Variety certainly is the spice of life, and is definitely one of the spices necessary for a healthy, fit life. This applies to your everyday workouts, nutrition, and overall lifestyle, which I will elaborate on below.
I am often asked “what are you training for?”, “what sport do you play?” or “why are you doing that exercise?” I’m always happy to get questions like this because it must mean I am doing something right! Even though my days of college lacrosse are long gone, and I may not be signed up for an upcoming triathlons or road races, I always train with a goal or purpose. I train to be fit and functional, which I believe requires a variety of training methods to accomplish. Yes, getting in your 60 minutes of activity each day is good for your health, no matter what mode of activity you choose, BUT in order to really be FIT and see results, you must challenge yourself. Going out for the same 4 mile run followed by the SAME weight training circuit every day will soon become like brushing your teeth…its good for your health to be moving, and getting in that activity, however your body will adapt to this, results will plateau and more importantly you will be overusing the same muscles each time you workout.
Growing up I played many sports, from basketball, field hockey, lacrosse, I learned how to train my body specific to the goals I had on the field or court, as well as how important it was to play a variety of sports to make me a better athlete. In high school, I excelled in lacrosse, but instead of playing on year round premiere teams like most girls did, I chose to play field hockey and basketball in the seasons prior. I believe this kept me from burning out (mentally and physically) and allowed my body to have a change, to use different skills and motions which kept me fresh come lacrosse season. Having gone on to play Division 1 lacrosse in college, I followed my training plans religiously and considered myself in the best shape of my life (at that time!). I had power, strength and speed, which I believe is what led to my success as a runner and triathlete today. All those days sprinting endlessly up and down a 100yd field, hours in the gym lifting and performing agility drills all had a purpose, to make us better players and to push us to our limits which became both physical and mental training. You could never go out and run 5 miles at the same pace every day and expect to be in shape for this sport. You needed hard conditioning days on the track or field, hill sprints, speed and quickness drills, weight lifting, steady recovery runs, and stick skills. Point being, the variety of training and sports, shaped me into the athlete I am today, and continues to be a part of how I train.
Having taken up triathlons after college, I’ve enjoyed having three sports to perfect! Swimming, biking and running make up the majority of my weekly workouts, but I still get in strength/core training at least 3x a week, and also always make time for other activities such as hiking, beach runs, cross country skiing and even horseback riding. I am definitely one who likes to move and stay active every day, and having a range of options to choose from allows me to do this, without getting burnt out or injured. Not only do I have variety in my weekly workouts, but I always make sure each workout itself is never the same. This means changing the intensity, interval time and distances for my swims, bikes and runs, as well as repetitions, load, speed and range of motion for strength training. Each workout has its purpose. Days following a hard interval run, may include an easy long distance swim to loosen up the muscles and get in the long, steady state endurance that I need for open water swims. Performing the same workout day to day, or trying to workout at the same intensity every day, will get you nowhere if you are serious about your performance. One big mistake I see people make is trying to workout at same intensity every day, or try to run the same 5 mile run 5x a week. It may feel great when you first do these workouts, but is not sustainable over consecutive days without rest or other forms of cross training. You may be able to go out and do that same 5 mile run, at the same pace you always do, but over time, it won’t give you the same benefit as it did the first time because you have gotten used to it. I am not saying everyone needs to do what I do, but even if you are a runner, choose one other mode of training such as spinning or water running, and always incorporate proper strength and core exercises to keep your muscles balanced. Most importantly, make time for activities that are not structured workouts, such as a hike with friends, rock climbing, paddle boarding or even a game of tennis!
Same goes for nutrition. Its importance to get a variety of nutrients into your body, especially if you are working out. This doesn’t mean cycling through eating packaged junk food AND healthy fruits and vegetables! If you know me, I am not an advocate of those inner grocery store aisles. I advise anyone to eat a healthy diet of fruits, vegetables (including starchy vegetables), lean meats and dairy, whole grains and good fats. No macronutrient is off limits here in my mind unless there is a need to eliminate gluten, dairy or eggs for allergen reasons. Everyone needs carbohydrates, protein and fats…so eliminating a main group such as carbohydrates or fats is not necessary for even the most weight conscious. Fruit and vegetables are carbohydrates people! And if you are an athlete or one who is looking to perform well, you need that prime energy source to train. Fats are needed in order for nutrients to be absorbed properly and for our organs (brain most importantly) to function. A lot of people stay on track by eating the same foods day in and day out, which is fine, but it’s important to cycle through new foods to get different nutrients you need. This may be as simple as eating a different protein source every other day, adding in a new fruit or vegetable weekly, and getting a range of different fats such as using coconut oil instead of olive oil, avocado in your salad or different nuts in your yogurt. Keep in mind that everyone’s body reacts differently to exercise and foods they eat, so what works for your friend may not work for you. Experiment with different ways of training and fueling, and keep variety in mind!