Commander's Fit Tip: Diversification ... it's not just for your stock portfolio

ARNOLD AIR FORCE BASE, Tenn. -- With so many exercise routines available, it's hard to imagine that most of us are closer to "one trick ponies" than we'd like to admit.

But it's true.

Ask a fellow gym rat to share their log book, and you'll see a heavy dose of a favorite, and in some cases, you'll see the same entries over and over again.

While a heavily focused routine can offer big gains for specific purposes, if your goals are tied not to a single sport or activity, you'll be in good company if you join the ranks of the "cross trainers."

Cross training isn't a universally accepted label, so rather than describe a routine that way, let's just clarify what we're after.

When I say "cross train," I mean "diversify."

A "diversified" routine changes the core of a workout just about every day.

For example, if you are working to improve your aerobic capacity, your list for the week could include a run on Monday, a spin class on Tuesday, elliptical trainer on Wednesday, swim on Thursday and a bike ride on Friday.

Changing intensity day by day on a single routine is useful, but can't be confused with diversity. If your program centers on running, a routine that includes sprints on Monday, a 5 mile jog on Tuesday, 5-K race pace on Wednesday, hills on Thursday and 10K on Friday (assuming you could run at all on Friday!) isn't really diversified.

So, what's the problem?

As we focus on a specific activity, we never let our joints, muscles and connective tissue REST, and over a long cycle, the risk of "repetitive motion" or "overuse" injuries rises significantly.

This is OK for the pros.

They are closely monitored by coaches and trainers and are well connected to their bodies. But for the rest of us, the gains in a single area just aren't worth the risk.

You know what these risks are. Overuse a joint, and you'll pay over time.

Probably the most familiar is the infamous "Carpal Tunnel Syndrome."

In this condition, typically caused by poor biomechanics while typing, the tendons in your wrist become inflamed.

The nerves that pass through the "Carpal Tunnel" get squished.

Ask anyone who suffers from this condition...it's painful!

To avoid this risk across all of our joints, we need to "mix it up" while still keeping our eye on the prize.

I know there are some doubters out there.

"But I have to get ready for my PT test, so I have to focus on running."

Wrong answer!

Think about it. Why do we repeat an activity? To "get better at it."

Pitchers will throw hundreds of balls a week to improve their accuracy.

Basketball players will repeat a "move" dozens of times to perfect a shot.

For these skill-based activities, repetition is necessary.

But running is not a skill activity.

The PT test doesn't measure your running skill, it measures your aerobic capacity (and your leg muscle endurance to a degree).

Lots of activities build aerobic capacity, and running does almost nothing for leg strength.

So a mix of activities will benefit all but the most accomplished runners.

To be sure, you still need to run, even mix up the runs you execute, but ignoring the alternatives is a mistake.

You don't have to get schizophrenic at the gym to pull this off.

Even swapping across two anchor activities will help. But this is one of those "the more the merrier" realms, and the choices really are out there.

Just look at our own gym: we have four different elliptical trainers; two different treadmills; three different stationary bikes (don't forget the spin bikes upstairs!); rowing machines; a hilly forest/dirt running trail; a flat gravel trail; a whole family of DVD workout routines; zumba; step aerobics; power yoga; spin classes; free weights, cable weighted equipment, and a host of body weight devices.

And don't forget, you have the services of a certified personal trainer at your disposal, no charge!

So stop by Ron's office, and ask him to walk you through a plan that will keep you on track to accomplish your goals and reduce the chance you'll come up short via a trip to the clinic.

If you've settled into a focused routine, you won't believe how much more you'll look forward to gym time when you have a whole new menu at your fingertips.

And you'll feel much better at the end of the week. If you've had to skip a day occasionally to fight off the "achies" you'll leave those setbacks behind.

That's the real benefit.

See you at the gym!