Weight training done in the style of strong person or what we often refer to as functional training, when done properly improves your ability to do all kinds of activities in your daily life. There are many reasons for this, the first one I think is that it improves your posture, the basis of all movement, as well as your nervous system function, strength, flexibility and stamina. For most of us, we don’t limit our activity to kettlebell training and enjoy various other activities, with that in mind, let me take a few minutes to talk about the pros and cons of our favorite sports and how to train for them to perform well and avoid injury.
Cycling is a wonderful sport, I have personally put over fifteen thousand miles on my current road bike and I am sure it will get many more before I trade up. The possible cons of cycling will depend slightly on the type of cycling that your are doing, the road bike usually puts you into a deeper, more extreme posture than mountain bike. Both of them will tend to make your hip flexors tight so doing static hip flexor stretching after your ride is always a good idea. In your training, do plenty of lunges in your warm ups and deadlifts in your practice. The deadlifts cause the hip flexors to relax as you fire your glutes and help balance out the hip extensor/flexor power struggle. The deadlift will also strengthen your back which will be important due to the hunched posture you had while you were riding. Windmills are a great way to prevent tightness in the IT band and hip flexors, they will also help prevent or fix forward shoulders that can occur from hours on the bike. Frequent use of a foam roller on the hip flexors and IT band can help, but I honestly have more faith in full range of motion strength training as a whole to help combat muscle and fascia tightness. I also recommend practicing your breathing techniques even when you are off the bike. Try to belly breathe and open up those deep down breathing muscles, I always opt for wider handlebars that sacrifice aerodynamics for a more open chest and better breathing.
When it comes to running, I am a greater advocate for short, fast running than long, sustained bouts when it comes to overall health, however I also think everyone should be fit and free to run when and how they wish. I advocate shorter running sessions for a number of reasons including; possible sympathetic nervous system dominance, sustained “pounding” on joints and greater need for nutrients (often leads to deficiencies) when running for longer periods. Whatever you prefer, it is very important that you get your posture and gait analyzed before you take up running as a consistent part of your life. Even minor postural deviations will lead to major aches and pains down the road when you compound the effect of every one of them as the miles tick away. Remember that running is power phase, not strength phase, for this reason, kettlebell swings, especially one arm swings are fantastic for this kind of strength. In addition to powerful glutes, the swing will build vital core strength too, this will be highly important if you wish to maintain good breathing patterns and good overall posture when you run. The one arm swing will develop rotational strength in the thoracic spine that is vital to your success as a runner. You may also wish to address hip flexor and IT band tightness in much the same way as a cyclist, depending on how often, how far and how frequently you run.
I just thought I would be better off lumping many field sports into one category, but let’s just name a few; soccer, baseball, (American) football, cricket, lacrosse, ultimate frisbee, and also sports played on courts like tennis and basketball. These are fantastic and have a certain superiority over the other two in regards to improving your health if for no other reason than the randomness of movement involved. Sports like this are much less likely to make you excessively tight or overworked in any given area. You will notice however that if you throw or swing a racket or bat for long enough that you start to develop greater strength on one side of your body than the other. Throwing and swinging in sports also requires good range of motion during thoracic extension, otherwise you may find yourself sidelined with a shoulder injury. Unlike typical running as a hobby, these sports usually require a completely different kind of running, one that involves very sudden changes in speed and direction in response to what is happening on the field or court. In order to prevent injury when you are performing these athletic movements in your sport, you must train these movements in a controlled setting. Use an agility ladder in your training and try to replicate the surface on which you will be playing your sport. The importance of this cannot be overlooked, as development of the appropriate strength and footwork is extremely important if you expect to compete even at an amateur level without getting injured. Use lots of thoracic rotation in your weight lifting, an adjustable weight and height cable and pulley machine works well for this. A wood chop exercise is a great start, do them in both the strength and power phase and use full range of motion in your core. Do your crunches on a ball that will allow you to both extend and flex your spine, just like if you were throwing a ball. If you do crunches on the ground you can actually lose your ability to extend your spine properly!
Before engaging in any of these sports, I recommend a warm up involving a few components: The first is a core-temperature warm up using simple, fun movements that will warm your body and pull the blood out of your organs and into your muscles. The next phase is muscle and fascia-opening, using slower, static postures where you use muscle contraction to facilitate lengthening of the reciprocal muscle group. The last is a dynamic range of motion phase, replicating movements that you will be using in your sport, in full range of motion in both strength and power phases.
For me, cycling allows me to engage in a form of meditation and it is very calming. I love to play field sports with my friends also, it is a great bonding experience and it gives me the chance to do things you can’t do alone, like throw and catch or hit a ball. The health benefits of all of these things cannot really be measured. The important thing to remember is that I don’t do these things to get strong, I can do them because I am strong. Even if your athletic endeavor is playing with your great grandchildren, it is still important that you maintain a daily physical practice that supports and prolongs your ability to enjoy these endeavors.