The kids are back in school, I’ve seen some leaves on the ground, and soon I’ll see the historical “dumpster fire” as my favorite professional football team embarks on the first of several championship seasons. Whether you’re a pro athlete, a kid, or just trying to get in shape before the holidays, all levels of athletes need to practice safe fitness methods.
My athletic career peaked many years ago, and I’m more in the “back hurts most of the time, muscles occasionally stop working, and joints sound like bubble wrap popping” portion of my athletic life. I still try to participate in the occasional endurance race and staying mostly uninjured and motivated are always big concerns of mine.
Whether you’re just trying to keep active or are focusing on one type of activity (like running a race or weightlifting), it’s important to take some basic steps to stay safe and avoid injury.
Don’t skip the warm-up or cool down. Even a few minutes of stretching will help loosen your muscles, reduce the risk of injury, and improve your post-workout recovery.
Don’t overdo it – know your limits. You can’t dive into an intense workout session after not doing much. Ease into your workout and gradually up the time, weights, or distances. Pushing yourself to injury will only set you back. Soreness may be good for building strength, but pain and excessive tightness is not. If you’re lifting weights and can’t maintain good form, you need to dial it back. Don’t fight through sharp pain, you’ll just make it worse.
Mix it up. One of my main concerns with my kids starting sports is that they’ll focus too much on one type of exercise. I’ve done a lot of running, but if that’s your only type of exercise, it can cause overuse problems in your legs. It’s always good to mix in different types of exercise that focus on a variety of movements/muscles. Take a couple days off from jogging and add some weightlifting days. If you choose a gym for your workouts, here’s some advice for avoiding disaster at the gym.
Fuel yourself. Eat things that make you feel better and fuel your physical activity. A little research on how to balance your diet based on your fitness goals can be a big help. Also, stay hydrated. Replace that sweat with water or electrolytes to keep you going.
Dress the part. Wear proper shoes for your workouts or sport. Don’t wear running shoes to play basketball (I learned that one the hard way – pop goes the ligament). Wear breathable clothes in the heat, layers in the cold, and adjust as needed. Replace shoes or other equipment as the cushioning wears out.
Don’t neglect the rest and recovery. Give yourself at least one day a week to recover. I discovered yoga years ago after having back problems from distance running. I hated that workout at first, but now I try to do yoga at least once a week. There are sessions of all lengths that focus on different muscle groups. Learning how to breathe and stretch can prevent injury and improve your physical performance. A foam roller can be a fantastic method of muscle/pain relief, like a deep tissue massage at home.
The cooling of temperatures outside doesn’t mean you have to retreat to the couch. There are many indoor activities and adding a safety sense into your fitness routine will pay benefits year-round.
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