4:30 AM. Just like yesterday, you’re quietly heading down, getting in small stretches here and there to prepare your body for your daily jog. But, something feels off. It's that right knee . . . is it acting up again???
Undeterred, you bear forward and head out for your morning jog. Minutes into your warm-up, though, you feel that knee (or shoulder . . . or ankle . . . or low back . . .), and it's getting worse.
This is something we all experience from time to time. Unexpected pain or stiffness that seems just mildly annoying enough to bother us and often prohibit us from enjoying our favourite activities.
The key question is: how do you overcome pain, stiffness and injury without giving up the activities and exercise that you so enjoy???
The Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines recommend a minimum of two days a week dedicated to strength training for adults 18-65+ in addition to aerobic and cardiovascular exercise. This is to help improve bone and muscle strength and integrity so that during our day-to-day life we’re prepared to lift the odd chair or just pick up our kids without hurting our backs.
Regular strength and resistance training, coupled with a healthy diet, can contribute to stronger muscles, joint flexibility, and improved bone integrity. Depending on your goals, your choice of exercises will vary. For those of us who simply want to continue enjoying our favourite sports and activities without injury, here are four areas to consider:
Develop functional strength & mobility
Functional strength deals with developing a better and fuller range of motion in your load joints (that’s your shoulders, hips, knees, and ankles) without experiencing pain, stiffness, or restriction.
Your individual process towards functional strength will depend on your tolerate movements like squatting and overhead reaching. To borrow from a cliche: not all roads lead to Rome. It is key that you avoid the "just do it" mentality when it comes to functional obtaining functional strength.
Build strength in your joints
To help your body maintain itself, you need to pay special attention to how your joints behave during their regular range of motion. Training joints to withstand loads at their end-range is equally important to help the maintain the health of ligaments and other tissues that establish normal joint function (other than muscle, of course).
Engaging in this type of training, it is important to establish the boundaries for your joints that are beyond strength. Scar tissue, bone spurs and other body impediments outside of the musculoskeletal system may limit joint motion in an inalterable way. "Flexibility", therefore, is a highly individualized process.
Don’t neglect muscle groups
Strength training is often done based on preference, routine or the dictates of a formulaic program. To avoid pain, stiffness and injury, practice a well-rounded strength training process that pays attention both to what you enjoy and to the deficits in your system that might limit your enjoyment.
Also, small muscles have BIG responsibilities. Avoidance of pain, stiffness and injuries means making sure your whole muscle system is performing to the levels required by your body. Exercises that look "small" or "isolated" can often have a tremendous, positive impact on your health.
Don’t Skip Leg Day
Strong legs will literally take you places. In addition to being one of the most overlooked major muscle groups, leg days often look the same for most people: Back Squats, Bulgarian Squats, Lunges, and Deadlifts.
These exercises have a great deal of nuance in their technique and still don’t cover all the musculature for a robust lower-body workout. To execute the perfect squat on each rep your head, spine, shoulders, feet, quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings, and core all need to play their part in maintaining your posture while moving a weight straight upward with perfect form. This introduces an inherent amount of risk if you haven’t practiced this motion to perfection. Choose exercises that don’t cause pain or introduce undue risks due to imperfect form or unfamiliar movements when training legs.
While gaining the skill to perform these exercises might be a goal for you, it would be wise to also accrue leg strength in less complex scenarios in tandem with that skill.
Adding strength and resistance training to your weekly exercise targets can be overwhelming when you try to assimilate a plethora of online resources to figure out exactly how you’re going to split your workouts. Once you have identified your workouts, however, it is important to not see those returns diminish or plateau and lose motivation.
Doing the same exercises day after day is not just boring for our minds, it’s actually boring for our bodies. Our bodies have a way of getting used to the load and movements and once it becomes efficient at managing them, the returns start to plateau. Adding new movements to target the same muscles helps develop the integrity of the muscle for use in a huge variety of scenarios. Consult a trusted Exercise Professional on how you can add variety to your strength training routine.