Everyone’s pressed for time, and you want to get in and out of the gym quickly and efficiently. Who has time for warmups?
You do, if you’re smart.
“Not properly warming up is probably the biggest reason people are in pain when they exercise,” says Jason Barone, PT, DPT, regional clinical director of Professional Physical Therapy in Connecticut. He recommends taking between five and ten minutes to do a dynamic warmup before you start a session; think lunges with an upper-body twist, bodyweight squats or a light walk. Warming up can improve range of motion and blood flow to your muscles and joints, decreasing discomfort. Plus, you’ll activate the muscles that you’ll use during your workout, which means you’ll get more out of your gym time.
Keep It Slow and Steady
It’s tempting to hit the gym every day or lift a lot of weight right off the bat. After all, we all want to see results right now!
However, whether it’s running too far or too fast, or using weights that are too heavy, that extra effort may be more than your body is conditioned to handle. “When this happens, the body does not have an opportunity to move with the appropriate mechanics, and as you become fatigued. The forces are too great to handle. As a result, the body compensates in various ways to achieve what is being asked of it, and injury occurs soon after,” says Klaus Dobra, PT, DPT, CSCS, physical therapist at Physio Logic in Brooklyn.
Instead, start simple and don’t rush things. Take the time to learn proper movement patterns and form, especially when it comes to strength training. As you build your fitness base, gradually increase the intensity and/or length of your workouts from there. “It’s always easier to add something on,” notes Barone. He also recommends having a concrete plan for each workout and keeping an exercise journal, which can let you see your progression and spot areas that need adjustment.
Get an Expert Opinion
The biggest reason people hurt themselves when they exercise? Improper form and technique. If you don’t pay attention to what you’re doing, you may “pull your body out of alignment so the force generated by what you’re doing isn’t being distributed optimally throughout the body,” says Pete McCall, a personal trainer and strength coach in San Diego. That can lead to pain and discomfort.
If you’re new to exercise, especially strength training, or unfamiliar with the moves prescribed in an exercise program you’re doing, work with a pro. “A personal trainer can introduce you to different kinds of exercises and make sure you’re doing them correctly,” says Barone. It doesn’t have to be a long-term commitment: “Five to ten sessions can really put you in the right direction,” says McCall. “Think about what you want. Do you want to work with someone who will always be there by your side or someone who will teach you two to three routines that you can do on your own?”
Once you find a trainer, talk to that person about what you want to accomplish. If working one-on-one isn’t for you, try taking a group class. “A good group fitness instructor can help you learn how to do different moves properly,” says McCall.
Strengthen Your Core
You know that it’s important to train your core. In fact, it could be the key to exercising pain-free.
“The core is the center of force production and absorption in the body. With the correct strength and ability to activate with activity, the core can absorb forces that would otherwise be absorbed by more injury-prone structures,” explains Dobra. By using your core “to initiate and generate movement, you can do more and, potentially, damage less.”
But we’re not talking about just crunches or sculpting six-pack abs. Dobra says to concentrate on exercises that help stabilize the spine so that your body can move efficiently and with ease. These include movements like pelvic tilts, bird-dogs, planks, side planks and dead bugs. And don’t forget about your back! Incorporate back extension exercises like supermans into your routine, too.
Mix It Up
You can have too much of a good thing: Doing the same workout day-in and day-out can cause your muscles to become overworked and tight. That, in turn, will cause them to fire less efficiently. When that occurs, “the muscles in the body that are meant to act as force generators and force absorbers, which dampen compressive and rotational forces through our joints, are impaired. This creates accessory forces in the form of shearing to those joints, causing pain,” says Dobra. This explains why a static exercise routine can lead to overuse injuries (not to mention boredom).
So don’t be afraid to shake things up. If you love running, try strength training or lower-impact activities like yoga or swimming a couple times of week. Always hit the weight room? Take a group fitness class or do a session of bodyweight exercises.
You’ll see fitness gains. “When you push yourself harder or differently than you’re used to, your body makes adaptations,” says McCall, What’s more, engaging in different types of exercise gives your brain a boost. As McCall puts it, “Your brain works different. You’re rewiring your motor patterns.”
Take a Break
If you still feel nagging aches and pain when you work out, it may be time for a break.
“You don’t always need to be go-go-go. Take a little time away from the gym,” advises McCall. In fact, rest is what builds muscle. It works like this: Exercise causes micro-tears in your muscles, while rest days (plus sleep and good nutrition) gives your body time and fuel to repair the damage and grow stronger. When you step back from your workout routine, you may come back feeling fresher and fitter than before.
There’s a difference between effort and pain. “You don’t want to stop at the first hint of discomfort. Your muscles may burn and you may be sore the next day,” says Barone. However, “if you have sharp, stabbing pain, stop. It’s better to be proactive than reactive.” For pain that persists, see a physical therapist or doctor to determine if your discomfort is being caused by actual damage.
While most of us don’t think about physical therapy until we’re actually hurt or in pain, prehab may be one of the best ways to side-step injury and nagging aches before you’re sidelined
Short for prehabilitation, prehab routines shore up imbalances and weaknesses in your body that may flare up and cause bigger problems down the road. Think of it as a regular tune-up and maintenance for your body so you can avoid major repairs later on.
McCalls says prehab routines can include basic movements like glute bridges and planks, which help to realign the entire body and strengthen stabilizing muscles around your joints and spine. Plus, they can help to improve your body’s range of motion and mobility, which can prevent overloading your joints. “For example, if your hip loses range of motion, your lumbar spine or knee will try to create that lost range of motion,” says McCall. “If you have good range of motion in your hip, it takes tension off your knee and lumbar spine.”
Get Supplemental Help
For pain that doesn’t signify an injury, nature offers a number of ways to ease those annoying aches. For years, a combination of two naturally occurring substances, glucosamine and chondroitin, has been the standard recommendation in joint-health supplementation, especially when bolstered by MSM and black cherry extract.
Today, hemp represents a new approach to pain relief. Its active constituents, known as phytocannabinoids, have been found to ease mild to moderate pain, especially when inflammation is present, and may even help reduce the need for powerful drugs.
Hemp is especially effective when combined with other plant-based pain reducers—including boswellia and curcumin, particularly in a form called Longvida—as well as substances that help the body make the most of hemp’s benefits, including acacia, black pepper extract, cocoa and sunflower lecithin.
Three Exercises to Sculpt Your Core
- Start on hands and knees, with knees and feet hip-width apart, toes pointing towards your body, and hands directly under your shoulders, fingers facing forward.
- Pull in your core muscles. Then slowly extend your left leg backwards until it is at, or near parallel, to the floor without any rotation in the hip. Your goal is to keep both hips parallel to the floor.
- Slowly raise your right arm until it is at, or near parallel, to the floor without any tilting at the shoulders. Your goal is to keep the both shoulders parallel to the floor.
- Gently lower yourself back to your starting position and repeat with the opposite limbs.
- Lie on your back, bending your knees until your feet are flat on the floor 12” to 18″ from your buttocks. Allow your arms to lie along your side and bend the elbows so they are pointing towards the ceiling. Breathe deeply for 30 seconds, relaxing your body and allowing gravity to gently pull your lower back and shoulders towards the floor.
- Pull your shoulders down and back without increasing the arch in your low back or lifting your hips off the floor. Hold this position throughout the exercise.
- Breathe normally and at the end of each breath, perform the following actions (individually at first, then combine them):
Perform a gentle kegel contraction without moving your hips or ribcage (the same pelvic-floor contraction you would perform when resisting the urge to urinate)
Draw your belly button towards your spine without moving your hips or ribcage
Combine the first two steps, then do so as you count out loud while breathing normally (i.e., holding the contractions through normal breathing)
- Once you have stabilized your spine and pelvis, lift both legs and arms off of the floor. The knees should be directly over the hip joints and bent so the lower legs are parallel to the floor. The elbows should be directly over the shoulder joints and bent so the forearms are parallel to the floor, hands pointing towards your head.
- Inhale and maintain the hollow abdomen while slowly lowering the right heel and left hand towards the floor. The hand and heel should lightly touch the floor (but not rest); exhale (continue the hollowing) and slowly bring the leg and arm back to the initial position. Alternate limbs.
- Lie on your stomach on a mat with your legs extended, toes pointing away from your shins, arms extended overhead with palms facing each other. Relax your head to align it with your spine.
- Exhale, contract your core muscles and slowly raise both legs a few inches off the floor while simultaneously raising both arms a few inches off the floor; avoid any rotation in the limbs, arching in the back or raising of the head. Hold this position briefly.
- Gently inhale and lower legs and arms back to the starting position without any movement in the low back or hips.
(SOURCE: AMERICAN COUNCIL ON EXERCISE, ACEFITNESS.ORG)