5 injury prevention tips for New Year’s exercisers
Friday, January 13, 2017
January is that time of year again when many of us decide we should be a bit healthier. Most people committing to this kind of resolution decide that an introduction of or increase in exercise is the way forward, and they're not wrong.
Regular exercise is a great path toward improved health in numerous ways — weight loss, improved cardiovascular function, better muscle strength, improved posture, reduced blood pressure and lower cholesterol to name just a few.
However, as a sports injury therapist, I also start to see an increase in clients toward the end of January and into February who have started on a New Year's health kick only to become injured within weeks of their fresh start.
This is, of course, highly frustrating for these people who were full of such good intentions at the start of the year, only to have their efforts hampered within the first few weeks. Not only do these injuries stop them in their tracks temporarily, but they can also lead to cessation of the resolution altogether.
How do you make sure this isn't you? Read on to learn my top five tips for avoiding these common "newbie" injuries, whatever form of exercise you're getting into.
It's repeated so often that people stop hearing it and just skip on to the next step. But a thorough warmup really is the single most important factor in injury prevention. Why do you think professional athletes spend so long warming up prior to competition?
A warmup should be completed no matter what exercise you are partaking in. And, no, just starting your run or other exercise at a slower pace doesn't count as a warmup.
The basic aim of a warmup is to gently increase the heart and breathing rates, and warm and stretch the muscles. The most effective way of doing this is with a gentle pulse raiser that gets gradually more intense, followed by dynamic stretching. This type of stretching involves taking the muscles through their full range of motion in a controlled manner. Examples include side steps, leg swings, walking lunges, etc.
Foregoing a warmup most commonly could result in muscle strains (tears), but it also increases your risk of injuries like ligament sprains. A warmup not only prepares the body for exercise, but also the mind. Our brain and body need to be working in together in order to move effectively, with control and coordination.
You wouldn't go skiing without the right equipment, so why would you start any other form of exercise without the things you need to keep you safe, comfortable and injury-free. Of course, the types and amounts of equipment, clothing and other gear required varies considerably from one type of sport or exercise to another, and they can't all be covered here.
Running is a form of exercise that is popular to undertake as it requires little equipment, can be done at a time to suit the individual and doesn't require any costly memberships. But even for running, you'll need the right gear.
The most important thing is footwear, and I think this is probably true for all types of exercise. The right footwear can not only prevent injuries like shin splints and blisters, but also will protect your feet, keep them warm and dry and provide you with grip for whatever surface you're training on.
Other types of equipment will vary from sport to sport. Take, for example, sports like field hockey and soccer where shinguards are advisable to prevent contact injuries to the shins and ankles. Or boxing where a mouthguard and helmet are required.
The key advice here is don't skimp on clothing, equipment and protective gear. It may seem like a big outlay to start with when you're not sure you'll stick at something, but you're far more likely to hurt yourself when using the wrong equipment (or none at all). See if you can pick up wheat you need secondhand or borrow from a friend in the short term.
3. Professional instruction/guidance
As a newcomer to any form of sport or exercise, you should consult a professional or at least an experienced individual to help steer you in the right direction. Depending on the activity in question, this may include help with technique, safety advice or training plans.
When starting a new sport — take tennis, for example — a coach can help ensure you start with good technique and prevent you from falling into bad habits that can be hard to break and easily cause injuries.
In other sports, safety is an important element — such as rock climbing or bouldering (even indoors this can be dangerous). Archery clearly has its perils, as does something as seemingly benign as badminton. Instruction from someone well rehearsed in the safety guidelines is vital to making sure you don't end up a causality of your new pastime.
4. Slow and steady wins the race
This is very much the story of the hare and the tortoise. When starting a new form of physical activity, your body requires time to adapt to the new stresses being placed on it. Those adaptations actually occur when we are resting.
So while it might be tempting to go and train everyday, this may not be the best of ideas. A large number of the cases I see in my clinic are injuries that develop because the patient has tried to do too much too soon. They've trained everyday, or built their mileage, duration or intensity up too quickly, usually without enough rest.
The best advice here is to start slowly, a little at a time with at least a day's rest in between. But most importantly, listen to your body. If you're feeling stiff, tired or under the weather, don't force yourself. Rest up and see how you feel tomorrow.
If you've got a niggle, stop and rest it — don't play on through pain. If the pain persists the next time you exercise, then see a professional as soon as possible.
You may think It’s taking you longer to reach your goals this way, but slow and steady is a far safer method than hell-for-leather from the get go, which is often followed by a fall (figuratively or literally).
5. Cross train
Cross-training refers to training in different ways — i.e., don't always do the same form of exercise. Mix it up and include different types of training. This variety helps your body to become more well-rounded in its strengths, and usually one form of training will complement another and improve your performance in both.
A great example is for runners who should look to include a couple of strength-training sessions into their weekly routine. This helps maintain the strength in the legs, in particular the hips and glutes, which will aid running efficiency and stamina. Similarly, core strength training (such as Pilates) is great for all other forms of sport and exercise as a strong core is the foundation for all other movement.
Apart from anything else, mixing up your training helps to reduce boredom and may help you stick at it.
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