You wouldn’t suggest someone learn to swim by going to a nearby lake, jumping in the deep water and hoping for the best. But launching into other fitness activities without knowing proper technique also brings risk. It might be less obvious, but it’s just as real.
Without using proper form, exercisers can end up with anything from a sprained ankle, to tendonitis, to a permanent back injury. The degree of harm depends on their physical condition, the nature of the activity, and just how far their technique is off the mark.
If you’re thinking of adding a new activity or sport to your fitness mix — good for you! Keeping things varied is a great way to stay motivated. But if the new activity represents a big departure from your normal activity level, check with your doctor before beginning, especially if you’re older than 40 or have any medical conditions. The next step is to check the instructions with an expert to make sure you start your new fitness interest as safely as possible. For strength training or aerobic workouts, take a class, sign up for group or individual training sessions, or ask a fitness specialist at your gym if you are doing your exercises correctly. If you’re a would-be runner, consider joining a local running club. Many of these clubs teach running fundamentals.
There are some general things you can do to support proper technique no matter what the exercise. First, warm up with about 10 minutes of mild aerobic exercise, followed by active stretching. This means you’re stretching while moving. An example would be walking and hugging a knee into your body between steps.
Second, pay attention to your breathing; it supplies oxygen to your muscles. And holding your breath for an extended period can raise your blood pressure. In strength training, you will typically exhale when pushing the weight out, and inhale when bringing it back in. In yoga classes, you’ll work on specific breathing exercises that have a calming and centering effect. And if you’re going to run, you’ll want to find a pattern of deep, abdominal breathing that works for your pace. Another foundation of good exercise technique is posture. Just like mom told you — everything should be in a line from the top of your head to the ground. So chest up, shoulders back and down, and toes straight ahead or pointed slightly outward. Knees and other joints should be soft, never locked.
Fourth, work on building strong core muscles — those muscles in the abdomen, back and pelvis. If your core is weak, you’ll probably have difficulty with any type of exercise.
Finally, if you are in pain or getting too fatigued or dehydrated, good technique can go out the window. Listen to your body, resist the temptation to do too much, too soon, and you’ll be on your way to a satisfying new fitness program that’s both effective and safe.
Cindy Eggemeyer is the executive director of Edward Health & Fitness Centers, with locations in Naperville, on the campus of Edward Hospital, 801 S. Washington St., and in Woodridge, at 6600 S. Route 53. For more information, visit www.edward.org/fitness. Cindy can be reached at 630-646-7915 and email@example.com.Tags: Edward Hospital, fitness, health & wellness
7 tips for effective exercise
Looking for fine form? Fitness specialist Dan Burk of the Edward Health & Fitness Centers offers this advice:
1. Don’t bounce when stretching.
2. Try not to hold on when using a treadmill. This can alter your gait and make hips more prone to injury. Consider lessening the incline until you can handle the higher level without holding the bar.
3. Engage the core muscles when exercising by pulling your belly button in toward the spine.
4. Complete a full range of motion for each exercise, avoid doing half reps.
5. If you’re uneasy about the safety of an exercise, look for something else that works the same area with less strain on the back or joints. For example, you can replace double leg raises with single raises, leaving the other leg on the floor, knee bent.
6. Don’t go too fast in weight training. Exertions should last one to two seconds, bringing the weight back in should take two to three seconds.
7. For building strength, do fewer reps (four to six), with more weight. To work on stamina, choose a weight that you can do for 10 to 15 reps.