03/22/2012 05:21 pm ET Updated May 22, 2012

Wear Your Fitness in Layers

What if becoming a better runner meant running less? It may sound backwards, but strict repetition is not a successful way to exercise. The world's best athletes are taught how to balance their workout routines to maximize performance while minimizing wear and tear on the body. Intelligent fitness is not reserved for gold medal winners. When we exercise, the goal is to improve our endurance, strength, speed and flexibility. So what happens if you can't get all four in a single class? The answer is that we need to layer our workouts.

Most types of exercise only hit one or two of our goals. Running might improve our endurance and speed, but it's not going to make us much stronger or more flexible. Yoga, on the other hand, will do wonders for flexibility and maybe even strength, but we will hardly be able to run a marathon. These days, workouts are cut into bite-sized packages designed for mass consumption. If you want to take control of your routine and get the most out of your body, the best thing you can do is mix and match programs.

Fitness should be built in layers, just like getting dressed. If you wear five pairs of underwear, it will never equal one pair of pants. You will just look like an adult wearing a diaper. Humans are designed for variety, which is why we can move in so many ways. Trust me, if there was really one solution to exercise, we would have figured it out by now. But 2,000 years after the first Olympics, we are still devising new ways for keeping fit.

What happens when we over-train? The dreaded overuse injury, which results from repetitive trauma to the muscle or joint. These injuries are all the result of specialized over-training... doing the same continued action, over time. After years of practice and hard work, people end up on the losing end of an injury such as tendinitis or a stress fracture. Whether it's tennis elbow or runner's knee, all of these injuries are preventable.

It's time to start thinking about complementary workouts. You can choose routines that balance the strength and weaknesses of each other. Like we said earlier, running is great for endurance and cardiovascular health, but it only addresses the body from the waist down, and focuses mostly on the hamstrings. During running, roughly 75 percent of the workload goes to the hamstrings, the remaining 25 percent of the work is done by all other lower body muscles combined. Squats and pushups, major players in any bootcamp workout, will help balance the quads and gluts, core and upper body. Bootcamp workouts offer a much-needed layer of total body strength and speed that will enhance your fitness level beyond running. After all the intense exercise, a yoga class is a great way for the muscles to recover through stretching. The meditative speed of yoga will center you after the high-intensity routines. Working in layers helps you develop overall, whole body conditioning, which eliminates weaknesses. Balance is key.

The great thing about wearing our fitness in layers is that, just like our clothes, we can change from head to toe. Who really wants to wear the same outfit every day? Over time, preferences change. The things that used to excite us seem boring. Keep up with your personal evolution by adapting your workout. When you add a new layer or shed an old one, your body will welcome the fresh change.

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