Sitting at our desks. Sitting in meetings. Sitting while we eat lunch. All this sitting leads to a fairly sedentary lifestyle for office workers worldwide.
In fact, the World Health Organization says that 60 to 85 percent of people in the world – from both developed and developing countries – lead sedentary lifestyles, which can double the risk of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and obesity.
Adults should participate in at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic exercise a week and two days a week of muscle strengthening exercises, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. health protection agency. Although it seems reasonable, let’s be honest: For many of us, it’s simply not happening.
As we enter a new year, people will be heading in droves to gyms around the world in hopes of starting off on the right foot with new fitness resolutions and an invigorated spirit of wellness. But how do we start a new exercise routine without injuring that foot – or back, or ankle, or knee – especially if we haven’t been moving our bodies as often or as vigorously as we should have over the course of the past few months or even over the past year?
Ryan Gaynor, PT, MS, is a physical therapist and a member of the FUTURO™ Expert Panel, a group of medical professionals who provide valuable input and insights to help make the popular line of braces and supports more effective and useful. He’s been treating patients for almost 20 years and has seen his fair share of back-to-the-gym injuries. (These injuries are so common they even have their own hashtag: #gymjury.) We sat down with Ryan to get his tips on jumping back into a workout routine without getting hurt.
The very first thing we need to focus on during the first few weeks of training? Undertraining, says Ryan. You should leave the gym feeling like you could have done a lot more – lifted more weight, done more repetitions or pushed yourself for a longer period of time.
We’ve all felt the repercussions of doing too much right away – our muscles get overworked, and we end up feeling really sore the next day or even two days later. That intense muscle soreness can be the number one thing that stops us from progressing in the first few weeks. Because of pain, our programs can get derailed, and we can start to feel discouraged.
What’s tricky with undertraining, Ryan says, is that the brain gets bored. “I don’t want to make the regimen too boring, but I can’t stress enough that the first four weeks have to be boring if you want the rest of it to work and if you want it to get more exciting. When you throw yourself into your workout by doing too much, too soon, you’re asking for trouble.”
There’s one piece of equipment Ryan tells his patients never to use: the leg extension machine. You know the one – it’s when you sit in a chair and put weight on your shins, just above your ankles, and you extend your knees to straighten your legs against the resistance.
It seems a fairly common caution among those in the fitness arena, as a quick Google search turns up lots of articles that consistently include the leg extension machine as one of which to steer clear.
Ryan claims it can do a lot more harm than good.
“Since the weight is placed so close to your ankles, the leg extension puts a tremendous amount of sheer force on your knees,” he says. “And so many people have bad knees, so by putting a huge load on the tendons in your knees, this exercise really tends to aggravate things, causing significant knee pain.”
Running seems so easy, doesn’t it? You just strap on a pair of shoes, pop in some ear buds pumping out energizing music and hit the road. You get your heartrate up quickly, activate every muscle group in your body and work up a nice sweat. But the relative ease of getting into the sport of running might be its biggest downfall, as up to 79 percent of runners get sidelined with an injury – such as runner’s knee – at least once per year.
Again, it all comes back to undertraining and easing into the activity, says Ryan. “It’s a really difficult thing to run or jog and not hurt yourself,” he cautions. “I generally tell people that if you haven’t run in the past, don’t just up and decide you’re going to be a runner.”
Instead, he suggests hopping on the elliptical machine, riding a bike, using a rowing machine – doing something that builds your strength and endurance but is less damaging to your joints, specifically your knees. For those of us who are dead set on running, Ryan proposes trying a slow run-walk progression program.
For many of us, the idea of fitting exercise into our already-jam-packed schedules can be daunting and even anxiety producing. Many of us think we have to go to the gym for an hour – or even 75 minutes – to get a worthwhile workout in. But that doesn’t have to be the case.
Ryan suggests starting with a quick warm-up and then focusing on five simple exercises and one activity that involves cardio. “You should be in and out of the gym within 35 to 40 minutes, max. People think if they don’t get in a very long workout, it’s probably not worth doing. But it really is worth doing – especially if you set a starter goal that’s achievable. That feeling of early success will take you a long way when it comes to achieving your fitness goals for the new year.”