5 simple things every athlete can do to stay healthy
Dr. Jordan Metzl, a sports medicine physician at New York City's Hospital for Special Surgery and a panelist at this year's espnW: Women + Sports Summit, is a big believer in prehab. That is, being proactive about your body and health so that you don't end up in his office.
"There are simple things everybody can do that both increase athletic performance and your overall general health," says the finisher of 34 marathons and a dozen Ironmans. Here are five of his top tips:
"I believe the body is designed for everyday use," says Metzl. That doesn't mean doing the WOD (workout of the day) from CrossFit on a daily basis; instead, that means moving your body every 24 hours. If you're a competitive athlete, follow your training plan or coach's orders as prescribed. But on rest days, don't just binge on Netflix. Take a yoga or Pilates class, go for a brisk walk with your dog or otherwise get your blood and energy flowing. "A body that is used sensibly daily gets accustomed to movement, and won't be as prone to injury," he explains.
Focus on functional strength
Exercises that involve multiple muscle groups -- think lunges, squats, push-ups, burpees -- get all big and small muscles, tendons and ligaments to play as a team, which is how your body was designed to function. "Isolated, single-muscle exercises have no basis in reality on a field or in real life," he says. Two exercises to try, from "Dr. Jordan Metzl's Workout Prescription":
Stand tall with your legs straight. Bend over and touch the floor. Keeping your legs straight, walk your hands forward as far as you can without letting your hips sag. Then take tiny steps to walk your feet to your hands. Repeat for one minute.
Elevated bird dog:
Assume a push-up position and walk your feet forward so your knees are bent 90 degrees and are lifted slightly off the floor. Raise your right arm and left leg until they're in line with your body. Return to the start, then repeat with left arm and right leg. Continue to alternate for one minute.
Plyometric -- or explosive -- exercises aren't just for sprinters and other athletes whose sports require fast-twitch muscles, says Metzl. Long-distance runners, cyclists and other endurance athletes can benefit greatly from adding some spring to their workouts. "Plyometrics give you more athletic ability and prevent overuse injuries," he says, adding that many plyos increase glute strength -- a good thing. "A strong butt is the key to a happy life," he writes in The Athlete's Book of Home Remedies, "Healthy glutes mean healthy hips, back and hamstrings." Two fun plyo exercises to try:
Squat and touch the floor with both hands, keeping your arms straight. Then explode into the air, raising your knees as high as they'll go. Land and immediately begin the next jump. Go for one minute.
Bodyweight split jump:
Place your hands behind your head and assume a staggered stance, right leg forward. Slowly lower your body as far as you can, then jump with enough force to propel both feet off the floor. Land with your left foot forward. Alternate your legs back and forth for one minute.
Call it self-massage or a torture session; either way, get on the floor and roll out your muscles. "Foam-rolling loosens tough connective tissues and decreases stiffness, so you have better flexibility and mobility," he says. Ideally, you foam roll daily. Spend about a minute on all of your major muscle groups, realizing that if an area is pretty painful, back off a bit -- but know that you need to hit it more often.
Metzl calls sleep "the neglected superhero." When you're dreaming of your next PR, your body has time to rebuild and restore -- important work that can't happen when you're commuting to practice or scarfing a burger with your friends.
"Sleep is the only time your body has to regenerate itself, rebuilding muscle, strengthening bone and restocking red blood cells, among other important functions," he says, adding that lack of sleep has been scientifically linked to high blood pressure, weight gain and elevated stress hormones.