Safety First, then Resolutions


Avoid Injury with 9 Tips from a Physical Therapist

Every New Year, one can expect to be asked or told about resolutions. For many, these come in the form of exercise. People get excited about going to the gym and getting fit, which is great; however, many times their exercise programs may lead to injury. Many gym goers have their own ideas about which exercises they should or shouldn’t be doing; unfortunately, there are a lot of harmful practices that can derail them from their fitness goals. The following tips may help save you from costly injury and allow you to fulfill your fitness goals.


Fitness represents the mental awareness of your body. Movement with purpose goes much further than distracted, stationary pounding on a treadmill. You see a large percentage of people slouched or hunched over on the treadmill, stair climber, or elliptical, leaning in to read or look at a screen while unknowingly destroying their spines. Instead, one should focus on the exercise. Think about your breathing, posture, and movement. You can read or watch TV later in a position that is better for your back!


People like to run or walk with weights – specifically, ankle weights—thinking that they’re creating resistance training and aerobic training; however, the two just don’t jive. Attaching weights to your extremities changes your center of gravity and dynamics of movement, which changes the way muscles relax or contract. The weights make your body function contrarily to the way it is designed, leading to potential injury. Separate aerobic and resistance training while listening to your body to create fluid movement regardless of what you are doing.


Popular workout trends come and go, but what people may not realize is that some exercises can actually be dangerous if not practiced correctly. Western entrepreneurs love to modify ancient Eastern practices to make them enticing and sellable to the modern consumer. However, the body likes homeostasis, an even keel, so don’t fight your body. You want to stretch it to the edge of comfort and push the limit just enough so you prevent injury while still attaining the progress you seek. Some trendy exercise regimes try to push newcomers to extremes. Lesson: don’t allow a “professional” to hurt you.


Change is good. This mantra definitely pertains to exercise programs, but this doesn’t mean that your workout needs to change minute to minute. You want to vary your workout every 3-4 weeks because your body will adapt slowly and when it is not being stressed, it is not going to change any more. So you have to push it a little bit to ensure constant progress. However…


Are you an “all or nothing” kind of person? That mentality can lead to injury in the gym. The weekend-warrior quick fix doesn’t exist. Don’t start doing so much so fast that you sabotage your work out routine. You can wear down your muscles instead of building them up or even tear or sprain something. Think of building up endurance and strength like forming a callous instead of creating a blister. Gradually introduce exercise to a sedentary lifestyle by starting with simple stretching and walking.


What do you want your health or fitness to be like in five years? It begins with lifestyle changes and setting some real, achievable goals for yourself. Many people don’t think about changing their habits until they have a big, upcoming event that they want to look good for. Now, if your looks motivate you, think about what you want to look like in five years and form a plan to get you there. But know that it will take willpower to get through slow periods and more than just a few months to see results; therefore, patience and perseverance are essential to success. Focusing on what you want to feel like or what activities you want to be able to do as opposed to your appearance is a healthy mindset.


We tend to forget about sustainability in many areas of our society. For example, can people who work out vigorously maintain this high level of exercise over several years without breaking down their tissues? On the other hand, can people who do not exercise maintain a healthy physical condition? We’ve always recommended gentle yet brisk exercise a few times a week. Ideally, keep your body in full motion. Your focus must be on preventing injury by listening to your body and taking your body through full motion. This applies to any exercise or activity.


You’ve got your sneakers on and are raring to go, but don’t forget that proper warm-up and cool-down are essential to your workout and one is just as important as the other. Stretching is invaluable and should be part of your warm-up or cool-down, as can be brisk walking. I would choose stretching after the workout as more effective, if I had to choose.


I believe that being physically active is a habit, and in order to create a habit, you have to keep it fun. Set aside a designated hour of your day three times a week to do something for your body and your long-term health. For the first several days, start by just going for a walk, and once you’ve got that habit established, then add something extra to the program. Homeostasis likes even, gradual change, so your body will adapt much better to it.