The sun is shining and if you’re reading this in 2020 then many of us have way more time on our hands than usual (lockdowns, reduced workload, Covid-strange times). Getting out and doing more exercise is evidently a thing so is it worth thinking about how to do successful exercising? And what’s wrong with just exercising anyway?
Upping your exercise and activity and seeing the noticeable improvements that come from doing the hard graft can be hugely rewarding.
However, within the exercise-upping process there are trips, traps and pitfalls. These can be all too easy to tumble at or into without a little know-how and patience. Frustratingly, injury and/or lethargy can result.
I’m a Physiotherapist, well-versed in exercise-related issues and injuries. Professionally I know that there is a spectrum on which exercise lovers & addicts sit at one end and exercise haters & avoiders at the other and that your position on this spectrum can change. Alongside my profession I have a few personal characteristics that mark me out as someone who loves to and needs to exercise. There is however no one size fits all, including in exercise; we are all different. Weaving through both profession and character, I have tried, tested, ignored, regretted ignoring my knowledge and advice, learnt from these mistakes and regret and – for now at least! – am embracing successful exercising. Professionally and personally, I know that there are so many benefits to be had from exercise – any exercise – and I will continue to champion it.
If you don’t get this satisfaction, the chances of you sticking with your efforts are close to non-existent. Satisfaction can come from an infinite number of sources but it does have to be there.
My son and I cycled from the valley bottom to a moor-top trigpoint last week, an experience involving a hefty ascent that could easily have been an ordeal for a child with an extreme aversion to cycling uphill. The carrot? The promise of a hunt for a well-buttered malt-loaf which I’d hidden near the summit earlier that day. He was in the sunniest of spirits all the way up, loved the ‘hunt’ at the top, we ate the whole loaf in the sunshine and the ride down was a lot of fun.
The benefits of exercise can be conscious as well as unconscious. A malt-loaf may not float every boat but we all have our carrots, our ways in and our reasons to keep going back to something. Think about what you’ve enjoyed in the past, what you’d like to achieve in the future and what your aims and needs are now. A particular sport as a child? Need to scratch a big mountain itch but currently struggling with local hills? Need social time or to recharge alone? Knees no longer up for high impact but happy with something a bit gentler? Fresh air vs dry indoors?
Whatever you do, aim for some of that real, deep-down satisfaction and you might just find that you’re enjoying yourself…
X = time spent, mileage done, intensity of effort and/or frequency of exercise.
For example, the running rule is increase distance or time by no more than 10% per week. The ‘Couch to 5k’, a brilliant intro to running, starts you off with no more than 8 minutes actual running per session and running no more than 3 times a week. I’ve discussed before how too much too soon can lead to injury. If you go to the gym for the first time in years and lift the heaviest weights that you can you’ll be sore for a week at best and potentially injured at worse.
START SMALL, INCREASE GRADUALLY and LISTEN TO YOUR BODY – a little muscle soreness is probably OK, anything prolonged or more uncomfortable is a warning to not be an ostrich. For successful exercising; pay attention and ease off.
Three main downtime reasons spring to my mind:
a) PLANNED: You have anything from a vague to a precise training plan and know, or your plan dictates, that you need to ease off on a X to ensure that you don’t overdo things. Or you know that something – work, a holiday, kids, commitments – is going to prevent you from following your normal exercise pattern.
b) UNPLANNED & MENTALLY INFLICTED: Something inside just says no. Very few of us manage to stick rigidly to an exercise plan, exercise or maybe just stick to any one thing full-stop. Our brains are complicated machines and any one of a billion things can cause us to slip or jump off the treadmill. Be aware that it can happen, be kind to yourself when it does and keep an eye out for the spark that got you going before and which can get you going again…
c) UNPLANNED & PHYSICALLY INFLICTED: Injured, due to an accident or just by over-cooking it (see point two above). If you exercise I can almost guarantee that you will get injured. At any point in time 60% of runners are carrying an injury. Rest, followed by a gradual return, often works wonders. If the problem isn’t shifting then this Physiotherapist suggests seeking professional advice.
Variety is not only the spice of life when it comes to exercise and activity, it is also the carrot, the ticket to improvement and the means to keep active when point three above kicks in.
For example: a break from the gym can usher in an opportunity to do more of a different sport, which in turn can help gym niggles settle, provide new interest and experiences, work your body and muscles in a different and beneficial way and eventually may lead to renewed eagerness for gym-based exercise.
And mixing up your activity on a regular basis can help you improve in EVERY activity that you do. By way of an example, I run. My running came on leaps and bounds when I started doing some strength training alongside it. Frankly, I don’t get much satisfaction from the discomfort of doing squats but I do gain huge satisfaction from being able to run further, faster, better and with reduced risk of picking up injuries.
Two previous posts here and here on mixing up your activities offer more ideas. And if you fancy trying some Pilates – targeted strength and flexibility work for all – then *plug alert* the Pilates class that I run is now streaming online twice a week. Anyone of any ability is welcome to join, it’d be lovely to see you 🙂
…Because being strong(er) is key! This point sits within mixing up your exercise. Being stronger, even just a tiny bit, can help lingering injuries and niggles to fade away.
A friend recently remarked that since starting ‘PE with Joe‘ – a lockdown-prompted Youtube PE session of fast and fun strength and conditioning exercise – her shoulder problem had ‘gone away’. Being stronger can make everyday movements more comfortable and easier: getting your leg over a stile, lifting pots around the garden, the back-ache that can result from the ‘shopping-centre-amble’ and more. Being stronger can make you better at any exercise you already do, it will improve your balance, help manage fatigue and can even help you to live more happily for longer.
Planks, squats and pull-ups are great. Some of you may know what I mean by these, some may be confused. There are a few tips on a couple of them here but they’ll be done more justice if I cover them in detail in another post. Until then, get strengthening!