The start of a new year is a busy time for gyms and fitness studios as those of us who overindulged over Christmas, dust off our exercise kit and head out enthusiastically full of resolutions for a new improved body! Unsurprisingly the enthusiasm quickly becomes dampened if annoying niggles; aches or pains start to emerge before you see any signs of the super toned new body you were hoping for! By the end of January the physio clinic is often full of clients whose new fitness routines have been interrupted by injury. Luckily there are some simple steps you can take to prevent those good intentions going to waste. It’s only the start of February so it’s not too late to begin 2015 in a healthier way.
Make sure your equipment is up to scratch!
If you haven’t put on trainers to exercise since you were at school or the last ones you bought were more for fashion than the gym you might need to change things before you begin your exercise. For running in particular it is important to have a good supportive shoe to prevent injuries. Many ‘trainers’ are not actually running shoes and if you do a lot of exercise in them you may start to experience problems in your ankles, knees or back due to either lack of shock absorbance in the shoes or lack of support of the foot and ankle.
Wearing the wrong shoes can cause significant problems. People’s foot types range from rigid stiff feet to very flexible mobile feet. If you are serious about running regularly it is a good idea to invest in a good pair of running shoes which are best suited to your foot type. Many running shop outlets such as www.runnersneed.com will video your walking and running style and help you to choose the best shoes for you. It is surprising what a difference this can make to your injury risk.
Get on top of old injuries
The biggest risk for a new injury is a pre-existing injury. For example a niggling ankle could make this joint stiffer which might increase the pressure on your knee when you are exercising. A pulled calf muscle could indicate some inflexibility in the muscle which might make you more at risk of a tear when your exercise intensity increases.
If you have any existing niggles, which might even be the reason why you stopped exercising in the past, it is a good idea to get them checked out. Your physiotherapist will be able to diagnose the problem and advise you on whether you can begin exercising straight away or if you need to do some rehabilitation of the existing injury before starting your programme.
Look at your flexibility
Generally we get less flexible as we get older but that is also linked with a decline in our activity levels. If you sit in a chair all day at the office and haven’t done any significant exercise for months then your muscles will take some time to adapt to new activity. They will need to be warmed up and may need stretching, especially the ones you haven’t used for a while. For example- a greater flexibility of the calf and hamstring is required when we are running than when we are walking so may need to stretch these muscles regularly when you first start exercising to help them adapt to the new range of movement required. A daily stretching programme may be required for a few weeks as well as stretching before and after the activity. You can use the internet to download videos of stretches for most of the major muscle groups. Alternatively your physiotherapist or a personal trainer can help you design a specific stretching programme for you based around the type of exercise you are doing, which may be the most effective.
Think about your core
When we exercise the small muscles which support our spine and help promote good posture have to work harder too. This is a good thing ultimately because it means that by doing general exercise you will be helping to improve your overall posture and reduce risk of injuries associated with poor posture.
However if you have not trained for a while it is often necessary to target these muscles specifically first in order to ensure you are adequately supporting the joints when you increase your exercise intensity. This is particularly important in impact exercise.
Here are some examples of simple core exercises you could add to your programme to help reduce your injury risk. Your physiotherapist or Pilates instructor can advise you further on specific exercises for you, which relate to your preferred sport.
- Shoulder Bridge-Lying on your back, with your knees bent and your feet flat. Slowly curl your spine up by imprinting each vertebra on the floor until you are resting on your shoulder blades. Avoid arching the back. Hold this position and transfer the weight from your left to right foot, without twisting your pelvis or arching your back. Repeat 4 times, then slowly roll your back down again and repeat the exercise x5.
- Clam-Lying on your side with your knees bent at 45degrees and your spine in a neutral position. Keep your ankles together as you slowly lift your top knee. Take care not to twist in your back or pelvis as you lift the leg. Repeat x 20 and then change sides.
- Single knee bend-in standing, balance on one leg, keep your pelvis level and your spine straight, bend the knee to your toe. Use a mirror to help you avoid twisting your knee inwards or leaning sideways. Repeat x 10 each side.
Build up gradually!
It sounds simple but it is easy to get carried away with the enthusiasm of starting a new regime. Don’t forget exercise itself can be a form of addiction in extreme cases! It takes time for the body to adapt and recover from new exercises. If you train too hard early on you risk overloading your muscles and creating increased muscle soreness or even muscle damage such as scarring or tearing of muscle fibres. If you overload joints without a strong core you could cause inflammation and damage to the cartilage or ligaments. This means that whilst you might be exercising intensely, you could only be able to sustain it for a short period before pain becomes as limiting factor.
Take your time increasing the intensity of your exercise so that you can allow your body to adjust in terms of flexibility and build core strength at the same time. There are some good ideas for starting a new running programme or increasing your distance at http://www.bupa.co.uk/running/training/training-programmes/. Personal trainers or your physiotherapist can also help to advise you on a gradual approach to your form of exercise.
Hopefully these tips will help you to stick with your new regime beyond the end of January! Remember that starting from scratch is often the biggest hurdle. Once you’ve got over that challenge, exercising regularly with a gradual progressive programme can make you more resistant to injuries in the future.