Monday, October 14, 2013

Change it Up

It is raining more often now, no surprise in the Seattle area in October, and I’ve been admiring the many joggers I’ve seen who are undeterred by the fat, wet raindrops that can chase me inside. It reminds me that staying fit is as individualized as the clothes we wear.  Each person chooses what works best for her.  This is even more in my consciousness as I’ve been developing the exercises for the Therapeutic Fitness Challenge.  This program has completed its first week with 80 participants, 44 who have been consistent with the exercises. 

I know that some of the participants have to be careful to avoid neck pain and headaches.  Others can tweak the low back with seemingly innocuous movements like slightly tripping on a curb.  And a few get the unlucky trifecta of neck, low back, and knee troubles. Designing exercises that can be done by everyone is an impossible task since obviously there isn’t a one-size-fits-all exercise program.

Except that exercise can be modified.  Here’s a decision tree for how you can evaluate each exercise and determine if and how it should be changed.

Does thinking about the movement cause any twinge or hesitation? 

If so, does it cause actual pain in your system?  If so, don’t do the exercise.  Skip it and substitute something else that you know does not aggravate you.

If you question the reaction to the exercise and it is caution rather than pure resistance, try it slowly at first for just one repetition and stay aware of whether it is causing harm or not.  If it feels good keep going, but if the hesitation continues, modify the exercise further.

 Modification possibilities
  • Do it slower.  Slow movements actually recruit more core muscles.
  • Do it for less time.  You can easily fast forward the video or simply watch.  Stop when it becomes laborious.
  • Do fewer repetitions.  You don’t need to do multiples of 5 or10.  Why not 4?  Many times just doing it once or twice is the right amount.
  • Do it with less intensity, make it fun.
  • Do smaller movements.
  • Start with the idea of the suggested exercise, but let your body take over into something else that feels better.
If you think about an exercise and you feel yourself going into push mode, be just as cautious as if you hesitated to do it.  Overexertion is as often the cause of injury as is being unconscious while being active.

And, always, always, stop at the first sensation of alarm whether that is pain or just a funny feeling to evaluate how to proceed.  A mind and body that talk to each other often and kindly are better prepared to handle physical challenges than is the pair that ignores each other.

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