There are so many exercises and exercise routines available to us. All of them are being shoved in our faces and tell us that they are the best and only way to get into shape and feel better.
Unless you have training in, or experience in, the realm of physical fitness and training, it can be very hard to navigate your way through the maze that is exercise. Even if you do have training in, or experience with, physical fitness, it can still be very hard to know what exercises will be helpful and what exercises will be harmful.
If you were a high school athlete or even a college athlete, then you will have some experience with exercise and getting into shape. That experience is geared towards a 18 or 20 year old athlete. That experience will be good for getting an 18 or 20 year old into shape, but not a 30 to 50 year old.
As you age you have to alter your workouts. You can’t exercise with the same intensity in middle age that you did when you were in your 20’s. You don’t recover as well as you did when you were younger. Your body has much more wear and tear on it than it did 20 years ago. These factors will make you more susceptible to injury as you age.
As you age you will get injured easier and take longer to recover from injury than you did when you were younger. With that in mind, go easy on your body when you exercise in middle age and beyond. If you can do low impact exercises that strengthen your body in the right way, you will be able to get into shape, stay in shape, keep exercising long term, and exercise long enough to really get many benefits from exercise.
If you can do the right exercises, you will strengthen up your body and stabilize your joints. This will reduce pain, increase activity, and allow you to keep moving and keep doing the activities that you want to do.
The converse is true as well. The more high impact, intense, harsh, and bad for you exercises that you do will cause your body to break down quicker. It will cause to be more injury prone. You will have a 73.5% chance of injuring yourself and having to take time off from exercise, work, and other activities to allow yourself to heal.
Here are a few ways to avoid injury while exercising.
Start out almost too easy. You won’t be used to the new motions and will get very sore from them to begin with.
Use light weights. If you are not a professional athlete, then there is no reason to train like one. You want to feel a burn and fatigue towards the end of doing a set of exercises. But don’t kill yourself. By lifting heavy weights, most of you will injure yourselves. There are some of you who will be able to lift heavy weights without injury, but lifting heavy weights will only make your joints break down faster. If you don’t have to lift heavy weights, then why do it?
Pain is your body’s self protective mechanism. Listen to it. If something hurts while doing a particular exercise, then don’t do it. It doesn’t matter if the person next to you is in worse shape than you and can still do the exercise. If it hurts you to do the exercise, then find an alternative. Everyone is set up differently. Maybe your leg is a little longer than someone else’s and that makes doing that particular exercise painful. Or maybe you have an old injury that causes you to not be able to do that one particular exercise. Don’t fight it. Just avoid it. There are many exercises out there. You will be able to find a substitute.
Here are some exercises that can cause issues and some alternatives to them.
Running is a great workout and gives you a lot of bang for your buck. But it is so high impact that you will only be able to do it for a short period of time. You have to be in shape to be able to run. If you aren’t in shape and try to run you will hurt yourself. Stop running before you have to because of an injury. There are many other forms of cardio-vascular exercise that are just as good, but much easier on your body. The easier it is on your body, the more consistently you will be able to do it over the years.
The elliptical machine is a great alternative to running. It is a similar motion, but without the impact. Other forms of low impact cardio-vascular exercise include: swimming, walking, biking, stationary bike, recumbent bike, rowing, row machine, stair master.
Bench Press/ Traditional Pushup
The bench press and the traditional push-up are very similar. They both work your chest and your triceps, and the shoulders a little bit, but they don’t work anything else. People that do a lot of bench pressing and traditional push-ups will end up over developing their chest muscles. These overdeveloped chest muscles will over power the rotator cuff muscles since the rotator cuff muscles aren’t getting any stronger. This creates a weak link in the kinetic chain that is your shoulder. This will create shoulder problems over time.
Many serious weight lifters who do bench press and traditional push-ups will balance their body out by doing other exercises that work their rotator or balancing muscles. But for most of us who don’t want to spend hours a day in a gym, this is not realistic. That is why I recommend doing chest exercises that include the rotator cuff.
I really like what I call the alternating pushup. Start in a traditional pushup pose: knees off the ground or on the ground, depending on your fitness level. Place one hand on the ground and one hand on a basketball or medicine ball or something else that is unstable. Do 5 pushups, the switch to the other hand. Adding in the element of instability will cause you to recruit your rotator cuff muscles to stabilize the motion. This will strengthen up your rotator cuff muscles and stabilize your shoulders and prevent shoulder issues in the future.
Hip Abduction/Adduction Machine
While this machine may seem like a great way to hit those hard to reach inside and out hip and leg muscles, it is too hard on the body. Over the years I have seen many people injure themselves from doing this exercise. Even doing this machine lightly I feel is too hard on your body. The adductor (groin) muscles and abductor muscles (TFL, IT Band) are small and get overworked very easily. On most people they are slightly, chronically, irritated. If you sit at a desk all day, then your abductors and adductors will be chronically tight. If you try to strengthen them up with the abductor/adductor machine, you will only further irritate them and possibly flare them up.
If you squat and do core strengthening exercises, you can work these muscles without causing injury.
The leg press machine is notorious for causing hip and low back injuries. Many people like it because it is easy to put up a lot of weight with the machine. It is common for people who do it frequently to be able to work up to 500 or even 1000 pounds on the machine. The problem is that it puts the low back and hips at an awkward position. The positioning puts your hips in flexion and then loads weight upon this flexion. Straining your muscles while in flexion is an easy way to create a low back or hip injury.
Try a wall squat or a squat with weight. This will work the same muscles as the leg press machine, while being much easier on your back and hips. Squatting will allow you to use your balancing muscles to keep you steady. This will improve your balance over time.
You won’t be able to use nearly as much weight while squatting as you can doing the leg press machine, but who cares! It is not a competition. It is not a race. You want to exercise to feel better. Using less weight will allow you to do the exercise longer and more consistently. It will put less stress on your joints.
Squatting is a much more functional exercise than the leg press. You will have a chance to squat down and pick something up in the real world. Chances are you won’t have an opportunity to lay on your back and push 1000 pounds with your legs, in the real world. At least I haven’t had that chance yet.
Exercise can either help you or harm you. It depends on how you workout and what exercises you do. If you are in pain, have a history of injury, haven’t exercises in months, are overweight or obese, then you have to start out easy and be consistent with exercise.
Consistency is key to getting any benefits from exercise. You can’t be consistent with exercise if you keep getting injured from the workout. Low impact, low intensity exercise is the way to avoid injury and stick with exercise.
Be smart about your workouts. Be smarter, don’t go harder. If you are not a professional athlete, then don’t train like one. It is the Pain Free Way.
Here is another article that I wrote about this subject: