Exercise Safe — Exercise Smart
You often hear about the benefits of exercise, but it is just as important to be aware of the hazards of improper exercise. It is common in my profession to see people who have injured themselves while working out or playing sports. Exercise is fraught with hazards, but choosing the right activity and approaching it sensibly can help avoid many of these risks. The most common errors include stretching before warm-up, exercising before warm-up, not cooling down properly after exercise, and not stretching after exercise. The safest way to avoid injury is to follow these four steps when working-out or engaging in a sporting activity.
1. Warm-Up – Function: To increase blood flow and tissue pliability before we place demands on it.
A warm-up at the beginning of an exercise session is one of the best ways to prevent pain and injury. Despite its importance, many people often ignore this step. For a proper warm-up, simply perform the exercise at a slow pace for about five minutes or until your pulse count is above one hundred beats per minute (bpm). For example, start your brisk walk with a slow five-minute stroll or be at your aerobics class at the beginning of the session (a good instructor will always start the class with a warm-up).
2. Exercise – Function: To improve cardiovascular fitness and/or burn body fat.
For most healthy people, Health Canada recommends an exercise target heart rate ranging from 50% to 75% of your maximum heart rate, which is normally calculated as the number 220 minus your age. The activity should be done for 12 – 30 minutes, but not more than 60 minutes per session.
3. Cool-Down – Function: To gradually return to resting state while flushing metabolic waste from our tissues.
If we stop short after exercising, it takes time for our body to regain homeostasis. Meanwhile, our heart is still pumping at an accelerated pace and blood pools in our extremities leading to swollen fingers and feet. This causes dizziness, because less blood is getting to our brain. The cool-down is the same as the warm up, but in reverse. Just do the exercise or previous activity at a slow, temperate pace for about five minutes, or until your heart rate has gone down below 100 bpm. As well, a proper cool-down goes a long way toward reducing post-workout soreness, a muscle tenderness that can develop in the first twenty-four hours after vigorous activity.
4. Post-Exercise Stretch – Function: Prevents soreness and maintains flexibility.
The optimal time to stretch your muscles is after a workout, not before. Before exercise you risk injuring the muscles and other soft tissue, because they have not been properly warmed up. After exercise your body is warm, and your blood is pumping at a moderate pace so you have less chance of causing injury. As well, a muscle that has been used repetitively tends to shorten. Stretching at this point will help to re-establish normal muscle length, maintaining flexibility.
We’ve all learned the importance of “working smart” to reduce injury and increase productivity in the workplace. It is no different with exercise. If you “exercise smart” by using these five steps, you will achieve your exercise goals sooner and you will reduce the chance of injury and soreness associated with many forms of exercise.