Cross Training Fitness Components
When an exercise program includes each of these components, all systems of the body are trained to work at optimal levels, preventing compensation in one area that may lead to injury.
Balance & Core Stability
The muscles involved in balancing primarily include the core muscles whose main job is to stabilize and support the spine, pelvis and hips, as well as the smaller muscles throughout the body whose primary job is to stabilize and protect the joints. Incorporating balance and stability exercises trains your dogs brain and body to use the correct muscles for movement, thereby taking pressure off of the low back, hips and joints in turn preventing chronic pain and injury in these susceptible areas. Stability training is hands down the most important element in keeping your dog injury free and active for life!
Strength training for dogs is comparable to human bodyweight training and involves altering the dogs stance to influence weight bearing and increase resistance on the desired muscles to stimulate strength and muscle growth. Strength training not only improves the strength of the muscles, but also the tendons, ligaments and bones as well – helping to hold the body in proper alignment and prevent injury.
Strong muscles also help the body to overcome external forces (for example: if a dogs leg slips on a wet surface their muscles contract in an attempt to counter the force; if the muscles are strong enough they are able to prevent the limb from slipping further but if the muscles are not strong enough then the limb tends to slip – predisposing the muscle, tendons, and joint to injury).
Body awareness is your dogs ability to determine where their body is, specifically each individual limb in relation to the rest of the body, without having to look. Body awareness is a learned skill – your dogs brain and body must develop this sense of self which requires a high degree of concentration and focus and is therefore very mentally stimulating for dogs. Increased body awareness helps to develop proper coordination and prevent the likelihood of accidental injuries. Most dogs actually have very little awareness of their backend, let alone that they can move their limbs independently of each other!
Endurance training brings us back to the basics of doggy fitness and can be a great way to physically exhaust your dog. The main benefits of endurance training include increasing the efficiency of the heart and lungs, while helping to maintain a healthy body weight.
Although cardiovascular training has plenty of benefits, it is highly recommended that each dog (and human) participates in a well rounded cross training program that goes beyond simply walking or running alone.
Strengthening and stabilizing the muscles throughout the body that are underused/weak (including “the core”) while stretching the muscles that are overused/tight will decrease muscular imbalances while preventing injuries.
Most successful *human* runners follow a well designed cross training program in order to improve performance and decrease the likelihood of injuries. There is no reason to think that our canine athletes should be any different!
I also do not recommend endurance training for puppies under ~18 months old, as their growth plates have not yet closed and their bones are much softer in general. When a dog matures, their “growth plates” calcify and the bones become much stronger, but until then a puppy’s bones are actually softer than their surrounding soft tissue!
This is especially problematic because if a puppy suffers an injury (including repetitive stress injuries from excessive exercise) there is the likelihood that the injured bone(s) will not grow correctly with the rest of the puppy’s body, which may result in a malformed limb (!!) and in turn make the dog even more susceptible to future injuries throughout their entire lifetime!
This of course does not mean that we should bubble wrap our puppies, but rather be aware and try to avoid too much repetitive or demanding exercise. Sniff & Stroll walks, balance training, teaching controlled movement patterns, body awareness exercises, and mental stimulation games are excellent options for puppies or senior dogs.
Including safe stretches at the appropriate times such as dynamic stretching before exercise and static stretching after exercise helps to prevent stiffness, muscle knots and soreness (yes – dogs get sore muscles too!).
Long term, flexibility exercises increase the health and elasticity of muscle fibers while preventing restrictions and imbalances within the muscle itself as well as the surrounding tendons and joints. Not only do flexible muscles decrease the risk of injury, they also increase the body’s available range of motion thereby enhancing athletic performance.
Three-Dimensional Movement Efficiency
We live in a three-dimensional world therefore a well designed exercise program should be correctly balanced in all 3 anatomical planes of movement in order to prevent injury and improve performance.
The 3 Anatomical Planes of Movement include:
- The Sagittal Plane which divides the body into left & right halves; includes forward & backwards (as well as up & down) movements.
- The Coronal Plane which divides the body into “belly & back” sections. For humans this is front & back halves, but for dogs this is top & bottom halves.
- Transverse Plane which transects the spine in half; includes movements that involve rotation through the spine, shoulders, and/or hips. For humans this is top & bottom halves, but for dogs this is front half & back halves.
All too often exercise routines lack the correct balance of three-dimensional movements, and this imbalance greatly increases the likelihood of injury, while also hindering sport performance.
A qualified trainer understands the importance of building three-dimensional movement efficiency in all anatomical planes to keep the body working as a stable and functional whole.