Cross-Training

Incorporating Body Maintenance Exercises to Your Routine Is a Tangible Form of Self-Care

Doing the work of even the smallest maintenance exercises does wonders for both body and mind.

It’s Sunday morning and I’m sipping a cup of coffee in bed and cueing up a Premier League soccer game while my kids play on their devices and my husband churns the rowing machine in the living room. I’m taking the day off from running—my legs felt trashed on my Saturday jaunt up and down the local mountain. A couple back-to-back days of running, plus a few hours of midweek snowboarding in powder (yay, powder!) has left my body needing the break.

I’m tempted to just lie there, reveling in the Sunday morning-ness of it all. But I know better. Watching TV in bed tweaks my neck, which most often sends nerve pain down my arm and into my hand. Plus, my legs could use some love. So I grab a yoga mat and foam roller from my closet and hit the floor.

I’ve been running for 30 years. I’ve been doing sports for 40-plus. Friends my age chalk up aches and pains, flare-ups, and injuries to getting older. But for me, age has nothing to do with it. In high school I hyperextended my elbow blocking at volleyball practice. When I was 22, I had stabbing pain in my low back and a doctor told me, after looking at an MRI, that my “athletic career might be cut a little short.” I was a runner, triathlete, and volleyball player at the time. I was crushed.

I came back from the elbow, the numerous sprained ankles, even the low back issue. And I’ve had countless injuries since, (mostly) coming back from them each time.

It turns out, I’m hypermobile—I have a connective tissue “disorder” labeled a few years ago by a doctor as Ehlers Danlos Syndrome. That time, I’d been experiencing nerve pain from my hip to the bottom of my foot, supposedly caused by my pelvis rotating and being out of alignment, pushing on a nerve. This sort of injury is common for me, even these days. Part of me becomes out of alignment from something as simple as sitting at my desk all day, or coughing too hard (I popped a rib out of place doing so once) and I get nerve pain and dysfunction in various parts of my body.

I say “disorder” and “syndrome” in quotes because I don’t really want those words defining me. I’m an athlete, a runner. I also Nordic ski, snowboard, swim, climb, ride, play ball sports, and surf when I get the chance… I do whatever sports are available to me and sound fun at the time. But at my core, I’m a runner.

Athletes, and especially runners, know that some level of body maintenance is necessary to stay healthy and operational, either at top-shape or just to run pain-free. I feel like I really, really know that I need to do the work, and that it makes a huge difference for me.

I’ve long tapped into physical therapists to help me identify weaknesses and imbalances in my body, and give me exercises that I take with me out the office door. The list of exercises gives me the power to heal myself. It gives me tools to improve my state of being. And so I do them, and they make a difference.

So as I watch Manchester City beating Liverpool, I know I have 45 minutes of bodywork to do before halftime (and a running game clock that helps me time how long to hold a stretch, or roll a certain muscle, or do a plank). I put my yoga mat, my foam roller, and my resistance bands to use. I do air squats and lunges with good form I learned by doing CrossFit, which has also been helpful in making me more durable. (It seems strengthening my muscles helps support me where my ligaments are lax.) I know what movements make me stronger and keep me aligned, or re-align me when I’m off kilter.

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I go through this session of self-care with a deep understanding, and gratitude, that doing these exercises makes a difference. Doing them is taking care of myself. And taking care of myself enables me to continue running and enjoying all my other sports. Doing the work gives me hope and lets me daydream about the next mountain run or adventure of any sort.

Simple Body Maintenance Exercises That Benefit Any Runner

Even if you’re not hypermobile or often injured, there are some great self-care exercises that can benefit any runner. They may prevent injuries, improve your performance, or help you feel better if something feels off. Here are a few good ones:

Woman kneeling, pulling back foot up to butt
Photo: Brad Kaminski
  • Death Stretch/Couch Stretch. Made famous by Kelly Starrett of CrossFit fame, this stretch doesn’t take long and gives you a lot of bang for your buck. The bang might be uncomfortable at first, but that discomfort might help you realize those muscles really need the love.

runner-modifies-pigeon-pose

Photo: Getty Images
  • Hip Mobility Session. This 10-15-minute hip mobility routine can benefit any runner. It combines active stretching, static stretching, rolling and squatting.

Woman stretching her back with a foam roller

Photo: Getty Images
  • Foam roll. Either rolling out post-trail run, or giving yourself a massage where needed, or using a roller to open up your chest (runners tend to hunch over with rounded shoulders) can do wonders. For the latter, lie with your spine along the roller and extend your arms out sideways, slowly doing a snow angel and stopping for a few breaths at any particularly stiff areas.
Woman doing crossfit workout
  • CrossFit-like home workouts. These two workouts provided by Level 4 certified coach and owner of Boulder, Colorado’s CrossFit Roots will both kick your butt (in a good way) and add strength to your running. Workouts like this can make a runner more durable overall.