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With a new year upon us, is your resolution to improve your fitness? Get stronger? Look better?
With a new year, it is a great idea to improve your fitness, get back to gym, get back to running or swimming. Whatever you may be planning on doing, you must make a graduated return to an exercise program or injuries can easily occur and stop you in your tracks.
Returning to exercise – don’t boom and bust
As a physiotherapist, I regularly see patients who are full of enthusiasm only to end up out of action and despondent due to injury setbacks. Where you start your exercise program depends a lot on your current fitness level and previous exercise history. If you’re starting out with cardiovascular exercise, I recommend breaking it up into smaller intervals. This way you can focus predominantly on technique and are less likely to fatigue and lose form. For runners a great way to start is to do 500 metres running followed by 500 metres walking or jogging. This can gradually be altered to increase the duration of running followed by less recovery time.
As our body reaches fatigue, it works at a less than optimal function. In particular, our stabilising muscles including our core and glutes, tend to fatigue and “switch off”. This places increased load and force on other structures such as muscles, joints, ligaments and tendons. If we continue without the support of our stabilising muscles, this may cause other structures to compensate which can cause muscles to work harder than they should or not at all. This is why a graduated interval training program is a great way to start with cardiovascular exercise as it allows our muscles to adapt without causing fatigue which can result in injury and pain.
Recovery and rest
With any exercise program, recovery and rest is equally important in order to gain results. Your body requires rest in between sessions to recover and repair properly. Starting the same exercise program daily is not a realistic expectation. Start with realistic and practical. The key is to be consistent. It is better to exercise less often but consistently rather than start haphazardly and cut back later. Not only is this a recipe for injury but actually not an efficient or effective method of exercising.
Repeating the same process over and over again is a great way to cause overuse injuries. Our musculoskeletal system is designed to gradually adapt to changes in load and variation. Not only is changing routine important to prevent injury, but your body will eventually reach a plateau if an exercise program is not varied. For runners, try a combination of long runs, shorter high intensity runs and intervals as part of a weekly program. For weights, try a combination of cardiovascular exercise as well as mobility work such as stretching or foam rolling to prevent becoming stiff or inflexible.
Importantly, be sure to include some form of strengthening and resistance training into your exercise program regardless of your preferred method of exercise. Resistance training is crucial to any exercise program and the same rules can be applied to starting a gym program. I regularly see injuries from the gym when muscles are fatigued or overloaded with too much weight resulting in incorrect technique or compensatory patterns. Increasing weight too quickly and incorrect technique can not only cause injury but actually slow down progress. Gradually increasing weights and resistance, being mindful of optimum technique, will allow you to prevent injury and ensure long term results.
Make sure that you give yourself a few weeks and even several months to get back into a consistent exercise program. Remember, the key to getting results and improving in any exercise program is consistency. Whilst it may sound cliche, ensure that you chose an exercise program which is not only practical but one that you enjoy. Whist the New Year is a motivating time to start, just make sure you keep these tips handy. Malvern East Physiotherapy has a range of exercise programs to assist in 2016 including hydrotherapy, clinical pilates and functional strength training. Call our team today to help guide and assist you to reach your 2016 fitness goals.