How to approach running, strength training, and yoga safely
Running, strength training, and yoga are the types of exercise I get asked about most often. Here is my advice on how to approach them safely.
If you run more than three times per week, I strongly advise you to cross-train, which means incorporating other types of workouts into your weekly schedule (more on cross-training below). While walking and running are the most natural types of exercise for humans, we also need variety in our movement patterns—and if you’re sitting at a desk for most of the day and then going for a run, you’re not getting that variety. Alternating running with other types of workouts that use your body in different ways gives your leg muscles a break and allows your joints to rest and heal.
Run on dirt trails when you can. If you run on concrete, be sure to replace your running shoes frequently.
Keep your body relaxed while you run, and maintain natural, efficient running form. Notice if you’re holding unnecessary tension anywhere and consciously let go of it. I recommend reading ChiRunning and Slow Burn for advice on running form.
Warm up slowly and gently by first walking, and then jogging slowly. When you come into your full running pace, it should feel easy.
There are many approaches to strength training out there. Some of them put dangerous strain on the body, especially when practiced with improper form. Traditional approaches to strength training can also lead to unnecessary muscle tension building up over time.
When you strength train, warming up thoroughly is extremely important; please follow the advice in my warming up section below. It is also important to always maintain proper form, even when you’re lifting your heaviest weight. If you can’t maintain proper form, then you aren’t ready to lift that weight.
I recently read the book Deep Fitness by Philip Shepherd and Andrei Yakovenko—a big thank you to my student Kate for recommending it to me! The book outlines an approach to strength training developed by Shepherd and Yakovenko, which they call Mindful Strength Training to Failure (MSTF). This is the first approach to strength training I’ve ever found that is in line with the principles of Clinical Somatics, so I can wholeheartedly recommend it to my students. MSTF is also the first type of strength workout I’ve ever enjoyed and looked forward to!
MSTF involves practicing resistance exercises extremely slowly, so that you bring your muscles to failure within about a minute and a half instead of 10 minutes or more. It is the safest, most effective, and most efficient method of strength training I’ve found. If you’re interested in learning how to practice it and why it works, I highly recommend reading the book.
Strength training is an important part of everyone’s workout routine, especially because it prevents muscle loss and weakening of bones as we age. If you tend to avoid strength training, MSTF is something you can easily incorporate into your routine because it doesn’t take much time and doesn’t require a trip to the gym. If you’re already hooked on strength training, MSTF will give you a new perspective and might just change the way you train!
Yoga is a wonderful way to build strength throughout the body and improve balance and control. Yoga lengthens muscles and connective tissues by moving slowly and consciously through ranges of motion. It also reduces stress because it involves deep, diaphragmatic breathing and intentional focus. Practicing yoga several times per week is an excellent way to make your cross-training regimen more well-rounded.
The only downside of yoga is that most forms of it involve some type of static stretching. If you practice yoga and are feeling any negative effects from it, please read this article: Combining your Clinical Somatics and Yoga Practices.