outside. It’s often my only chance to spend time in the outdoors on a daily basis. When I am exercising outside I find it easier to clear my brain and download my thoughts. The fresh air invigorates me and gets me ready for the day ahead. Plus, I have a chance to absorb some much needed Vitamin D which can be hard to find in the great state of Washington!
Honestly, where you should run comes down to what works best for you. Trying to convince yourself to run outside if you hate being out in the rain or you have to exercise when it’s dark may not work. Or you may feel like chaining yourself to a treadmill feels like torture and decreases your motivation. Finding the method that keeps you exercising consistently will bring you the long term results you are looking for.
Remembering to cross train in order to improve your flexibility and strength will keep your knees injury free during the process. If you have any questions regarding your knee health or building an exercise program that works for your body, we encourage you to sign up for one of our Free Discovery Visits. During this no obligation consultation we can discuss your specific fitness goals and the best steps to take to help you achieve them.