Want to get back into shape after winter and possibly a long stretch without in-person workout classes, fitness centers, pools, or organized sports? Many of us do.
How do we get in shape and avoid injuries? A couple of experts offer this sage advice.
Here are their top eight tips to help us safely get fit.
1) Set goals, schedule workouts, and buy good shoes.
Setting goals helps us identify where we are and where we want to be. Then, we can create a plan. If you haven’t been exercising, it takes a few weeks to develop the habit, Mueller says. So, we need to put workouts on the schedule like any other appointment. She also recommends accountability partners, which is a key to her success.
“As a former overweight person myself, I can tell you that I never worked as hard by myself as I did when others were there,” says Mueller. “People expected me to show up and then when I got there, they expected me to put in the work.”
Good shoes are also crucial, Vrobel adds. Poor-quality shoes can lead to foot, ankle, knee, hip, and low back injuries. Your shoes should fit well and have cushion and support for any impact activities.
2) Start slow, easy, and light.
We’d like to get fit fast, but our bodies need time to adapt and become conditioned to new stressors. Mueller suggests we start with stability exercises, then move on to strength, and finally power. Some of us will not get to the power stage, and that’s okay too, she says. Vrobel agrees.
“Too often, people push beyond limits whether it be stretching, strengthening, or cardiovascular fitness,” Vrobel says. “It is quite easy to indulge in excessive activity come springtime and after the restrictive lifestyle during the past year due to COVID. However, returning to any exercise activity must be strategic.”
3) Know and listen to your body.
We all have different goals and start from a different level of fitness. You may have had injuries in the past. Knowing your limitations and strength capabilities help you not overtrain. If something doesn’t feel comfortable, modify or stop, adds Vrobel. If you have an underlying orthopedic issue, adjust accordingly.
4) Know the difference between inflammation and injury.
An important part of knowing your body is differentiating between acute inflammation, which can cause muscle soreness as you get in shape, and injuries that require rest and possibly treatment. Inflammation goes away. Injuries don’t.
Additionally, if a workout causes significant or ongoing inflammation, Vrobel you need to discover the cause and adjust.
“As a rehabilitation specialist, I would examine the program and modify according to identified stressors,” Vrobel explains. “An injury to a joint or soft tissue will not only have inflammation but also pain with movement, weakness, stiffness, and/ or tenderness to touch. These symptoms would take time to recover. Best to learn from response and find the cause and correct.”
As we discussed in our inflammation series, studies show that regular exercise can reduce age-related inflammation, as long as we don’t overdo it or ignore injuries.
5) Don’t overcompensate for a former injury.
We can overuse another part of our body by favoring a formerly injured area. Stretching to warm up the muscles and joints surrounding the area before working out helps. Both women say using good body mechanics is key and that may require “retraining” our bodies or breaking bad habits.
“Too often, we tend to use our bodies in ways they are not designed to work which opens ourselves up for an injury,” Vrobel explains. “Invest in keeping flexible, strong, and know your limits for stress.”
6) Work with a personal trainer.
Retraining our bodies and breaking bad habits may require help. We won’t necessarily notice poor form or overcompensation.
Vrobel recommends working with a personal trainer whether we are recovering from an injury, starting a workout program, or adding new activities. They can help us identify what works for our bodies and how to modify exercise for safety. They’ll help us avoid improper form or techniques that can lead to injury.
“It is wise to have the expertise of a trainer to advise, design, and guide an appropriate program according to a person’s fitness goals, especially if there are underlying medical issues of concern,” Vrobel explains. “Seeking out help also assists in reducing risk of injury from doing a self-directed program without knowledge of proper form or approach.”
You may think a personal trainer costs too much or is only available at a gym, but trainers offer all types of options, classes and prices. Mueller meets her clients in parks or their homes. She shows people how to use their body weight, resistance bands, and park equipment for full-body workouts.
“Resistance bands are the best because they are lightweight and so portable. You can do bicep curls, shoulder presses, deadlifts, and a million other things with bands,” she says. “And as far as body weight exercises, the sky is the limit! Push-ups, burpees, jumping jacks … You can use a park bench to do step-ups or tricep dips. You can use soup cans for arm workouts. So many options!”
She also recommends the TRX or other suspension system for home or outdoors and the Peloton app for strength and cardio classes (and doesn’t have a Peloton bike!)
7) Cross train to reduce the risk of injury and improve performance.
Start with two exercises you love and add on. Vrobel explains that our bodies adapt to how we use them regularly. Flexibility, strength training, walking and bicycling are good starts.
As you get fit, add more types of exercise. Both women recommend variety in exercise programs because doing only one thing can lead to overuse injuries. Mueller sees this often with runners.
“Our whole body is a machine that needs to work together,” says Mueller. “A well-balanced workout schedule is best. Cardio, strength, core, legs, arms, back, abs… all of it is important. If you only do one kind of exercise, you get what I call ‘carpal tunnel of the body.’"
8) Incorporate rest in your training.
Both experts say they see injuries resulting from overtraining and lack of rest. Intensity, duration, and frequency of exercise are stress variables that can cause injuries, Vrobel says. Our bodies – and minds – need recovery time.
You might take a rest day with no exercise. Or take an “active rest” day of light exercise following an intense workout day. Resistance to rest is often a mental roadblock, Mueller adds.
“I see the effects of exhaustion and overtraining every day. It's sad because it's totally avoidable. Resting is different for everyone. If you do a hard arm workout, do legs the next day. If you go for a long run, follow it with yoga maybe instead of a bike ride that further taxes your legs the next day. Or take a day to sleep in a bit and relax. It can really make a difference.”
Whatever your workout plan today, we hope these tips help you stay safe and reach your goals!
If you have concerns about any medical condition or injuries, current or past, please talk to your health care provider before starting your workout program.