Tuesday, October 30, 2012

5 Workout Lessons I've Learned From My Dog

Six weeks ago I adopted my new little buddy - a 6-year-old pit mix, Addie.

Addie on a hike in Shenandoah Valley...

I've always known that you can learn a lot from dogs, but I never thought about how much we can learn from dogs about working out.  Here are some things I've learned from Addie:  

1.  Always start out slow, with a plan:  When I first started running with Addie, I stupidly thought "she's a dog, she can just run."  Not true.  Dogs, like humans, need to work up slowly.  They have to condition their hearts, lungs, muscles, and paws to the activity level.  Both dogs and humans need to make sure that their healthy enough to work out.  Then, both the dogs and the humans need to ease into the workout -- a concept that a lot of athletes ignore.  

Because I'm still coping with some muscular issues around my knee, I've made sure to ease back into running and increase my mileage slowly.  But some days, I want to say screw it and just go run.  Fortunately, Addie serves as a reminder to hold back.  Since I don't have a training plan right now, I'm sticking with the usual "10% rule" for increasing my running time.  But for Addie, she actually has a training plan I found online called Pooch to 5k, which is based on time and starts with run/walk.  So although Addie's 5k training program is different from mine, we're on about the same track, which keeps me from wanting to do too much too fast for my training.    

2.  Take water:  Usually, if I'm running under an hour, I don't take anything to drink unless it's a particularly hot or humid day.  Dogs, however, especially pitbull types like Addie or other snubnose dogs, will need water more than humans.  So even when Addie goes for 20-minute run, I take water.  Honestly, it doesn't hurt to take water for yourself, even on your shorter runs because chances are you're slightly dehydrated.  Unless you're super vigilant and drink the recommended eight 8-oz glasses of water a day, you're most likely dehydrated, especially if you're running first thing in the morning.  So take a small Fuel Belt for you and the dog.  

3.  Enjoy your surroundings:  Leave the headphones at home.  The outside world has so many sights and sounds that can occupy your attention when you're running outside.  Just watch a dog when she's outside...Every time Addie is outside, it's like she's in her own little bubble with amazing new wonders at every tree and corner.  The world is hers to explore.  So whether you're running in the city or the country, let your surroundings be your entertainment.  By really focusing on every site, sound, and smell that your senses can absorb, it can be even more meditative than listening to music. 

4.  Streeetch in the morning:  I now understand where the yoga term "downward dog" comes from.  Every single morning, the first thing Addie does before she takes more than two steps is stretch.  She starts with downward dog (with her head down and butt up in the air), then does a vinyasa flow move into a cobra-style pose with her butt down, back arched, and head up.  Just watching her you can see how she absorbs every stretch of every muscle and lets the energy start flowing through her body.  What a restorative way to start the day!!  If you want a great, gentle stretching routine to warm up your body in the morning, try this Good Morning Yoga Sequence from Mind Body Green, which takes only 10-15 minutes and is a wonderful way to start your day.  

5.  Take naps:  This is simple:  dogs sleep when they're tired.  Addie especially likes a nap after her runs.  For humans it should be simple too:  If you're tired, take a nap.  WebMD explains that a 20-minute power nap will help restore your alertness and motor skills.  And if you can snuggle up with your dog for that nap...even better!!  

Do you work out with your pet?  If so, what lessons have you learned?          


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