One of the best things about getting fit in this era is the variety and number of options at your disposal. With so many different classes, studios and gyms, everyone can find a type of exercise that they love. And enjoying your exercise makes a real difference. In fact, when people are more intrinsically motivated to move, they exercise more often.|
When many people find their exercise match, they dive in deep: Yogis practice daily with their favorite teachers. Spin lovers hit the studio four times per week. Runners log hundreds of monthly miles. CrossFitters go to the box again and again pushing for a new PR.
But there is a downside to exclusively performing one kind of exercise: "You're going to develop an overcompensation," says Shawn Arent, Ph.D., director of the Graduate Program in Kinesiology and Applied Physiology at Rutgers University, and the Rutgers Center for Health and Human Performance. You can become too strong in one part of the body at the expense of another, which could, according to the American Council on Exercise, lead to injury.
Arent is quick to point out that if you're exercising, you're already doing great things for your health. But keep in mind that athletes don't just train in a single way. They do what's called "cross-training," which means exercising in multiple ways, with multiple intensities.
Even if you don't think of yourself as an athlete, Arent says, you should want to be athletic. "[Being athletic] is making the most out of your physical capabilities," he explains. "You don't have to be Mr. Olympia or go for a gold medal, but taking care of your machinery so you're not out of breath when you go up stairs or are not always in chronic pain [is key]. If your overall pursuit is longevity and physical function [then you want to be athletic]."
Now, before you feel overwhelmed or go out and schedule two-a-day training sessions or tons of different training types as a pro athlete might, know that these can be small adjustments to your favorite training schedule or workout. To help fight against overcompensations and optimize your "machinery," try for a light version of cross training. Consider it like a "side hustle" for your body that, in minimal time, can improve your overall physical function so you feel better than ever. Most of the six "side hustles" provided here can be done at home without specialized equipment or needing to get a membership at another gym or studio. And there's a bonus: Adding this small change to your routine can even make you better at the type of exercise you're already enjoying.
If you love: Yoga
Your new side hustle: Elevating your heart rate
Some yogis use yoga exclusively as their exercise regimen, but depending on the teacher, they may not be getting everything their body needs from their daily practice.
"Yoga people need cardio, as do all humans," says Heidi Kristoffer, a yoga instructor and the creator of CrossFlowX, an exercise class that combines yoga with high-intensity interval cardio exercises. "Ostensibly, in a rigorous Vinyasa class, a person should be able to get their heart rate up, but it is so teacher-dependent, and even mood-dependent within said teacher. Their mood can often dictate the class they lead, and an unknown teacher might teach a super slow, basic class, even if it is labeled 'athletic', 'power' or 'Vinyasa'."
If you're not elevating your heart rate a few times per week with your yoga practice, you're missing out on the health and longevity benefits you'd get from cardio work. Meeting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's guidelines for weekly cardio can help reduce your risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke and certain cancers. Performing 150 minutes of elevated heart rate work can also reduce your risk of "all-cause mortality," or early death.
For the cardio averse, know that you don't have to run or jump on an elliptical to get these benefits. But if your yoga practice isn't leaving you out of breath with an elevated heart rate a few times per week, Kristoffer says, consider looking for specific classes or yoga styles to add to your regimen that do provide cardio benefit. That might be a specific teacher at a local studio or with an online class like Kristoffer's CrossFlowX.
One yoga style that Kristoffer says should definitely provide some cardio work is Kundalini. This form of yoga uses "kriyas, or repetitive movement that match movement to breath, often with breath of fire," she says. Matching movement to the pace of your breathing can mean moving more often, so the right kriyas,"absolutely count as cardio" according to Kristoffer. <pagebreak>
If you love: Spinning
Your new side hustle: Strengthening hamstrings, core and upper body
"Cycling is a very quad-dominant activity," Arent says, meaning that spin class spends 45 minutes really pounding the fronts of your thighs. You may not get as much work on your hamstrings, though. Strengthening your hamstrings will not only balance out your legs to prevent injury, but can also help on the bike: The pulling portion of your pedal stroke can gain strength, increasing your overall speed and power.
To strengthen your hamstrings, Arent suggests incorporating exercises like TRX leg curls or stability ball leg curls a few times per week. But if you're hoping to climb the leaderboard at your spin studio, he also suggests thinking about more than just your legs.
"You think of cycling as a lower-body activity, and it is. But it's also about endurance in your anterior deltoids [shoulders] and your triceps," he says. When you're up out of the saddle, these muscles are taxed.
So is your core: "Being able to move through a range of motion while maintaining core contraction is important," he says. In standing positions on the bike, your core is what holds you up and allows you to use your legs to push. If your core strength or endurance is too weak, you won't be as strong on the bike. This strength comes from rotational core exercises like woodchoppers, anti-rotational exercises like the Pallof press and bracing exercises like the plank all build a core that can make you stronger in the saddle.
You can get stronger in all of these areas by going to a gym, but you can also perform side hustle moves at home to balance your body and get your body in fighting form for your next visit to the studio. To up your game, incorporate five powerful exercises at home at least twice per week:
Exercise 1: Glute Bridge
Exercise 2: Swiss Ball Hip Extension and Leg Curl
Exercise 3: Narrow-Grip Push-Up
Exercise 4: Plank
Exercise 5: Seated Russian Twist
If you love: Lifting heavy
Your new side hustle: Stretching between sets
Lifting makes you stronger, but it can also make you less mobile. Active stretching between sets can help, says Sarah Feilders, a stretching expert and founder of the Extensa Method, but she doesn't actually recommend stretching the muscles you're actively using.
"If anyone is lifting for maximum performance, I wouldn't suggest any static stretches in between sets that target the same muscle groups," she says. Stretching those muscles could create temporary mobility that you don't yet have the strength to lift through the entire range of motion. That is, your arms could go too deep into a bench press, into an area where you haven't developed strength to move the weight back to the top position. Instead, Feilders says, work on performing moving, dynamic stretches of the nearest joint. "For example, a chest press could be preceded by or followed by some shoulder or arm circles."
If you like to static stretch, try stretching the opposing muscles between sets. "Upper-back work could be followed by a chest stretch," she offers as an example. "This would help any imbalance of the shoulder joints, which tends to happen in most people with poor posture." <pagebreak>
If you love: HIIT cardio
Your new side hustle: Slow it down
High-intensity interval training, or HIIT, is popular for a good reason: It burns fat. In a study from way back in 1994, scientists found that exercisers lost more fat over 15 weeks using this kind of training than exercisers who performed steady-state work lost in 20 weeks. But studies like this highlight the way we've come to think about HIIT and steady state options, says Arent.
"We've made a huge mistake of thinking it's steady-state exercise or HIIT," he says, noting that HIIT enthusiasts often consider steady-state exercise bad or completely ineffective. But you can—and should—do some of both. "For whatever reason, [slow] cardio became the bad guy, but what we think of as 'cardio'—like a longer run [or ride]—still works. It does develop cardio endurance. You have the opportunity to build in different movement patterns."
Swapping out a HIIT session may also help you recover more easily. Some HIIT lovers who perform strength workouts as intervals crow about training as many as six times per week.
"That's a huge load on the body. Eventually, there's a point of diminishing returns," he says. That huge load could lead to injury or even burnout. In one study of HIIT from 2015, for example, participants who did the highest-intensity intervals enjoyed their exercise less over the course of the study than another group that performed steady-state exercise.
Arent's suggestion for a side hustle? Once in a while, hustle a little less and slow it down. Using the cardio modality of your choice, find a pace that you can maintain for 20 to 40 minutes, but still challenges you. Arent suggests trying for a level of perceived exertion of 12 to 15 on the Borg Scale. Using this 20-point scale, you can roughly determine your heart rate and exert yourself accordingly. Each number on the scale is associated with a heart rate level in a trained individual: 12 is associated with 120 beats, 15 with 150 beats, and so on. If you don't have a heart-rate monitor, use your normal interval pace as a guide. When you're performing a challenging, high-intensity interval, for instance, you might be at an 18 or 19 on the Borg scale; your weekly "slower" cardio session should be at about two-thirds of that effort.
If you love: Running
Your new side hustle: Strengthening arms and core while increasing flexibility
By some estimates, running may still be America's favorite way to get moving. It can also lead to lots of injuries. Running can make your legs strong, according to Kristoffer, but it can make other parts of your body really tight.
"Runners have tight everything," she says. "Generally, I can spot [a runner] in a forward bend because either their lower back or hamstrings will severely restrict their flexibility."
Because runners who just run also miss out on strength-building activities, they get weak in certain areas like the arms and core, Kristoffer says. And, while it might come as a surprise to some, weaknesses in both of these can make your running less efficient: A strong core can help you maintain your posture as you pound the pavement at a force more than 1.5 times your bodyweight in each stride. And while your arms might not seem important, swinging them in control reduces the metabolic cost of running, meaning you can run for longer distances. Adding in some light core and arm exercises on your active rest days could reap benefits you never realized you needed.
To further help loosen up the areas that get tight while simultaneously strengthening your arms and core, Kristoffer suggests performing the following four yoga poses after your run or before bed: the plank hold, supine pigeon pose, child's pose and standing forward bend.
If you've discovered your one true fitness love, you are more likely to stick to exercise for the long-term, but remember that exercise is an evolving practice. Challenging your body with new movement will not only help you progress and grow, but it might just be the missing link that leads to your next PR.