PAIN-PROOF your workouts!
Is your gym session damaging your joints? Here are the mistakes you could be making.
Creaking knees, painful back, stiff shoulders… it’s easy to dismiss sore joints as an older person’s problem. But research shows more younger people are suffering than ever before and – along with sedentary lifestyles – poor gym habits are to blame. From repetitive, high-impact workouts that can lead to overuse injuries, to excessive yoga sessions causing hip problems, here are some of the risks to watch out for, and expert tips on how to workout-proof your body.
Do you monoworkout? Can’t stop Spinning? Addicted to BodyPump?
Doing the same activity every time you exercise means you always engage the same muscles, which puts pressure on your joints. ‘It can lead to repetitive strain injury and make your workouts less effective, says Alex Clark, physiotherapist at NeoG (neo-g.co.uk). Prevent problems by interspersing your favourite exercise with other activities. ‘Switching up your workouts gives your overworked muscles and joints time to rest and recover, preventing overuse injuries from developing,’ says Clark. ‘Choose an activity that uses different muscles, for instance, do a yoga class if cycling’s usually your thing.’ If you always do cardio, add some weights work to help strengthen the muscles around your joints. Adding low-impact exercise, such as swimming, keeps joints mobile and strong without putting too much pressure on them.
Going too hard, too fast
Are you straining to lift those heavy weights, or gritting your teeth through pain? While heavy lifting and high-intensity workouts are positive workout trends, throwing yourself in at the deep end can cause more harm than good. ‘We often treat clients who injure themselves during classes,’ says Valentina Roffi at Sprint Physiotherapy in London (sprintphysio.co.uk). ‘Although classes are a brilliant, fun way to keep fit, it’s tempting to keep up with the fittest person, even though your body can’t withstand more load. It’s a fine line between working at a level of fatigue, and pushing yourself too much.’ High-intesity interval training addicts beware, adds Clark. ‘HIIT is great, but too many back-to-back, high-intensity workouts without rest can be a recipe for injury and take a toll on your joints. Take things slowly when you start out, and alternate intense sessions with lowerintensity activities.’
Is that nagging ache just a case of DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness), or something more serious? It’s easy to put aches and pains down to a tough session, but ignoring a niggle can be one of the worst things you can do for your joints. While a bit of discomfort during exercise is normal and to be expected, pain such as a twinge in your back that continues long after a workout can be cause for concern. ‘If you’ve been doing the same activity numerous times with no issues and haven’t increased the intensity of the work in any way but have a sudden onset of pain, it’s likely a potential injury,’ says Clark. ‘Stop the activity and give your body time to rest and recuperate, using hot or cold therapy if necessary. ‘If pain lasts more than three to four days, get it checked out by your GP or a local physio.’ You could also protect vulnerable limbs and joints with a sport-specific medicalgrade support. Try NeoG’s range at neo-g.co.uk.
Letting your form slip
Do you hunch over the stair climber or let your posture slip when you’re lifting a heavy weight? Big mistake! ‘Poor form is one of the biggest errors,’ says Clark. ‘Progressing to heavier weights can cause undue stress on your muscles and joints. Always make sure you can perform an exercise with good form before putting the weights up.’ Poor form can also affect performance, says Anj Periyasamy, physiotherapist at Sprint Physio. ‘It’s one of the main reasons for not progressing,’ she says. ‘By fine-tuning your movement, you can get better results. Try reducing your reps to a number where you can perform a move perfectly. It should be a beautiful, elegant movement. If not, it’s a sign of lack of control.’ If you’re just starting out, book a session with a PT to get your form right from the outset.
Skipping your stretch
It’s not just your muscles that need a stretch after a hard workout. Boosting your flexibility can also keep your joints healthy. ‘Stretching helps keep the muscles around the joint more elastic and lubricated, which in turn increases the range of movement available to the joint, preventing stiffness and increasing mobility,’ says Clark. ‘This can help prevent injuries and future problems.’ Ensuring you stretch after exercise goes without saying. But also consider adding stretch-based activities such as yoga or Pilates into your week to stay limber, prevent injury and keep your joints young for life. ‘Stretching sessions should always be done while the muscles are warm,’ reminds Clark. ‘So doing a very light jog or five minutes on the bike at a low intensity first is always recommended.’
Carrying extra pounds? Staying a healthy weight is one of the best things you can do to avoid joint problems and ease existing conditions. Some studies estimate every extra pound you carry puts four extra pounds of pressure onto your knees when you walk. This can lead to knee pain and even osteoarthritis if not addressed. If you know you’re overweight, combining aerobic and strengthening exercises can help you lose weight and keep your joints mobile while increasing strength. ‘Try lower-impact exercise such as the bike or cross trainer,’ says Clark.
‘Aerobic exercise helps oxygenate the cartilage, muscles, tendons and ligaments surrounding your joints. It also helps keep weight down to ensure your joints don’t get overloaded on an everyday basis.’ ‘Strengthening ensures your muscles are strong enough to provide adequate shock absorbency to your joints.’ ‘Stretches maintain the flexibility of tissues around your joints, preventing problems with stiffness and tightness.’
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