Avoiding the fitness injury bug

As the weather warms up and bathing suit season approaches, many men and women begin to increase their exercise levels. It's similar to waking from a long hibernation only to realize the arms, legs or waistline may not be as trim as they were prior to winter. Does this sound familiar?

Everyone wants to look great in their shorts, tank tops and swimwear during the summer. This desire to get in shape quickly often leads to overuse injuries. Exercise is great, but because it's repetitive, the body may respond unfavorably if it's not ready to handle the training stress.

Common overuse injuries include:
Shin splints Rotator cuff and Achilles tendonitis Joint pain Muscle strains Low back pain Plantar fasciitis
So, what can you do to prevent such injuries from affecting your fitness plans? Below are three important steps to consider as you ramp up your fitness training:
Consult your physician and get a full physical if you have not yet done so this year to ensure you are ready to begin a new exercise regimen. This provides an opportunity to check blood pressure, cholesterol and any chronic aches and pains that may need a closer look. Consider hiring a personal trainer or taking guided exercise classes to make sure you are doing things properly. Improper form and using the wrong weight is the fastest way to hurt yourself as the repetitive loading (lots of sets and reps) will quickly lead to injury. Implement cross training and recovery days in your plan. It's tempting to ascribe to the "more is better" philosophy when you seek faster results. People also gravitate toward one activity (e.g. running or lifting weights) because it fits their comfort zone. Consider adding something new at least once per week and plan no less than one rest day per week as well.
Once you begin exercising, learn to listen to your body. There is a distinct difference between muscle soreness and pain. Delayed onset muscle soreness typically lasts no more than 2-3 days after a workout, whereas joint or soft tissue pain may last longer. If you have mild tendonitis, arthritis, or an inflammatory condition, you must work within the parameters your body will tolerate.

For example, if you have mild knee arthritis it is critical to note your resting pain level day to day. Let's say it is a 2/10 (on a scale of 1-10 with 10 being the worst). Pay close attention to the pain during and after the workout. It should not exceed a 4/10 at any time during the workout. Following the workout, any increased soreness should resolve completely or return to baseline (2/10 in our example) within 24 hours. If increased soreness lingers beyond the 24-hour window, this is your body's way of telling you the exercise session was too intense.

Using this simple guideline will save you from nagging pain and extra trips to the doctor. Let pain act as your barometer for stepping back or pushing forward in the gym. If pain escalates beyond 4/10 and does not return to baseline within a few days, you should seek further medical evaluation by your doctor. Stretching and R.I.C.E. (rest, ice, compression and elevation) are additional ways to decrease pain and swelling.

In conclusion, remember to develop a plan before diving into a new exercise program headfirst this spring. Allow your own body to dictate the rate of progression based upon soreness, fatigue and execution of proper form. While prior exercise experience is often helpful, always remember that slow and steady wins the race when it comes to exercise and weight loss.

Summer sports conditioning

Following up on the last column regarding ACL injury prevention, now is the time that many seasonal athletes look toward summer conditioning programs to improve performance. In strength and conditioning circles, this is referred to as the off-season.

The off-season is the perfect time for young athletes to make significant gains in the following areas:
Strength Power Speed Agility Quickness Reaction time
Any youth conditioning program should address two primary things: injury prevention and maximizing athletic performance. Blending these two areas of emphasis is a science and starts with a proper assessment of each athlete. In the team environment, many players are not adequately assessed.

The truth is many athletes have specific imbalances that impact performance and may lead to injuries over time. Identifying flaws such as mobility limitations, strength deficits and limited power allows coaches and players to better train to eliminate these deficiencies and improve performance long term. Keep in mind that training also varies based upon physical development and maturation.

Youth athletes under the age of 14 should focus on honing gross motor patterns and movement skills. The program really hinges on developing body awareness/control and educating the athlete how to move efficiently and safely for sports. Conversely, in the high school athlete, the program is more focused on strength/power/sport-specific movement drills to maximize performance as the underlying motor patterns should already be in place.

Training athletes is really about fostering and supporting a long continuum of motor milestones. The right training allows the athlete to thrive. The wrong approach may hinder growth or cause injuries. With that said, remember this one key point young athletes are not little adults and they should not train like them.

If you have a child struggling with an injury or just not performing his/her best, it may be that the physical training or conditioning is wrong. Understanding the body allows one to identify limitations and address them appropriately. Fitness Edge will be offering one-day sport-specific clinics this summer to assess athletes and provide a blueprint for proper training.

Brian Schiff, owner of Fitness Edge, is a nationally-known sports and fitness training expert, specializing in injury prevention and return-to-play for professional and amateur athletes of all ages. Fitness Edge now offers Adventure Boot Camp for Women in Dublin, Westerville, Upper Arlington and Grove City. www.thefitnessedge.cc.