Fitness enthusiasts are a walking contradiction. How do I know?…I’m one of them! We engage in physical activity, all in the name of looking and feeling our personal best (of course it beats therapy fees too!), yet injury rules the day for many! It’s a question I frequently get and am now a walking model to exemplify…
HOW DO I GET FIT AND STAY INJURY FREE?
After nearly a decade of competitive running, strength training, and five years of marathon pacing, I finally sustained my first injury in April, on the heels of the Boston Marathon. And, sadly all of this was preventable had I followed my own advice to clients. Now, it’s time to go public. I’m injured, and you don’t have to be!
Whether you are training for a race, working to build lean muscle at the gym, lifting heavy for a Crossfit Competition, or just trying to ease into fitness, there are preventative steps all of us should adhere to following. Happily, they are easy enough to implement, but each takes a deliberate mindset and a plan as well as balance within your schedule.
Balance is the “Achilles heal” for most realizing the sheer act of training breaks down the muscle tissues, which in turn initiates the process to build and strengthen beautifully defined, lean muscles. More is better! No pain, no gain! This whole concept prompts overuse, little recovery time, and repetitive movements…and the cycle begins! This situation then encourages poor form, overcompensation, and tired muscles that have no time to rebuild.
For most, getting to the race or competition is half the battle. And certainly creating good habits to stay injury-free are critical simply for a lifelong practice of physical activity. I’m now a believer!
STEPS TO STAY INJURY FREE
These nine steps are effective, regardless of your exercise. When implemented regularly and in a committed manner, you will enjoy and sustain your physical activity throughout life!
- KNOW YOUR LIMITS. You have to walk before you run, and run before your sprint. Tune into your current fitness level. Most training plans are simply templates. Knowing you are a beginner, dial back the intensity of a plan by limiting the reps, weights, speed, or sets for your given exercise to allow your muscles, tendons, and joints the time to strengthen for each progressive demand.
- INVEST IN PROPER GEAR. Supportive shoes, socks and singlets that won’t chafe is all part of a runner’s “get up!” A minimal investment to have gear that protects your body, supports you where needed, and provides comfort will allow you many injury-free workouts. A simple blister can totally derail your weekend run!
- WARM UP/COOL DOWN. Stretching is the arch-nemesis of the athlete; we just want to get out there and “get ‘er done.” But, a dynamic warm-up allows your muscles to transition into the work required. Gone are the days of static stretching. Instead, dynamic stretching allows you both to loosen up and lubricate the muscles all while getting you right into movements.
- USE GOOD FORM. Form rules the day both in the gym and when pounding the pavement. Runners get tired and fade into poor form. Weight lifters sometimes move quickly through reps to lift more or to get done quickly. By focusing on form and movement and even the occasional visit to your local chiropractor, you can assess how your body is adapting to and compensating for the new demands.
- BALANCE MOVEMENTS. When strengthening, work opposing muscle groups at similar levels of resistance to create balance. Our muscles were made to work together in harmony and without this synchronicity, your body will overcompensate and cause strain. If you are unfamiliar with major muscle groups and how they work in conjunction, a quick Gym 101 tour is helpful with the staff at your local gym.
- LISTEN TO YOUR BODY. Feeling a pang of pain in your knee? It’s time to slow down, stop and/or recover. Our bodies don’t miss a beat, and pain is a natural method to alert systems are “down.” Listen to internal signals of pain and address them immediately with stretching or a visit to the doctor to prevent prolonged injury.
- FUEL PROPERLY. The demands of exercise require additional protein, hydration, fats, and carbohydrates. What’s more the stress of exercise causes some degree of oxidative stress, so fueling with foods and hydration that provide for your body’s additional needs, including inflammation and oxidation, are critical to keep you finely tuned.
- PLAN FOR RECOVERY. Muscles must have “down time” to rebuild. Overuse is one of the main culprits for injury causation, so write in time for rest days, easier training day, and get adequate sleep.
- VARY YOUR WORKOUTS. Prolonged use risks your being sidelined. Vary your speed, distance, reps, weights, sets routinely to allow muscles to be worked differently. Crosstraining is a great way to provide variety, and it keeps your mind fresh for focusing on good form.
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