Sunday, February 3, 2008

New Year's Resolution: Don't Get Hurt

Are you picking up the pace, because it’s a New Year and you’ve set exercise goals? Physical activity is an important part of health, so good for you! However, be careful to avoid injury as you increase the intensity of your activity, especially if you’re transitioning from couch potato to svelte swimsuit model. After all, if you twist a knee, pull a muscle, or strain a ligament, your activity will probably drop back to zero, and you’ll spend more time on the couch or physical therapists’ office and even less in the gym or on the mat. What’s more, it’ll hurt!

According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons website,, sprains, strains, tendonitis, and bursitis are common sports and fitness injuries. Here are three strategies you can use to avoid them.

Pay Attention
In your fervor to attain a slimmer frame, lower blood pressure, and (my favorite advertising slogan) a strong, sexy core, remember to listen to your body’s messages. Chances are that twinge is a warning signal, not just a random fluctuation. It doesn’t hurt to stop for a moment and evaluate what’s going on inside. Then make adjustments before you keep going—or decide to do something else.

Multi-tasking carries risks. If you’re watching TV or reading a magazine while on the treadmill, you’re zoned out and will miss important signals. Listening to the iPod or MP3 player carries the same risk. To compromise, tune into your body between songs.

Good Form
In The New Rules of Posture, Mary Bond states: “Exercise without body awareness, however, can actually make poor posture worse.” Why? Because exercise reinforces your alignment. Activity done with poor posture strengthens some muscles and leaves others weak. What’s more, bad alignment leaves your joints vulnerable to injury.

Whether you’re on a treadmill, lifting weights, swinging a golf club, doing Pilates, Tai Chi, or yoga, using correct form will give you a better outcome (remember that strong, sexy core?) and reduce your risk of getting hurt. We’re fortunate to have so many fitness professionals to call on: personal trainers, yoga and Pilates teachers, even Structural Integrators and Physical Therapists can help you stay on the right track. An investment of one private session will pay the dividends of increased enjoyment and fewer injuries.

Being in a hurry is the number one cause of my injuries, because I don’t pay attention and avoid good form. But it goes farther than that. When we set unrealistic expectations like six-pack abs, being able to run a 10K, or increase our bench press by 50% in a month, the tendency is to push. Despite the conventional “wisdom” of no-pain, no-gain, more people push themselves into an injury than into superb fitness.

Just keep moving and trust your body to desire more weight, distance, or intensity when the time is right. After all, isn’t it possible that your body’s reluctance to move is related to having been mistreated?

One of my yoga teachers says, “Just show up and do the work without expectation of results.” Even though this goes contrary to all the advertising hype around exercise, it works. Stick to your routine with attention, good form, and patience and you will get stronger, leaner, and healthier.

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