exercise1.    Adjust your program daily based on your perceived exertion.

Some days you have it and some you just don’t. Even if you are working at the same speed or resistance you’ve done with ease, variables such as the time of day, your level of fatigue, what you’ve had to eat, when you last ate, whether you are adequately hydrated and your general health, can impact your ability to exercise.  Fine-tune exercise accordingly so that while your program remains challenging, you avoid overdoing it.  Set yourself up for success by establishing a routine that works for you and that includes proper nutrition, adequate rest and sufficient water.


2.    When lifting weights or doing other forms of strength training, execute each exercise with precise form.

imagesThis ensures that the targeted muscles actually benefit. Though core muscles and others may assist with balance, providing a stable base from which to work, pristine form helps avoid substituting or compensating with additional muscles.  This not only enables safer postures and stresses, it helps you achieve the desired results.

Gains aren’t only about upping the ante, but about how you isolate the targeted muscles. For instance, if you must arch your back to do bicep curls or hike your shoulders to do various forms of arm lifts, then you are probably lifting too much weight.  If your knees go beyond your toes when doing a squat, scale back to an easier exercise.  Repetitive stresses when overdoing it will likely cause your fitness program to veer off into injury and keep you out of action.

scaption copy3.    Establish a foundation before advancing your program.

For instance, muscles that stabilize your scapulae (shoulder blades) must exhibit a baseline level of strength before you include lifting above the horizontal (the level of your shoulders).  These muscles include the middle and lower trapezii, the rhomboids and the serratus.

Likewise, another example would be having sufficient quadriceps strength to perform wall squats (with a ball) before attempting standard squats and then step-downs or lunges. Skipping steps in a progression may have unintended consequences.

On a related note, core strength and good balance are important components of fitness and are necessary to perform most exercises properly. Addressing them is crucial to establishing and maintaining the foundation upon which you build.

4.    Shoot for slower, safer exercise progressions.

images-4When accelerating your program, increase the difficulty of one variable at a time. Measure your response and then continue to adjust and advance in subsequent workouts.

For instance, with cardio, avoid drastically increasing variables such as pace, distance, incline and resistance in combination.  Likewise with weight lifting – avoid increases to your resistance, reps and sets simultaneously. If you take on too much change at once, you may not realize you’ve done so until it is too late and an overuse injury results.

images-25.    Explore reputable resources to guide you as to how to execute exercises properly.

Keep in mind that the guy working out next to you, or even a trainer in your gym may not be the ideal advisor. Talking a good game and looking the part are no substitute for knowing (and effectively implementing) the science that sets the foundation. Publications and online resources written or compiled by recognized sports and orthopedic physical therapists might be a great place to start.



6.    Avoid using momentum when strength training.

images-5Working quickly through an arc of motion when lifting and lowering weights lessens the challenge to your muscles. This diminishes the benefit of the exercises. Though you’ll get through your program faster, it isn’t worth the diluted return on your investment of time.

Particular attention to the slow release or lowering of weights has an added benefit. These are eccentric contractions, when a muscle exerts a force as it lengthens. Muscles have an increased capacity to sustain tension when working eccentrically and this type of strength training has a significant benefit to function and injury prevention.

Faster speeds factor in primarily if training with specificity for a high-speed activity (i.e. Using resistive bands to replicate the pitching motion or a weighted or tethered club or racquet for golf or tennis strokes).  Otherwise, keep it slow and steady.

7.    There are exercises that live on and deserve to die.

To review previous columns illustrating some of the prime offenders, take a look here for upper body exercises in futility and herehere and here for lower body exercises that made the list. Steer clear.

images-68.    Mix it up!

There’s more than one way to get it done. In fact, surprising your body with different approaches to strengthening will jump start your improvement and prevent plateaus if you are trying to make steady gains.

Rather than always isolating individual muscles when exercising, consider incorporating functional patterns that better simulate the way our muscles naturally work together in movement. Most body weight exercises, yoga poses and disciplines such as Tai Chi incorporate this philosophy. Exercises that work in diagonal pattens (cross-planar motions) also work multiple muscle groups. Focusing on traditional equipment for strengthening is not the way to go.

Likewise, cross-training when doing cardio will lessen the likelihood of overuse injury. The caveat? Point number 9.

9.    Listen to your body!

images-6The menu of exercises is vast, and every option is not universally appropriate.  Your particular structure, injury history, age, current level of muscle strength and flexibility and your joint ranges of motion all are factors that determine the ideal exercises for you. If you have any musculoskeletal complaints, avoid exercises that trigger pain, whether it occurs while exercising or in the hours/days following.

Taking an exercise class? Proceed with caution and at your own pace. Avoid competing with your classmates or going all out to impress the instructor. Most exercises can be modified to suit your needs or the instructor can find appropriate substitutes. Approach the instructor before the class if you know that you will have to take it slower so that the pressure is off.

See an orthopedist to assess any complaints of pain you may have.  Avoid working through your symptoms to prevent conditions from worsening or becoming chronic.

images-410. Take a break!

Muscles need a day off from strength training to recover from the assault. It is this recovery that allows the healing of the muscle fibers to occur, leading to the benefits and minimizing risk of injury.

For cardio training, at least consider one day of rest each week to allow your body to recoup. If you are shooting for exercise nearly every day, cross-training will enable you to utilize muscles in different ways and minimize impact to your joints, both of which will lessen the likelihood of overuse issues.

 Follow Abby on Twitter @abcsims

About the author

Abby serves as the Injury Expert for CBS New York where, since 2010, her Injury Breakdown Blog examines injuries in professional sports. She also blogs on health & fitness as well as sports injuries for Huffington Post, and Recovery Physical Therapy.com, where her blog earned a top ten mention for physical therapy blogs in 2012 @ WorldWideLearn.com. In a ranking of the Top 30 Healthcare Blogs for 2012, Top Masters in Healthcare also rated Abby’s blog in the top three in Physical Therapy! Abby is the founder of Fit-Screen and she welcomes your comments and questions!