Archive for March, 2009

Working out while injured? Yes, you can!

March 30, 2009

Now that spring is in the air, it’s likely that more of us will be emerging from our hibernation caves and taking to local parks, beaches and trails for more activity. It’s also the time of year where even gym rats and exercise enthusiasts start stepping up their activity levels as well.

As a fitness professional and expert, this is great news and after all, this is what we tout every day, “get off the couch, get active, exercise!!”

But there is a down side. Injuries. Sad but true, it can happen to anyone from novice to pro athlete, especially when trying to take the game to next level and raise the bar.

If you suddenly succumb to an injury, some negative things start to happen. If you’re a newbie, an acute (sudden) injury may make you want to pack it in. Sure, it’s safer on the couch than in that kick boxing class if you sprained an ankle or pulled something in your shoulder. If you’re already a conditioned athlete, fitness fanatic or on your way to becoming one, an injury can even cause some mild depression. It’s true what they say, exercise is addictive and when you miss your fix, even for just a couple of days, you start to feel down, irritable and anxious.

Before I bum you out any more, there is a beacon of light. You can take this promise to the bank because I stand behind this completely: an injury can be a blessing in disguise. I ought to know! I’ve had 2 spine surgeries from degenerative discs and bone spurs in my neck plus a myriad of sprained ankles and bouts of tendonitis due to my inherited skeletal structure. Not to mention, all sorts of nasty rips and tears from over use and “accidents”. I’m not sure if I can blame that part completely on genetics. Unless of course I inherited my stubborn will and OCD….hmmmm.

Anyway, the upside is an injury – if you don’t let it get the best of you – will force you to Cross Train! If you got your injury doing the activity you do most (anything from running, to playing basketball, volleyball or even yoga), then this is the time for you to break out of the box and try new forms of exercise or learn a new sport. For example, when my doctors told me bike riding and running aren’t good ideas for me anymore because of my neck and disc problems, I joined an Outrigger team, then learned how to row crew and joined a rowing club. I also got certified to teach Pilates as another alternative to traditional gym workouts. Believe it or not, it was after my spine injuries that I got into the best shape of my life!

I was just telling a friend with a calf injury that he can do plenty of cycling, upper body weight training circuits, Pilates and the good old elliptical machine at his gym while he’s healing. And, what about swimming? Most people with a leg or foot injury can usually swim to their hearts content (once the swelling has subsided and the affected area is on the mend).

Cross training simply means varying your workout routine so you don’t always perform the same movements or condition the same area of your body day in and day out. Performing different activities requires you to use your muscles in different ways. For example, if you play a lot of “start and stop” sports like basketball, baseball, volleyball, etc., try doing a steady cardiovascular workout like a Spinning class, or jogging, elliptical machine for 45 minutes to an hour with no break (stay at a moderate to moderately high intensity for most of it) a few times a week. If you already do a lot of cardio machines at the gym or run every day, try doing a couple of Boot camps and Pilates classes each week. You’ll be surprised at how sore and winded you get when you start doing something out of the norm! I don’t care how much time you spend biking, talk to me after you take a Vinyasa Flow yoga class or even a Salsa dancing class.

Cross training is so good for you because varies the areas of your body that you place stress on when you do your usual workout or play your specific sport. After a while of doing the same movements over and over, your body becomes extremely efficient… at those particular movements. But it limits your overall fitness. Eventually you may stop seeing any improvement (see my blog post on “fitness plateaus”). The beauty of cross training is that it will develop other areas of your body that you may have been neglecting. And best of all, cross training is known to reduce risk of injury from repetitive strain or overuse! Hallelujah!
What’s that you’re saying? You already cross train enough? Maybe you lift weights once or twice a week, do stair stepping or treadmills and alternate that with your Spinning classes…. Well, that is definitely a start, but don’t pat yourself on the back just yet. Kick it up a notch with boot camps or circuits workouts. And if you have access to rowing classes or even real rowing, watch and see what happens to your legs and upper body.

There’s no truer saying when it comes to exercising while you have an injury than, “where there’s a will, there’s a way.” There is always an alternative. Or maybe you haven’t seen the documentary film “Murderball.” If you’re injured and feeling sorry for yourself, I highly recommend renting it!

Here’s a few of the many reasons you should cross train:
• It reduces exercise boredom
• It gives you a higher level overall fitness
• It conditions more areas of your body
• It improves a variety of skills such as agility and balance
• It reduces your risk of injury
• It allows you to rest some muscles while others work.
• And, here’s the clincher: It enables you to continue to train while injured….. ding, ding, ding!!

And now for my final two tips of the day:

1 – If you’re injured, make sure you give yourself time to heal. Many athletes try to come back from an injury too quickly… I’m guilty too. If you do, you risk developing a secondary injury trying to make up for lost time or by compensating for the injured area by overusing other muscles.
2 – Beware of using poor technique. Something I see too much of is people learning a new sport or exercise without proper instruction or coaching. This will almost certainly lead to an injury or at least a bunch of undue discomfort and pain. Most people need some professional coaching or instruction when they start doing something new. It’s best to learn the proper techniques and develop good form right from the start. An instructor can help you modify exercises to fit your unique needs.


Seasonal Training / Preventing Fitness Plateaus

March 9, 2009

Those of you who have been taking my Spinning classes for a while (especially those of you who have been with me for the 15+ years I’ve been teaching) know that the seasonal training program we’re on works!

If you have not taken my class or are not familiar with the terms “seasonal” or “periodized” training, then let me back up.  I am a huge proponent for what my old boxing coach called “shuffling the deck” or surprising your body.  You’ve probably heard that doing the same routine day in and day out, year after year is a good way to maintain the status quo, but not a good way to improve your fitness level.  For those of you who have a set routine you follow, (i.e. – 3 mile jog 5 times a week, followed by 100 crunches and 25 push ups), you should be commended for you discipline!  However, you are not doing your body a favor if you have been doing the same routine for several years.   The upside of course is that it gets nice and easy to do once you’ve been at it for a while, making sticking to your workout a habit – and that’s good!  But the down side is after a while you may actually lose fitness.  As crazy as that sounds, it’s true!  Just like your body builds tolerance to drugs, like antibiotics, your body also builds total tolerance to a workout routine.  When that happens, you will stop seeing results, meaning you have plateaued.  If you think of what a plateau looks like, you know at the end of it, there’s only one way to go…. down.   That is what happens to your fitness level.  It actually starts to decrease! 

If you have a trainer, your trainer should be varying your workout.  If you don’t, then it’s time for you to start spicing things up.  You can find a new toy – try getting into a cool new exercise machine at the gym.  Personally I’ve got a jones for the new elliptical machine at Sports Club/LA – the Precor 100i – because it requires more coordination than other elliptical trainers with arms.  On the 100i, (I’m not being paid for this by the way!),  you can simulate an easy jog or run against resistance going full throttle!   Anyway, back to the point – start by varying your intensity levels if you are especially partial to activities like walking, jogging, swimming or cycling.   This means don’t stay at the same intensity level for you whole workout.

Here’s an example of how to add interval training to your Cardio routine:  Mons./Weds./Fris. do your regular routine. On Tues. and / or Sats. perform intervals where you walk, jog, swim or cycle at a comfortable intensity for 5 minutes, then go hard for 1 – 2 minutes (you should feel some muscle burn and get a bit winded).  Keep doing this cycle for whatever amount of time you typically exercise (the 5 min. “off” and 1 – 2  min. “on” format can be varied to whatever feels like a good challenge for you, but not so hard that you feel defeated when it’s done).   Then on Thurs. go extra easy for a longer amount of time than your typical session.  

That is just one example of a standard cardio interval training program.  If you do a resistance training routine, then you can shake off the dust by learning new exercises that are more dynamic (incorporating more muscles groups at once doing  or more complex movements).   It can also be as simple as moving up in weights, adding more reps, “super setting” a few of the exercises into one set or switching the order of the exercises.  For example, if you typically do “Military Presses” for shoulders, then “Skull Crushers” for triceps , reverse the order and you will see that suddenly you can use heavier weights or do more reps for your triceps and that the shoulder presses will now feel harder!

If you have trained with me before, or take my Boot Camp class, then you know we never do the same routine twice.  We may do the same exercise or super set a few weeks in a row, but not in the same order.  It’s not just because I’m a little ADD!   Hey, when it comes to designing work outs, having a little ADD can be a benefit.

If you take my Spinning classes, you may be aware that I do “Seasonal” training.  Meaning, every 9 weeks we change our overall focus.  One season is about building strength and the endurance to climb hills at a slow pace for a long time.  Another season is focused on maintaining and sustaining a certain speed for longer and longer periods of time.  Of course we also do a pure “interval” season, and that’s coming up fast…. we start the last Sunday of March!!  It all comes together in the summer for “racing” season.  That’s when we really shuffle the deck!  Each class is a surprise to keep your body guessing.  Why do I do this seasonal training with Spinning in particular?  Because for those of us who have been doing it for years and years, it prevents us from reaching the dreaded plateau!

As a member of the American Council on Exercise and a certified ACE instructor and trainer, you can read more about “Periodized Training” in an article from their Fit Facts archives by following this link (provided by permission):

Enjoy it…. and fit will happen!