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Are your workouts hurting you?

It’s an important question if you’re one of the millions of people who carve out time in a busy schedule to exercise.  Everyday, people dedicate their time to taking group exercise classes, lifting weights in the gym, or some other form of physical activity. Usually the reason is to “tone” your body, “get in shape,” or for those who go beyond the aesthetic, to “feel better.”  If you are going to invest time, money, and effort in your body, you may want to consider that the exercises you or possibly even your instructor choose for you, may in fact, be hurting you.

Most people exercise to enhance their appearance and so, many of the popular exercises and classes that are offered today, focus on only particular areas of the body and not the whole picture.  “No pain no gain” has also been drilled into our brain and thus more often than not safety becomes secondary.  The problem is that many of the classes and exercises people do, repeat movements performed by muscles that are most likely too strong compared to other parts of your body.  The result is that your weaker muscles still do not get the attention they need, and the strong muscles get even stronger.  This causes muscles to become tight while making other muscles too weak or imbalanced.  Over time, if you haven’t already noticed it on occasion, the soreness you feel sometimes gets into your joints.  You may feel aches or pains in areas you intuitively know is not good, but you persevere and continue doing the same repetitive movements. The point is that the wrong exercise choices lead to problems; everything from aches and pains, reduced ability to move, or even acute injury. Eventually this can also lead to various types of arthritis, tendonitis, or other chronic pain.   Not all sweating and exercise is the same.  If you are one of these people, you may want to look further into the types of exercise you do.

How does this happen?  Why would an instructor do this?  The simple answer is they don’t know.  Today, personal trainers and fitness instructors are not totally regulated and sometimes can get a certification off of the Internet, if they have credentials at all.  Even the certification providers themselves are not necessarily regulated or credentialed.  When was the last time you asked your instructor to produce a valid and current certification?  You are placing your body and trust in his or her hands; it’s a worthwhile question.  

Even with certification, your instructor still may not know the solutions to this dilemma.  It takes years of experience and more specific education than any one certification can handle.  Most certifications deal with basic anatomy and movement mechanics, while others deal mostly with choreography for a trademarked type of exercise class (which often do not address a balanced approach to exercise).  However, good instructors who maintain a current credentialed certification should have access to this type of information. If they don’t have an immediate answer they may be able to find one for you.

The solution to this issue is to first have the awareness that the problem exists.  Begin by paying close attention to how your body feels doing the movements during each exercise.  Do not get caught up in choreography or how things are supposed to look. Refrain from exercises that don’t agree with your better judgment, feel too stressful, or are awkward for your joints.  Watch out for higher risk/lower benefit exercises.  These usually involve heavy overhead shoulder presses, jumping around without purpose, or routines that seem to work the front of your body much more than the back of your body.  If you pay attention to your body during your workout you’ll begin to notice these things.

So, can you still look great without risking unnecessary pain or injury?  Of course.  You will actually look better, and feel better too.  Your workouts should leave you feeling taller, leaner, and give you an overall ability to move easier after each and every session.  While there is too much to cover in one article, begin by balancing your workouts with working posterior (the part of you that you can’t see facing a mirror) muscles in your hips and shoulders.  Generally, stretch the muscles that you can see in the mirror.  If you are designating time for a specific workout, limit overdoing muscles that you use naturally everyday. For example reduce treadmill, stepping, and marching exercises.  Avoid movements that excessively work the muscles in the front of your hips, and movements that require heavy weight to be held in front of you.  Try to limit or remove exercises that are high impact or seem to have no functional purpose for you (jumping and landing hard, heavy lifting, or out of control fast motions).  While this is not the total picture, you will notice improvement by omitting the things that are likely to overtrain you or put too much stress on your body.  

Just having some awareness to this issue is actually a big first step, and will start you on your way to finding the right person or routine to work with.  Pinpointing what not to do is as valuable as adding the right exercises.  Also, consider a postural/movement evaluation by a chiropractor, physical therapist, or someone who has special training in assessing body mechanics, before starting an exercise routine. Lastly, much of what has been discussed in this article can be classified as an approach to corrective exercise.  Look for someone with this as a credential and they may become an asset to your workouts. 

Erik Fredrickson is president of Prana Fit, Inc. a company dedicated to fitness and wellness industry education, consulting, programming, and home or office gym development.  Erik is also an NASM-Certified Personal Trainer, Corrective Exercise Specialist, and Performance Enhancement Specialist currently training in the Hamptons and NYC.  You can email him questions: This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it     

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