The smart exerciser recognizes that changing up their activity can be necessary to avoid pain or injury. In the rehab and exercise world we call this approach cross-training. What most people don't know is exactly what activity they should incorporate. Some people attempt new activities without knowing just how to do them properly. People who run or walk might try biking or the elliptical trainer, for instance. But new choices of cross-training activities might not be any better than their activity of choice on an injury. For example, a runner with knee pain may not be helping their cause by taking up biking, the stair-climber or the elliptical.
The primary goal of cross-training should be to train the body and specific areas of the body in different ways. In our example of the runner with knee pain, doing some strength training of the core, legs and upper body or swimming would be better choices since they do not place repetitive pressure on the knees. Likewise, the muscles used for running are similar to those used for biking, elliptical training and the stair-climber.
To start a new type of exercise safely you must be sure to initiate the activity properly. Some of your best resources are friends or family members who have been doing that activity for awhile. You might even want to consult a personal trainer, coach, athletic trainer or physical therapist when learning new modes of exercise and movement. The point of cross-training is to round out your fitness and health, so learning new ways to challenge your body is a good thing. In doing so, you will want to make sure that you are not only taking stress off some areas, but wisely applying more demand on new areas.
When adding cross-training, go back to the basic fundamentals of beginning exercisers. Start easy and progress gradually. Just because you have been weight training for years does not mean that your body is ready to jump into an advanced running program. Likewise, just because you have been a runner for years, does not mean that your body is ready to dive into high-intensity swimming. Keep in mind that you may need some training in order to perform new movements the right way. Get some advice and instruction from someone familiar with the activity. Also, consider a biomechanical analysis with video feedback to help you see yourself performing the movement. Remember, doing the right thing the wrong way is still wrong.