Five Ways to Avoid Injuries When Getting Fit for Christmas
November 15th 2017 | Physiotherapy Healthy, Happy and Not Injured: The Injury Shetland Blog
With Christmas not that long away, many people start into new exercise programmes or even join up for a festive streak (no not the naked version). A streak is an excellent way to get into exercise and kick start general wellbeing. It means doing exercise every day for a set period of time. While this is an excellent choice, there are things you need to think about so that you can complete your streak or build healthy exercise into your life for the long term. Here are some tips and things to think about in the early stages of your new lifestyle. In future blog posts I'll teach you some more specific things that can help reduce your risk of injuries.
If you fail to plan then you plan to fail
When you decide to start into a fitness programme, you should plan how it is going to work before you start. You might want advice on this from a fitness trainer or physiotherapist. Remember that exercising every day does not mean that you need to push yourself to the max every day. Choose which type of exercise you like and build that in as your main component. Also think about some different forms of exercise and build them in as well. Remember that exercise is not just the stuff that makes you sweaty. Fitness includes cardiovascular fitness, flexibility, strength and also mental wellbeing. Make good lifestyle choices around all of these things and you will achieve what you want.
Ask yourself before you start what it is that you want to achieve. Ask yourself how your life will be better and how it will change as the result of doing exercise. If you think about how you will feel at the end then it suggests that you plan to stop. Perhaps it is a better thought to build these changes into your life for the longer term instead. Consider goal setting. Break your big goals into smaller goals and think 'what can I do today' rather than 'what will I do in four months'.
Do not do too much too soon
Us humans are creatures of habit. We tend to find what feels comfortable and then stick with it. That often means people do the same exercise over and over again. They run every day, cycle every day or go to the gym every day. What people forget is that they need to vary the type of exercise they do to avoid injuries.
In the fitness industry before I was a physio, I was taught to think about the FITTA factors. FITTA stands for Frequency, Intensity, Time, Type & Adherence. Frequency means how often you do it, intensity means how hard you work, time is how long you do it each time, type is what you do and adherence means how well you stick to the plan. One of the major risk factors for developing an injury when you exercise is doing too much too soon. Many people come into the clinic with an injury and we find out that they have increased different factors at one time. For example: week 1 = 2 runs per week at 30 minutes each and then week 2 = 3 runs per week at 45 minutes. Frequency and duration have both increased but type has not changed.
There is a general rule that you should not increase any one factor by more than 10% at a time. So when you plan your running or exercise schedule then think about each of these factors separately and make sure you do not progress too many things at one time. Better still, ask your running coach or physiotherapist for advice on how much is too much.
Listen to your body
This should be one of the main things you do when starting into a new fitness plan. If you start to feel a niggle but keep on exercising it is not likely to miraculously just go away. Imagine if you heard something rattling in your car or if you knew the tyre was too flat but you just ignored it. It won't just get better by itself.
Tune in to how your body feels and do not ignore it. If you feel sore or tight then stop, change what you are doing and allow your body to recover. This does not mean that you need to sit down and rest until it gets better. It means that you might need to change the type of exercise you are doing for a while. Remember that stretching and walking are types of exercise too.
Make sure it's fun and varied
When you create your plan, make sure that you make it achievable and enjoyable. Do not be too hard on yourself at the start. Remember the goal should be to bring exercise into your lifestyle rather than punish yourself or create an additional chore that just becomes a negative influence. Humans usually already have enough of a negativity bias without making something as positive as exercise seem like a negative.
Use this opportunity to try new things, try new exercises or get back to ones you used to have fun doing. If you plan to exercise every day then make sure you plan some periods of time where you focus on different exercise to your favourite. This is the concept of cross training. All top athletes need to train smart. They use different types of exercise to benefit their main type. For example, a runner will do strength training and flexibility training on some days of the week rather than just running every day.
Stretch every day
Lots of injuries happen because some muscles are too tight and other ones are too weak. This can result in pain from muscles, ligaments, joints and nerves. I tend to give more flexibility exercises these days and get good results when trying to fix an injury. If you decrease the stiffness then the body can start to function better. The body is a wonderfully balanced, dynamic structure. It likes to move and is designed to do so. Many people forget about flexibility training and I think it is one of the biggest risk factors in developing injuries. I use the principle 'reduce stiffness before building strength. If a muscle is too tight, it will be harder for another muscle to become strong. For now, just do what stretches you know but in the next few weeks I'll be teaching you some specific stretches and exercises that can help. Keep an eye on the next blog post for my top stretches for the lower body.