It's the new year and many of us set resolutions to improve our fitness and shed some holiday kilo's. This sees a lot of people hitting the gym and pounding the pavement far more than they have in a long time, and maybe even pursuing new activities such as triathlons, cycling, weightlifting or cross fit to name a few. While all exercise has great health benefits, the initial enthusiasm of a novice athlete embarking on a fitness quest without the right approach can lead to accumulated injuries. If the individual has old injuries, weak areas, stiff joints or tight muscles problems may be even more likely to occur.
So how can you avoid injuries as you embark on your new years fitness resolutions? In short there is no quick fix to ensure that everyone is injury free when they return to exercise, and unavoidable injuries do happen. However, with a logical approach and some simple preventative exercises you can help to ensure that you remain injury free as you return to exercise. Below lists our top five pieces of advice for returning to exercise, and then five exercises to incorporate into your warm up and cool down regime that are beneficial for injury prevention.
Our top advice for returning to exercise:
1. If you have any pain or old injuries/niggles, have these addressed by a medical professional before starting a program. This will allow resolution through proper treatment and also for an appropriate program to be developed so that your training does not lead to further injury. Don't ignore any old niggles as these often progress to more serious injuries when they are left unchecked!
2. If you are a novice athlete/gym goer, try to consult with a health and fitness professional at least once to discuss your goals and to learn the ropes for correct and safe exercise technique and programming. Too often people have the best intentions with their gym/exercise, but their poor technique or programming leads to acute or overuse injuries being sustained. If you cannot afford the time or money to consult with a trainer, try to meet with friends or family who are experienced in regular exercise and learn from their advice too.
3. Incorporate strength training into your program! Strength training has an array of health benefits that are conducive to health and fitness and injury prevention. Strength training helps to maintain healthy muscles and tendons, reduces the risk of muscle and tendon injuries, maintains joint health and increases bone density. Increasing lean muscle mass by building some muscles also helps to improve metabolism for weight loss, and exercising our muscles helps to moderate blood sugar levels (useful for managing diabetes). Now, strength training does not mean you have to be undergoing a weightlifting program and bulk up! It simply means incorporating some training with dumbbell/barbell/cable resistance, or even simple body weight exercises, to work your muscles at a moderate to high intensity.
4. Variety is the spice of life - chose a variety of exercises in your weekly exercise regime. Choosing a variety of exercises will not only make your exercise more enjoyable, but it will offer a wider and more complete array of health benefits for you. For instance, you may chose to perform some muscle strength exercises two days a week, running/swimming/cycling on another two days and perhaps on the weekend something fun like a social sport or recreational activity. Where you have more specific fitness goals in mind e.g. bodybuilding, distance running, you may have a more regimented regime to achieve your desired outcomes - but even here, try to vary your program regularly to make I enjoyable, achievable and to force your body to continually adapt.
5. Keep things simple and achievable, and gradually increase intensity and duration of exercise. If you are new to exercise, don't expect to achieve huge things very quickly and don't set yourself ridiculously difficult or strenuous training to complete. The physical adaptation of the cardiorespiratory and musculoskeletal system when exercising takes up to 6 weeks to begin to takefull effect. Start simple and set yourself achievable goals for your exercise each week. This may be as simple as starting with a 10 minute walk each day. By gradually increasing the intensity and duration of each session you will be more likely to stay committed and positive, and it will also mean you are less likely to suffer an acute or overuse injury by doing exercise that you are not yet ready for.
Top preventative exercises:
The video below shows five exercises that are useful for incorporating into your exercise regime for injury prevention. They are useful for keeping you mobile and free of stiffness/muscle tension, which can contribute to injuries if left unaddressed. Perform each exercise for 2-3 minutes before and after exercising. In order, the exercises are as follows:
1. Thoracic mobilisation with foam roller: Laying on your back with the foam roller positioned across the middle of your back. Lift your arms up and down, breathing in deeply as you raise your arms, exhaling as you lower your arms. Try with the roller in different positions from the base to the top of your shoulder blades. Perform for 2-5 mins.
2. Hamstring & calf stretch: Laying on your back, use a stretch belt or towel hooked around the ball of your foot. Lift your leg upwards until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings and calves, keeping your knee straight. Hold here for 20-30 seconds, repeating 3-5 times.
3. Quadruped back/hip/knee mobilisation: On all fours, rock back so your bottom goes towards your heels. Add in diagonal movements to stretch your lower back gently into side bending each way. Perform for 2-3 minutes
4. Foam rolling lower limbs: Use a foam roller to release off the tight muscles in your thighs and buttocks. In the video we show how to release your gluteal muscles (bottom), vastus lateralis/ITB complex (outer thigh), hamstrings (back of thigh) and quadriceps (front of thigh). For each muscle, roll gently with firm pressure for ~ 1 minute.
5. Trigger ball shoulders/upper back: To release tension behind the shoulders, position a trigger ball between the back of the shoulder and a wall. Hold your arm across your body and move side to side with firm pressure. To release tension between the shoulder blades, position the trigger ball mid shoulder blade region, just to the side of the spine. Hold firm pressure and move side to side.