Body In Balance

*Original article written by Natalie Gingerich Mackenzie for Self Magazine March 2015*

Runners gotta run. Spinners gotta spin. Dance-cardio girls gotta dance. But when you favor certain workouts, you also favor the muscles those workouts target. The problem? Eventually your body develops imbalances as stronger muscles are overworked (becoming tight) and weaker muscles are neglected (becoming weak). So your body can’t perform at its best.

Case in point: Running with elbows bent flexes the biceps for the entire workout. “That creates a short, tight muscle,” says personal trainer Louis Coraggio, creator of Body Architect in New York City. “Your triceps become overstretched and slack.” Arms will be less powerful as they work to pump you through your runs and up hills. (The fix: triceps dips or kickbacks.)

So if you tend to Spin five days a week or have a regularly scheduled jog, you risk overusing certain muscles, which can impede any gains you’ll see from your favorite activity. “We all know we should mix it up,” says Dylan Schenk, co-owner of Hollywood fitness studio Cross Train. “But it’s easy to get into one thing.” When Schenk persuaded her clients to ditch the workout tunnel vision-power lifters added some yoga, cardiophiles used kettlebells- they saw more results in less time, she says.

It’s not just our exercise routines that create imbalances-it’s our daily lives, too. Blame your desk, your smartphone or your heavy handbag, but hunched backs and rounded shoulders are the norm. That holds you back in workouts, plus it sets you up for aches and pains. “More people than ever have some type of injury,” Coraggio says. “Almost every client has something going on, or they have poor posture that will lead to an injury.”

Simple balance tweaks can help. “We mostly work in the sagittal plane-that is, moving forward,” Corragio says. For runners and cyclists especially, he adds side-to-side or twisting movements-like side lunges and trunk rotations. And no matter what activity you love, try jumping rope for a few minutes, a few times a week, says physical therapist Gray Cook, author of Athletic Body in Balance. It requires excellent posture and alignment, which can counteract the repetitive motions of other activities. You;ll be a better (insert your favorite activity here) because of it.

Find Out If Your Body Is In Balance (no equipment needed)

1. Overhead Squat.
Tests: range of motion in the hips, back and shoulders
Try it: stand with feet hip-width apart, holding a light bar overhead (a yoga strap or broomstick works). Bend knees and sit back to squat, keeping body upright.
Ace It: Do 10 reps aiming to get hips below parallel without leaning forward.

2.Single-Leg Lift.
Tests: Glutes and core strength; balance.
Try It: Balancing on right leg, bend knee gently as you hinge forward and reach left hand to floor in front of right foot. Then stand up.
Ace It: Do 10 reps without losing your balance or, even better, without wavering. Repeat on opposite side.

3. Alternating Plank Lift.
Tests: Core strength
Try It: Do a plank on forearms and toes. Lift right arm and left leg; extend, then lower them.
Ace It:Do 10 reps per side, alternating sides, imagining that you’re balancing a full glass of water on your lower back. Keep your torso stationary so that the glass doesnt spill.

4.Single-Leg Bridge.
Tests:Core, back and hip strength.
Try It: Lie on back, arms at sides, knees bent, feet flat. Lift left foot, knee been 90 degrees. Lift hips; pause, then lower.
Ace It:Do 10 reps, keeping hips level instead of dipping them as you lift and lower. Repeat on opposite side.

5. Shoulder Stretch.
Tests:shoulder and chest mobility.
Try It: Stand with feet hip-width apart. Reach right arm up, left arm down. Bend elbows behind back, reaching fingertips toward each other in middle of upper back.
Ace It: Hold for 30 seconds, working to clasp your hands together. Repeat on opposite side.