Minimizing Physical Injuries from Exercising

runWhile in the Army, I learned the credence, ‘No pain, no gain.’ The phrase was chanted so often morning, noon and night while in basic training that it instilled the belief that if you do not feel pain while working out, then your work out is useless and with no benefit. Nothing is farther from the truth.

When exercising, some mild discomfort is to be expected. But, “pain” in a debilitating sense should be viewed as warning sign and the body’s means to say “hey, you’re overdoing it!”  This is particularly true for the beginners and those who are returning to physical fitness after some duration of stagnation. When mild discomfort turns into pain, stop and pay attention to minimize the damage to your body.

A good workout routine should test your physical limit and endurance. As you exercise, your muscles are extended beyond their usual range.  A good normal workout will result in changes in lactic acid and micro-tears in the muscles.  Thus, the mild discomfort.  However, the body heals itself.  As it does, the muscles begin to grow stronger and bigger than before you started working out allowing you to raise the level of your exercise’s intensity.  The amount of growth depends upon the exercise routine, example:  cardio exercises strengthens the heart muscle and burns fat, but does not, per se, build muscle.

The problem with beginners or those who are returning to working out is that many feel they have wasted time by not exercising before.  So, they ofentimes run the risk of overdoing it.  If you fall into this category, take caution.  If you experience back pain, neck aches, knee joint soreness and other symptoms, your procedure may be wrong, you may be trying to do too much, too soon, or you may have a medical problem that you may not be aware of.  In such a case, you should see your doctor first.  If you feel you are fine, but still feel the aches, you may consider seeing a trainer.  Most gyms have trainers willing to set you up on a routine that is right for you.  Needless to say, if the discomfort becomes severe, see your doctor as soon as possible.  The point:  exercising is meant to make you not only look good, but also feel good.

Start Slowly:

For starters, gauge your endurance for the first week or so.  You should exercise at a level you are comfortable with without over-exerting yourself.  As time progress, your body will tell you that it is time to raise the level — you may feel the present level lacks challenge, is boring, weights are too light, you are not yet tired after running so many minutes, etc. The time it takes to move from one endurance level to another will differ from person to person.  Factors such as age, overall fitness, habits (smoking/drinking), prior exercise experience, sex will determine a person’s ability adapt to an exercise regimen.

Stay within your comfort zone as long as you can and only, gradually, move up when the body tells you that you should. Overreaching or over-exerting yourself would make exercising “hard” and make you lose interest.  Exercising beyond your ability can only result in injuries. These two, “it’s too hard” and injuries, combined are the main reasons people give up on exercising soon after they start.

Warm Up:

Stretching extends the muscles and gets them ready to move; warming up gets the heart pumping and the blood circulating. Warm-ups should take at least 15 minutes and may include very gentle faster than normal walk or running in place, jumping jacks to get the cardio and lung systems working well, light weight training, push-ups, and/or sit-ups. They should include some slow, gradual stretching to get joints lubricated and muscles relaxed and gently lengthened. Warm-ups that are too short can easily lead to stretched or torn cartilage.  These injuries, depending upon your age and physical state, may take some time to heal.  Most physical injuries result from the lack of warm up or stretching.

Don’t Be Intimidated:

Many people now exercise in private gyms.  If you are new to exercising and have recently joined your local gym, you obviously have found that there are a lot of muscle bound people and/or many who seem to just stay on the treadmill for hourst at a time.  You think to yourself, “that’s how I want to be.”  Well and good, but not yet. Do not let the amount of weight the person next to you is lifting make you lift the same weight.  Do not let the speed and length of time the person running on the treadmill make you run at the same rate.  Again, take your time.  You will know when you are ready.  Just remember, those people you admire at the gym started exactly like you.  If they seem to be lifting more weight and/or running faster and longer, chances are it is because they have been doing it for some time and their bodies have adjusted accordingly.

Ask:

Before you begin a new routine that involves activities that are unfamiliar, get guidance from an expert. Next to bad warm-ups or overdoing it, incorrect technique is the leading cause of injury. If you don’t know how to use a station at the weight machine correctly, don’t be embarrassed to ask. Gyms have trainers and staff constantly walking around to help and ensure that no injuries occur.  Take advantage of their presence.

If running outdoors, make sure you drive or walk around the area where you want to run before you do.  Look for obstacles especially those that can easily be overlooked.

Proper Attire:

There are proper attires for different types of physical activities.   You don’t want to be wearing running shoes when you go skiing, and vice versa; likewise, you don’t want to be wearing your soccer shoes when you go running.  Wearing the right attire can go a long way in preventing physical injuries.

Done properly, exercising can make you look good, feel good both physically and psychologically, and the actual process fun and enjoyable.  It should not be a chore.  It is by far easier to give up than to stay with an exercise routine.  But, if you do and you take the steps necessary to minimize your risk of injury, your body will thank you for it, and so will the girl or the guy you’ve been admiring.

Franco E. Santos, MA

Franco E. Santos is an adjunct professor of psychology and undergraduate advisor at Mount Saint Mary’s University in West Los Angeles.

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