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Fitness Training: A Healthy Approach

By Roy A. Majors, M.D.
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Whether it’s jogging, aerobics, Stairmaster, weight training or swimming, fitness training has become a major part of many American lives. Though these types of activities are felt to be relatively safe forms of fitness training, they do tend to lead to more common orthopedic complaints such as tendinitis, bursitis or over-stress syndromes.

Whether it’s strength training or endurance training, the concept is to push the body to the point of stress to allow for improved conditioning from these activities. By their very nature, repetitive actions are required which do result in mechanical fatigue, very similar to a machine. The human body, however, does have the unique ability to, in many cases, repair itself unlike mechanical devices.

Following some basic principles, you can dramatically decrease the likelihood of such fatigue injuries. In starting any strength or fitness program, you should begin by choosing a program which will best achieve your desired outcome. You must also be willing to set aside specific time during the day and make this a routine which is seldom missed. Two initial mistakes include performing a fitness or endurance program in a sporadic manner and not allowing a reasonable time frame to achieve your desired goals. It is all too often that through sporadic workouts, we do not maintain our achieved improvements, yet try to push beyond in subsequent workouts to get ahead quickly and end up injuring ourselves. Also, people tend to try to achieve speed, distance or strength goals in a short time-frame which dramatically increases the likelihood of overstressing the body by doing too much too soon.

In any conditioning program, there are three basic variables:

1. the speed at which the activity is performed;
2. the length of time in which the activity is performed;
3. the terrain (counter-resistance) which is encountered during the activity. For example, the three variables in running include the speed at which one runs, thedistance or length of time one runs, and the type of terrain (hilly vs. flat).
In weight training, these would consist of:

1. The speed at which one lifts weights;
2. the length of time one lifts weights;
3. the amount of weight actually lifted.

Once you break your activity down into these three components, you can easily map out a course to achieve your goals. To achieve a desired outcome such as being able to run five miles at an average of seven minutes a mile through typical Charlotte neighborhoods, you should decide which variable is most important to you. If the distance of each run is most important, then you should start your training by increasing your distance in an incremental fashion while keeping the speed initially slow, i.e., eight to twelve minute miles every other day. Also, beginning on a track or more level terrain would be ideal. Once you are able to achieve the desired distance, you can then vary one of the other two factors, such as starting to jog seven minute miles. This typically requires you to back down slightly on the first achieved goal, i.e., five miles per run. Once you have achieved running five miles at an average of seven minutes per mile, the third variable can be changed, i.e., a more hilly terrain. Again, this might require slowing down each mile or even backing down on how many miles you run. The same correlation can be made to weight training as well.

One must be willing to set aside some extra time prior to any activity, whether it’s aerobics, running, basketball or tennis, for appropriate warm-up. It is all too often, for time’s sake, this appropriate warm-up time is bypassed. This will also dramatically increase the likelihood of aches, pains and strains. One should always permit ten to fifteen minutes for appropriate stretching of all major joints prior to any particular activity.

You must listen to your body and when pain develops with a certain activity, you should be willing to back down on the intensity of that activity. This can be in the form of cross training, such as biking or swimming, or by simply decreasing the speed you run a mile, or the terrain or distance. By taking your activity down a notch, you can usually continue to perform while letting your body adjust to the overuse condition. Once the symptoms resolve, you can again pick up the pace, keeping in mind to change only one variable at a time.

Lastly, when you are unable to overcome an overuse injury by following the above guidelines, as well as the use of ice, stretching and inflammation medicine, you should be willing to consult a physician for further guidance and evaluation.

First set appropriate goals and give yourself appropriate time to achieve these goals. Second, break your workout into these three basic parameters: Speed of training, length of training, and resistance encountered in training. Thirdly, have patience and be willing to vary the above parameters in a stepwise manner. By following these concepts, you can dramatically decrease the likelihood of overuse injuries to the body.

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