Injury is the biggest spoil sport of any fitness plan and it can creep up on you no matter how advanced you are. If you frequent the gym often or workout regularly at home, you must take precautions to protect your body from too much wear and tear. Here are some tips

We've all heard of the old adage, ‘no pain, no gain'. But that just doesn't hold true anymore when you're exercising. If you are experiencing pain anywhere, fitness experts today advise you to stop immediately. If you don't heed your body's warning signals, you run the risk of severely injuring yourself, which can be detrimental to your fitness in the long run.

Warm up and cool down: “It's a misconception that exercise causes aches and pains. It's doing exercise incorrectly, without proper supervision that is the root cause of injury. In order to avoid this, a proper warm up and cooling down routine is extremely essential to remain injury free,” says Vinata Shetty, fitness expert and certified Reebok instructor based in New Delhi.

“Your warm up can last between 5-15 minutes, but you must ensure that you move or mildly stretch every part of your body, including all the major muscle groups, preparing yourself for the more strenuous routine ahead. Without a proper warm up, you run the risk of severely damaging your knees or putting pressure on your other joints.”

Just as every exercise session should be preceded by the warm up routine, it should end with the cooling down session. “Don't stop abruptly, but lessen the pace so that the activity tapers off gently. This will allow your accelerated heart rate to gradually get back to normal.”

Work with your body, not against it: Your exercise routine should be tailor-made to suit your personality, body type, stamina and current level of fitness. Understanding your body and its needs is critical. “For instance, if you are obese, your joints are already under a great deal of pressure due to your excess body weight. “Exercise in such cases, must be planned with care,” says Shetty.

“You must select a fitness routine that is easy on the joints. Opt for swimming or cycling. Swimming is ideal because the joints are cushioned by water, allowing free and easy movements. Even cycling is a good choice because when you are seated on a stationary bike, your body weight does not directly put pressure on your knee joints. Choose a bike with a back rest for best results.” If you have chronic knee or leg pain, consult your doctor before starting any fitness regime. His advice will help you stay injury free.

Beat chronic pain: If you are arthritic or are suffering from osteoporosis (weakening of bone density) or have chronic knee pain, you can still workout, but your routine must be tailor-made to suit your needs. Given your condition, you will have to be more cautious than others. “In arthritic patients, the cartilage (the elastic material which covers the opposing bones in a joint) is damaged,” explains Dr George Thomas, Chief Orthopaedic Surgeon, St. Isabel's Hospital, Chennai. “For these patients, exercises that do not involve the use of heavy weights (non-weight bearing exercises called open chain exercises) are recommended, whereas weight bearing or closed chain exercises can be performed only in the early stages. If you suffer from chronic knee pain that cannot be surgically corrected, both open and close chain exercises can be helpful (in alleviating pain). However, for osteoporosis patients, most elderly people, (gentle) exercise will help keep muscles in shape. ”

Mind your moves: When you're exercising, you shouldn't be thinking of your next meeting at work, your family's dinner menu or your child's homework. It is extremely essential that you are attentive and concentrate on performing each activity to the best of your ability. That way, you will get more out of your session and will also end up burning more calories. When your mind wanders over daily events, this can only leave you more stressed, so avoid such a situation and de-clutter your mind before you begin. Avoid working out when you're already tired or after a late night with poor sleep.

Add spice to your workout: Vary your routine, not just to beat boredom, but also to prevent injury. Some people change their routine everyday while others do so every few months. While there are no hard and fast rules, you need to be well prepared to take on a more strenuous regimen. “Plan your workout step-by-step and gradually increase the intensity,” advises Dr George Thomas.

Today there are many options for you to explore. “Zumba, a form of aerobic dance has caught on in a big way in India and it's only just gaining recognition and popularity. It involves Latin American dance moves and you can vary the intensity to suit your fitness levels,” says Shetty.

Give yourself sufficient rest: Moderation is truly the key to achieving your fitness related goals. “45minutes of exercise a day is the general recommendation,” says Dr Thomas. “Ensure that you don't overdo it! Do not run or skip on hard concrete floors. Wooden floors or natural soil is best. Also be sure to wear the right footwear. A good pair of sports shoes will help protect your feet against wear and tear.”

Check your equipment: Call in experts regularly to fine tune your exercise equipment, just as you would your car or television. The revolving belt of the treadmill, the pedals of a stationary bike can take a lot of abuse. Ensuring that all your exercise equipment is properly assembled and maintained will not only help you avoid nasty falls and muscle spasms, but expensive repairs as well. Never buy second hand exercise equipment that may be chipped or damaged.

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MetroplusJune 28, 2012