Winter is but a distant memory, and – at long last – summer is on the horizon.
For many of us, the warmer weather brings a desire to shrug off the laziness of winter. But, before you throw yourself full-tilt into the newest and latest fitness craze, it is worth reflecting on a few common fitness mistakes – and learning the simple ways to avoid them.
Pushing too hard, too soon
This is an easy trap to fall into. You might experience a surge of motivation and sudden enthusiasm for a new fitness activity, but remember that it is important not to overdo it.
This might sound obvious, but it is one of the main causes of early injury that I see in my practice.
Certainly, take advantage of your newfound motivation. But consider what levels of activity you’ve been doing (or not doing) in recent weeks, months or years. Our bodies get used to being in a certain state, and if this means being sedentary, then it adapts accordingly.
If your body has been in a “slumber” state, it’s important to pace yourself. That means starting at a low baseline, and progressing the exercise week by week.
A great example of this principle is the “couch to 5k” approach. It presents a reasonable framework for people who are looking to build a running regime but are starting from a low level of activity. Importantly, listen to your body; If it’s telling you to slow down, do so.
Ignoring your health history and/or risk factors
As we age, we are more susceptible to certain health problems, including cardiovascular disease, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis and type II diabetes. On top of this, changes in body weight and shape bring an increased likelihood of soft tissue injuries and intermittent pain.
Lifestyle plays a major role, but there are also other, non-modifiable, factors. These include family history and body type, which might increase or decrease the chances of something going wrong.
Knowledge is king. At the very least, having a discussion with your parents and/or siblings about their health concerns is a good start, as genetics might play a role in your risk. A visit to your GP or a qualified exercise professional to get a good idea of your current health status is also smart move.
Compromising technique for that ‘little bit extra’
If we’re going to exercise, we want to get the most out of it. We also know that the higher the intensity and/or duration of the activity, the more likely we are to get stronger and fitter quickly.
Compromising technique to push out a few extra reps, run that little bit further, or hold that little bit longer can often mean putting stress on parts of the body that aren’t designed for it.
To prevent this, put more emphasis on performing the movement or activity well and operating at about 70-80 per cent (or even less) of what you feel is your capacity. Perfect it, then gradually build up, maintaining optimal technique throughout.
Again, having a movement screen and learning from a qualified exercise professional, such as an accredited exercise physiologist, will help, particularly if you have injury or history with pain.
Neglecting preparatory and cool down exercises
Our bodies are made up of a variety of muscles, all with particular functions. Generally, the larger muscles are designed to make us move, while the smaller, deeper muscles have more to do with stabilising joints.
The skeletal system also plays a role in mobility and ability to perform well. Diving straight in and lifting heavy weights, or performing high intensity sprints, can mean an unprepared body is put under significant stress without having the stability or mobility to withstand this movement.
This is where a warm-up comes in. Some people feel that a three-five-minute walk on a treadmill is all it takes – but this is usually not enough. Rather, performing four or five exercises designed to improve joint stability and enhance mobility, such as glute bridges, means the body can perform high-stress movements with better technique, reducing the chances of injury.
Ensuring you cool down gradually with a few targeted stretches can help reduce muscle soreness, and avoid a sudden drop in blood pressure and heart rate.
Not having a plan
While there’s no need overthink it, spending 10 minutes before starting up a regime can make all the difference in not only preventing an injury, but help maintain motivation and compliance.
Write down the reasons for starting your fitness regime, and begin to build an image in your head of what this will look like. Be specific: Dates, duration, the type of activity or activities, and if you will be exercising by yourself, with a friend or in a group.
Having goals is good too. But it’s also important to try to enjoy and be mindful throughout the journey, not just focus on the desired result.
Brendan Cummins is an accredited exercise physiologist in Sydney.