By Joli Guenther, MSSW, NASM-CPT
Increasing the intensity of your exercise program or beginning a new activity may leave you wondering about how to avoid injury and excessive soreness. New exercisers may be unsure of when to work through soreness and when pain indicates injury. For performance gains, seasoned athletes may expose themselves to excessive wear and injury related to overtraining. Whether you’re a newbie or a pro, you can use the acronym S-T-R-E-S-S to help you avoid injury pitfalls.
S = Shoes. Whatever your activity—cycling, strength training, running—it probably starts at your feet; and those feet are wearing something. When was the last time you changed your shoes? Good shoes support the shape of your feet and, by extension, the rest of your body. For running and other sports, you should have shoes that are specific to your activity. For walking and strength training, you’re probably fine with cross trainers.
T = Ten Percent. Ten percent provides a rule of thumb for safe weekly increases in the duration or mileage of your workouts. A common mistake both new and seasoned exercisers make is increasing the intensity and frequency of workouts too quickly. True beginners can start with three 20 minute workouts and use the ten percent rule to build time. Runners increasing their mileage can add a total of ten percent of their previous week’s mileage to their long run, or to the total miles run over the next week. Following the ten percent rule allows you to progress without over taxing your body or your psyche.
R = Recovery. A good program recognizes the importance of rest in rebuilding both our muscular and cardiovascular systems. While exercise will strengthen the ligaments and tendons supporting our joints, making us less susceptible to injury and pain, we need sufficient recovery to make that happen. Cardiovascular fitness will improve more quickly than the strength of your body. Incorporate rest into your training schedule and allow your body time to grow stronger before your next workout. New exercisers should have two easy days for every hard day, while experienced exercisers may be able to follow a more strenuous pattern of hard-easy-hard. This allows us to return to training at a higher level, becoming stronger and fitter. Listen to your body’s cues. If you feel achy, tired, and sore for more than a day, you need more time to recover.
E = Equilibrium. Okay, that’s really just another word for stabilization. Joint instability is linked with both acute and long-term injuries. A well-designed strength training program will help you become more stable. Consider adding specific balance-focused training to your workouts. Most small muscle group exercises (such as bicep curls or shoulder side raises) can be performed standing on one leg, challenging your body to recruit more muscle fiber in both the targeted and supporting muscles. This results in greater stability and kinesthetic awareness that will reduce your chances of injury.
S = Strength Training. During activity, we tend to compensate for weaknesses in our body by overusing some muscles and under-using others. This can result in instability and a risk of injury, not to mention decreased performance. A strength training program that includes core work and targets the major muscle systems of the body will enhance the stability of major injury points, including the knees, hips, and low back. See Strength Training 101, http://www.horizonfitness.com/GetFitBlog.aspx?id=6031, for more on this.
S = Stretching. Unless you are recovering from an injury, pre-workout stretching is not necessary. When stretching at the end of your workout, avoid bouncing and don’t stretch to the point of pain. Stretching can reduce muscle soreness and aid in recovery. It also helps to avoid or address imbalances in the flexibility of our muscles. A stretching routine for injury prevention should include stretches for the calves, quads, hamstrings, glutes, lower back, and shoulders. Additional stretches to benefit posture or other specific needs may also be added.
Remembering the acronym S-T-R-E-S-S will help avoid many of the injury causing pitfalls of an exercise program. I’ll post more detail in coming weeks about how to put each of these areas into practice in your program.