How to Get Fit Safely
As I watched a local doctor bench press 315 pounds last week, I found myself both surprised and intrigued. Here was a man over the age of 40, not training for any particular goal, risking shoulder injury by using a heavyweight during his workout. My first thought was, “Cool! Great job, Doc.” But, can we learn how to get fit safely from this experience?
As I enthusiastically approached him about his lift, he said, “Yeah, after shoulder surgery I never thought I would be able to do this again, but I made some adjustments to my technique and things are coming along nicely.” This simple revelation was an “ah-ha” moment. Here is a middle-aged man, at the top of the medical profession, who had injured himself thru the course of training. He then rehabilitated his injured body and resumed similar training with a better focus on safe technique.
“Doc’s” scenario beautifully illustrates the fact that even the most experienced and knowledgeable fitness enthusiasts can injure themselves through exercise. And the importance of paying attention to the details of training in the first place.
Unfortunately, the human body is weak. It is dependent upon many muscle fibers, tendons, ligaments, and bones attaching in complex ways to move. In the natural progression of training, the body can adapt to handle higher volumes of work by moving more resistance, or performing movements more efficiently, quickly, and powerfully. Each time this happens, there is more stress placed upon the joint and muscle complexes; Thus, increasing the risk of injury.
In reality, the beginning and veteran exerciser both face the risk of injury. I have had average age and weight clients warm up properly for their first training session, and then become injured in their first steps of a light jog. I have had long-term, well-conditioned clients pull muscles performing an exercise they have done hundreds of times in the past. Most injuries occur without warning and many of them can’t be prevented thru prior assessment.
However, the risk of injury can be greatly reduced by taking some simple precautions.
The first and most obvious way to avoid injury as you begin to exercise is to avoid letting yourself get out-of-shape to begin with. The more sedentary you have been before beginning exercise, the greater your chance of injury. Your muscles and attachments will be tight and weak in the beginning.
One of the biggest mistakes I see made, both by fitness enthusiasts and fitness professionals, is too much stretching before the workout and inadequate warm-up time. We now know that a longer warm-up is needed before any stretching takes place. Any stretching near the beginning of the workout should be limited to dynamic movements. For example, arm circles, hip twists, and leg swings. Perform all static stretching where a muscle and joint complex is held with tension, at the end of training when the body is at its warmest point.
An adequate warm-up before exercise is very important. I insist on at least 10 minutes of exercise that raises the heart rate and gets the blood pumping to the muscles. This time allows the body to “wake up,” naturally stretches the muscles, and prepares the cardiovascular system for the work that is about to be done. This can be done in a stand-alone fashion or through a progressive warm-up where body or lightweight is used to increase blood flow to the working muscles while executing safe technique.
Another component of your quest to reduce injury should include the cooldown. To reduce the premature tightening of muscles and allow the heart rate and circulation of blood to return to normal, it is imperative that light walking and stretching be performed before getting in the car or sitting for extended periods.
Your fitness did not decline overnight, nor will it improve that way. When working with clients, I use the Optimum Training Continuum. This means that we progress slowly, from simple exercises to more strenuous or complex forms of training. Both at the beginning of a workout and the beginning of a program, you should start with easy activities and shorter durations and increase as your body warms up and adapts.
Many injuries are caused by the repetition of an incorrect exercise technique. Performing exercises incorrectly can put excessive strain on your muscles and joints. If you exercise at a gym or fitness class, always check with your trainer that your technique is safe and correct. Make certain that your trainer isn’t just someone who is fit and enjoys exercising, but a quality certified professional. When you join a gym, you should always be given an induction to make sure you know how to use all of the equipment safely and correctly.
Aside from actual training practices, make sure you have the proper footwear. Your shoes are one of the best tools you have in preventing foot, ankle, knee, and low back injuries. Find a shoe that is made for the shape of your foot and offers adequate support and cushioning. Many specialty running shoe stores and qualified trainers can assess foot strikes and recommend the right kind of shoe.
In the case that you are injured through exercise, never ignore the pain. Continuing to exercise thru a real injury can turn a minor strain into a complex problem. Always seek medical advice if you think you have injured yourself. If your injury is minor, you may only need to rest the affected area. Always insist on seeing a regulated practitioner or therapist who is not only qualified to treat your particular problem, but also up to date with current training research and practice. Begin your exercise routine again with caution, paying close attention to any exercises that may have triggered the injury.
So, while there can’t be one specific exercise and nutrition plan that addresses every individual’s needs, there are guidelines that help determine the general route we should follow to reach a healthy way of life that includes regular strength training and dynamic movement.
As we look at an overall plan, we like to strive for “balance.” A balanced lifestyle produces well-rounded individuals.
In terms of health and performance, we work to produce bodies that can function through all aspects of total fitness. Total fitness includes several components including strength, endurance, power, agility, speed, flexibility, stability, balance, accuracy, mental focus, and proper nutrition.
As you look towards the coming months, I encourage you to not only make exercise and nutrition a priority but also try to keep the components of your plan in balance. Get to the gym, the pool, the park, or the lake. Hit the road for some running or biking. Play sports with your kids. Join a team. Mix up your activities and watch your health and fitness balance out your physical weaknesses. Drink more water. Eat less junk. Relieving your body of physical and mental stress through balanced exercise and nutrition will carry over into all aspects of your life.
Whatever activity you choose to improve your health and fitness, try to utilize these tools to help you get fit safely and to keep you on track.
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Shout with any questions. ~ Coach