The most common problem we see with people beginning an exercise program is lack of planning; which added to enthusiasm, can be a dangerous combination. Individuals excited about a new exercise program start out too fast and too hard. This combination can result in injury and ultimately most will “fall off the wagon.” Here are a few tips to reduce this risk of injury and make your exercise regime more enjoyable.
- Plan, pacing and allow adequate time. Be sure to consider a training program that takes into account both your work and life schedules. Set up a plan for each week that includes time for essentials: stretching, warmup, and cool down, cross training and rest. Exercising with a partner encourages accountability. Be sure to choose someone of the same fitness level to avoid pushing yourself beyond an appropriately challenging level. Many people, in this day and time, sit in front of a computer all day. Their muscles tighten up, they attempt to fit in exercise amongst their busy schedules and skip those essentials of an exercise routine. A general guideline is dynamic stretching and a slow pace of the exercise for 5 to 10 minutes to warm-up before the activity and 10 to 15 minutes to cool down and stretch at the end of the activity. Do not increase mileage or intensity too quickly; no more than a 10-20% increase per week.
- Try cross training. Include in your weekly plan some type of cross-training. For example, if you choose to walk, run or bike several days a week, take a day out to swim, lift weights or take a yoga class. Varying your exercise will keep you from injuries that are a result of repetitive activity that can place too much strain on one particular group of muscles. Cross training can substitute for 20% of your mileage. Strength training is also a key component of an exercise program that can be added to a weekly plan to vary your routine. When executed properly, strength training can protect joints from injury. Core strength (abdominal, back, hip and buttock muscles) is also essential to consider with strength training as a means for injury prevention.
- Be sure to rest. Be careful not to be too zealous and over-do. This can result in recurrent injuries, the inability to heal after injury, muscle aches, fatigue, insomnia, mood changes and lack of energy. Rest must be part of a weekly exercise plan. While you sleep, your body is busy healing and repairing the breakdown that occurs on a daily basis, so adequate time for sleep (7 to 8 hours) is critical when attempting to start an exercise program. If you wake up stiff or sore the morning after exercising the day before, consider spending more time stretching, warming up and cooling down and consider taking a day off. Overall, make sure to build in a rest day at least one day each week.
- Don’t forget food and water. Hydration is key. It is the lubrication for the muscles and joints. Hydration is not just drinking during exercise, but more importantly, drinking enough water on a day to day basis. A general guideline is 8, 8 ounce glasses of water per day and 4 ounces for every 15 minutes of exercise. Sports drinks work may be used intermittently for electrolyte replacement during exercise, but there is no substitute for the real thing…water. Your diet should also contain adequate protein and iron to allow those muscle and joints to build back stronger. Make sure you have proper fueling before you start your exercise.
- Assess equipment and surfaces. Whether running shoes, a bike, or other exercise equipment you can often prevent unnecessary injuries by having a professional fit you to make sure you are buying the right gear based on your body’s needs. Try to run or walk on more giving surfaces as opposed to hard concrete. Repetitively running or walking the same route may increase your risk for injury, due to incline/tilt of the road and lack of variety of surfaces.
- Heed the warning signs. If you have swelling, pain with bearing weight, the pain worsens or happens earlier in workouts, or the pain persists at rest or at night, consult your doctor or PT. Prevention is much easier than treatment.
- Be flexible. Injuries and change of plans happen, so be prepared for blips along the way. Staying relaxed can make all the difference.
Remember, lack of planning can result in an unsuccessful exercise program due to injury. Several simple essentials need to be included in your program to ensure a positive and continuing experience. Taking the time to plan and implement each of these important steps will ensure the development of an exercise program that you can stick with.