March 15, 2012 at 8:52 AM ET
There's a turning point for almost every athlete, whether beginner, intermediate or advanced, when they realize they are not immune to injury. I have always been very careful as a fitness buff to listen to my body's cues and have avoided major injury -- for the most part.
Maybe it's because I'm nearing the big 4-0 and my body is trying to tell me something that I refuse to listen to, but last year I ended up with a herniated disk in my lower back. For those of you (in the millions) who have experienced this, you know you either are lucky and feel nothing, or on the other end of the spectrum, you experience moderate to debilitating pain.
Sitting and long flights were the worst of it for me. I had a spinal epidural and felt better for a while and also was getting treatment by an excellent sports chiropractor. All seemed to work in the short term, but the long-term solution has worked best: strengthening my core and all the muscles surrounding my spine. Yes, I run a lot and I've done triathlons, but I was really avoiding weights and strength training. Turns out, they are essential for remaining injury-free.
Dr. Jordan Metzl is not only a sports medicine doc, but he's also completed 29 marathons and several Ironman triathlons as well. In other words, the perfect coach. His latest book, "The Athlete's Book of Home Remedies," is chock full of all the injuries you hope to never have -- but, in the worst-case scenario, he teaches you how to work through injuries and get your body back to tip-top shape.
So I decided to sample one his Ironstrength classes at Equinox gym in New York. Turns out I still have a lot to learn. Walking into the class is intimidating enough, because everyone in there, from their 20's to even 70's, was in perfect shape. Five minutes into the workout I could see why.
One thing I learned, I hate burpees! They are as bad as they sound. If you do only one exercise, this is the ultimate workout. It's combination jump, squat, pushup, jump -- and excruciating after several repetitions done quickly. The beauty of the burpee: It works every major muscle group and your heart too, requires no equipment and just a little space. Stuck in a hotel room somewhere? Try burpees for a few minutes and you'll feel like a champ. Well, I got whipped during Dr. Metzl's class, but know now what I really need to work on to stay strong and healthy.
Want to get in shape like Natalie? Check out Dr. Jordan Metzl's workout video on Runner's World.
Looking for more diet and fitness inspiration? Read tips from TODAY nutrition expert Joy Bauer and check out Weekend TODAY co-anchor Jenna Wolfe's take on a "strongman" workout.