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.
Posture, Balance & Core Stability
Core stability is defined by having the stabilizer strength to maintain equilibrium and postural control of the spine, pelvis, and scapula during both static and dynamic exercise without compensatory movement that may lead to pain or injury.
Most dogs (like humans) have “lazy” posture – which can either cause or be caused by injuries or imbalances within the body.
Balance training not only strengthens “the core” muscles, but also the stabilizer muscles surrounding the other joints throughout the body such as the carpal joints, elbow joints, stifle joints, tarsal joints and so on, preventing injury in these areas as well.
Muscular imbalances are the #1 predictor of an injury.
Muscle imbalances involve the affected muscle(s) performing roles outside of their normal physiological function and thereby placing abnormal forces throughout the body.
Canine strength training can both correct and prevent muscular imbalances by integrating the bodily systems to move optimally with appropriate weight distribution.
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.
Strength training can also prevent ‘slip & fall’ type injuries by training the dogs body how to quickly react to external forces that may otherwise predispose the dogs muscles, tendons, ligaments, and joints to strain/sprain, fractures, and other types of injuries.
Body awareness is your dogs ability to understand their body position “in space”, and knowing how to correctly facilitate movement.
Increased body awareness helps to develop adequate coordination, improves movement, and prevents the likelihood of accidental injuries.
Body awareness is a learned skill – most dogs actually have very little awareness of their backend, let alone that they can back up, sidestep, and move their limbs independently of each other!
Cardiovascular conditioning increases the efficiency of the heart and lungs, while improving blood flow throughout the body. It is also a great way to release pent up energy while helping your dog maintain a healthy bodyweight.
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 overtraining/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/active stretches before exercise and static/passive stretches 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 tissue 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/Median Plane which divides the body into left & right halves; includes forward & backwards (as well as up & down) movements.
- The Coronal/Dorsal/Frontal 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.