August 4, 2008

Too Much, Too Soon

By Bednar, Joseph

'No pain, no gain' may be a catchy slogan for gym rats, but to physical therapists, it makes no sense.

"Many people don't have an awareness of how to work out; they think that, if they're not inflicting pain on themselves, they're not doing enough," said Lori Manseau, a physical therapist and director of Rehabilitation Services as Wing Memorial Hospital in Palmer.

"We see a lot of muscle strains, people who just injure the muscles or the tendons, and that results in pain," said Manseau. "But you can be working hard and not have discomfort, and get the benefits of a fitness program."

Joanne Mahoney, a physical therapist who practices at the Mercy Wellness Center at Healthtrax in West Springfield, agreed that overdoing it is a common mistake for people who begin exercising with the best of intentions.

"One of the things we see a lot are shoulder problems from weight training and some of the exercise classes people try to do," said Mahoney.

"Again, a lot of times it's too much weight for what your body is ready for, so it's to your benefit to start at a lower level of weights and get used to working at that weight, building endurance in those muscles, then slowly increasing the weight as you become more comfortable."

In this issue, BusinessWest examines what people do wrong when working out, especially those just starting out, and how to correct those mistakes.

Working Out the Kinks

The American Council on Exercise conducted a survey of 3,000 certified fitness professionals and produced a list of common workout mistakes. They include:

* Not warming up prior to exercise, and not allowing the muscles time to adjust to the demands exercise places on them.

"I think a lot of problems really start with not warming up properly, and then trying to do too much too soon," two mistakes often made by inexperienced exercisers, Mahoney said. "For someone who hasn't really worked out consistently to jump into a workout by biting off more than they can chew, they can end up getting hurt. And form can be a problem for people in terms of something like weightlifting."

Cooling down after any type of workout is important, too. Instead of heading off to the shower, that time should be spent lowering heart rate and stretching muscles, which will improve flexibility and help prepare the body for the next workout;

* Not stretching enough, or at the proper times. The best timesimes for stretching are immediately after warming up and before cooling down, as stretching cold muscles can cause injury. Even stretching can be overdone, however. "You just want to go to the point where you first feel discomfort," said Manseau. "When you push into the pain, you risk tearing muscles and tendons, which isn't good";

* Lifting too much weight, too soon, instead of starting small and gradually increasing the resistance over time.

"'No pain, no gain' was, for many years, the favorite saying of the vast majority of trainers and instructors," notes health and fitness author Donald Saunders. "Well, it was anything but good advice, and, while some discomfort is certainly to be expected if you haven't exercised for some time, pain should never be part of the equation. Pain is your body's way of telling you that you are pushing it too hard, and, in this case, you should listen to what your body is saying."

Saunders notes that a good workout will test the body, but shouldn't damage it. As a person exercises his or her muscles beyond their normal range, he explained, lactic acid is produced and micro- tears and other physiological changes occur as muscle strength builds. All those changes and sensations are perfectly normal - but injuries are not.

"When you lift too much, often you compensate by using mechanics that aren't ideal," said Mahoney. "You end up using the wrong muscle groups and wind up straining your back. If you go to a gym, you should be able to find a trainer who can walk you through the basics of the circuit machines and the weights and show you how to use them appropriately."

* Jerking while lifting weights, which likely jerks muscles as well, leading to strain and injury; the muscles of the back are particularly vulnerable.

"If you find yourself experiencing such things as back or neck pain, soreness in your knee joints, and other symptoms, you should consult with an expert before continuing with any exercise routine," Saunders writes. "It may well be that your technique is poor, that you are trying to do too much, or that you have a medical problem which needs to be addressed."

* Exercising too intensely, which can lead to burnout or injury.

"Overdoing it is an easy way to hurt yourself, and it's not worth it," said Mahoney. "We even see some new injuries from people who might be forcing themselves to run too quickly, or overdoing it on another piece of equipment, because they want to shed the pounds quickly."

* Not drinking enough fluids to replace fluids lost when working out.

Manseau noted that the general rules about overdoing it apply even to taking a brisk stroll. "The rule of thumb is that you should be able to carry on a casual conservation while walking or jogging. If you can't, you're probably doing too much," she explained.

Knowledge Is Power

That's a lot of information to digest, and beyond those basics is the matter of what exactly is proper form when lifting weights or using other equipment. That's where expert direction can help, said Mahoney.

"It's important to work with someone who knows what they're doing, who can teach you to lift properly and not strain yourself," she explained.

Manseau also stressed the importance of consulting one's physician before beginning any new workout plan.

"They'll know your total medical history, so make sure you've got their approval to begin a program," she said. "Beyond that, there are resources and experts at gyms, YMCAs and YWCAs, who can help you. Even senior centers have exercise programs for older people. Those tend to be lower-intensity, and a good pace to start with."

Even someone with previous injuries should be able to get help from a doctor or therapist on how to perform certain workouts correctly and in a way that's appropriate to one's body and medical history, Mahoney added.

"These are obviously big concerns. Whether you're doing cardio work or building strength, you need to develop a strategy to slowly train your body at a reasonable level."

Copyright BusinessWest Jul 7, 2008

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