Working out to get in shape shouldn’t be hazardous to your health
You’re looking good out there, poised between rows of fitness machines in your trendy yoga pants – yes, men wear them, too – mesh-back weightlifting gloves and a most determined expression on your face. Then you lift the weight off its rest and it happens: Pain shoots up your back so sharply you almost drop the barbell on your toes. This wasn’t exactly what you had in mind when you said you were going for a “killer workout.”
There are no known statistics tracking the incidence of workout-related injuries in Canada, but studies by U.S. research firm American Sports Data suggest about 10 percent of emergency room visits for injuries are caused by sports and fitness activities. Less serious sports- and exercise-related injuries that don’t require a visit to the ER may be five times as numerous, according to the studies.
When it comes to exercise – whether that means a workout in the gym, at home or on the jogging trail – the most common Injuries are in the shoulders, knees and lower back.
Tibor Markus, co-owner of Pilates Works, a private studio in Oakville, Ont., that provides one-on-one Pilates and strength training, says the quest for fitness shouldn’t be hazardous to your health. By taking precautions and arming yourself with the proper knowledge and guidance, you can achieve your fitness shouldn’t be hazardous to your health. By taking precautions and arming yourself with the proper knowledge and guidance, you can achieve your fitness goals without hurting your body in the process.
“You can’t take safety for granted when you’re working out,” says Mr. Markus, who danced with the National Ballet of Canada and later taught ballet in a studio he owned with his wife, also a former ballet dancer. “With any fitness program, safety must always come first.”
So how do you stay safe while you’re working hard to stay fit? Here are some suggestions from the fitness experts:
Start with a fitness assessment
Find out what shape you’re In before hoisting those dumbbells. “It’s not enough to just measure how heavy you are and the size of your body,” says Mr. Markus. “To get good results and avoid injuries, you need to have a proper fitness assessment.”
For him, a comprehensive assessment includes baseline measurements of a client’s weight and body fat (utilizing a scale that analyzes fat and muscle composition), a cardlo test and a muscle test. The latter is especially critical to ensure safety, says Mr. Markus. “For example, If you are tight in the hamstring then leg press exercises should probably be avoided. When you put weight on your hamstring you’ll be pulling your back,” he explains. “If you don’t do that muscle test, you or your trainer won’t know this and you risk getting hurt.”
Got health IHUH? Get a physical
If you’ve got health issues such as a heart problem or a recently healed bone fracture, then you should see a doctor first, says Randy MacDearmid, a director of health centre operations at Extreme Fitness, a Toronto-based health club chain. “Have a physical exam and from there go and do a little research, whether that means reading a fitness book, getting on the Internet or talking to a personal trainer,” he says. “Don’t do things blindly – figure out what you want to achieve and then have a plan as to how you can accomplish it.” If you’ve got health issues such as a heart problem or a recently healed bone fracture, then you should see a doctor first, says Randy MacDearmid, a director of health centre operations at Extreme Fitness, a Toronto-based health club chain. “Have a physical exam and from there go and do a little research, whether that means reading a fitness book, getting on the Internet or talking to a personal trainer,” he says. “Don’t do things blindly – figure out what you want to achieve and then have a plan as to how you can accomplish it.”
Before anything else, warm up
Busy schedules often mean people skip the basics, such as warming up and stretching. Mr. Markus says the warmup Is especially important in avoiding injuries at the gym. Many people believe stretches should be the first stage in a workout routine, but that’s wrong, says Mr. Markus. “You could cause an injury by stretching cold muscles,” he explains. ”Before you even stretch, warm up by walking or running lightly on a treadmill, or by lifting some light weights slowly but through the full range of motions.”
Mr. Markus warns against doing explosive movements, such as a sudden thrust with a weight, when your muscles are cold. “You need to take the time to warm up your muscles,” he says. “And It doesn’t take that long, just a few minutes will do.”
Watch your form
Technique is everything, whether you work out on your own or with a trainer. Yet Mr. MacDearmid often sees people doing exercises incorrectly because they simply copy what others do. “The problem is, you may be copying an exercise that isn’t appropriate for you or the person you’re imitating may not be doing the exercise properly,” he says.
Mr. Markus at Pilates Works says having a personal trainer can help ensure you’re using the proper form, but if this isn’t possible, he suggests working out in front of a mirror. “I know some people don’t like watching themselves work out,” he says. “But form is so important to ensuring your safety as well as getting optimal results.”
Get to know the equipment
Before you hop on that step machine or start sweating all over that pulley–system bench press, take the time to learn how it works and what muscles it’s supposed to exercise. Even though most health clubs have posters illustrating their use, Mr. MacDearmid recommends that a fitness professional demonstrate the gym equipment, a free service offered at Extreme Fitness.
“It takes an hour, during which time a trainer takes a client through the equipment, writes down the settings most suited to them and basically helps put together a simple workout program,” he explains.
Put the big muscle groups first
Always focus first on big muscles such as those in the legs, backs and shoulders, says Mr. Markus. Small muscles such as the biceps tire more easily, so if you do bicep curls first, your arms will be fatigued by the time you get to the shoulder or chest press. Similarly, doing crunches or sit-ups first will tire your abdominal muscles, which provide critical strength and support in most exercises.
It’s also important to work opposing muscles each time, says Mr. Markus, but people often fail to do this because they discover favourite exercises and stick only to these. “The problem is, people’s favourite exercises tend to be the easier ones, and when you limit yourself to those, there’s a good chance you’ll overlook the moves that work the opposing muscle,” Mr. Markus explains.
For instance, a lot of people can easily do multiple sets of bicep curls but have a tougher time working out the opposing muscle – the tricep. “These people end up with a bulky front arm and little muscle in the back of the arm,” says Mr. Markus. “Not only does this not look good, it also puts you at risk of injury because your body isn’t balanced.”
More can add up to a lot less
Mr. MacDearmid has seen it happen so many times: New members who are so excited and determined to get back into shape start coming in almost every day of the week and pushing themselves to their physical limits. “This is hard to sustain unless you’re a professional athlete,” he says. “So people get burned out or injure themselves and they stop coming to the gym.”
Mr. Markus agrees. To avoid burnout and injury, he recommends first building up strength before tackling the intense, heavy-duty exercises. And if you’re doing a full-body workout each time, there’s no need to go to the gym every day. In fact, he strongly advises his clients to take 24 to 48 hours between workouts. For those whose schedules compel them to go to the gym on consecutive days, both Mr. MacDearmid and Mr. Markus recommend focusing only on a particular muscle group during each session. So one day might be scheduled for an upper-body workout while the following day would focus on legs.
“Your muscles need to recover,” says Mr. Markus. “If you work on the same muscle group as you did the day before, you won’t see results. But you will see injury from muscle overuse.”
Listen to your body
Your body’s the boss when it comes to working out. While pushing your physical limits helps you become stronger, when your body says “ouch” you need to listen and stop whatever it is that’s causing the pain. If it lingers or intensifies, see a doctor right away. By following these expert recommendations and taking other necessary precautions, you can achieve your fit· ness goals without getting injured. And who knows, you might even have a bit of fun along the way.
—As printed in The Globe & Mail —