There have been revolutionary changes in the fitness industry over the last two to three decades. Gyms have appeared at every street corner, there is a new group workout going on in every locality, parks have become hubs for locals getting together to exercise. There are more jobs for trainers, fitness managers, physiotherapists and an increasing awareness of the need of the hour.
The easy accessibility of a fitness facility for most people, particularly in the cities, has encouraged them to start exercising, or so I would like to believe!
Are the gyms keeping pace with advancement in science and training techniques? Are trainers qualified to make informed choices about the exercises they recommend for you? Are gyms offering the right kind of training or could these exercises end up harming you?
A cookie-cutter approach cannot be used while dispensing exercise or dietary advice. Each individual needs specific goals in mind and should train to that end, taking into consideration age, gender, lifestyle, fitness level and availability of time for fitness, medical history and a host of other variables. Even the goal setting has to be personalised.
Most people are not sure what their goals should be, leave alone how to get there. Sometimes “I want to run a marathon” may be a lofty goal. However, it has been established that if the person has very poor core and/or leg strength, to reach that goal she should first strengthen those parts of the body before starting to train to run.
It’s your body; understand exactly which muscle you are working, how to execute the exercise perfectly, and how you could possibly do it wrong.
Training: There are hundreds of exercises that are demonstrable, which can achieve the same result. Some are better than the others. Some are safer than the others. Do you need to execute all of them? Which ones are safe? Which ones are required? Which ones are relevant? How does one make that choice? Ideally, a trainer should be able to do that. Not all of them can however. Sometimes I find clients are given unnecessary, even damaging, exercises in the hope of producing quicker results.
The repercussions of an incorrect and inappropriate exercise do not become evident immediately. It may be years before your knees show wear and tear after an incorrect squatting or running technique. This is not to say one has to avoid performing these exercises altogether. What it means is that before and while executing these potentially injury-causing moves, watchful training and correction are required from your trainer.
Running, for instance, is known to cause injury to the knees in the long term. It is essential for a runner therefore to participate regularly in a strength training routine to specifically strengthen the muscles of the thighs and the glutes (the buttock muscles) in order to protect the knees and withstand the burden of the impact while running.
The deadlift, for instance, is a wonderful exercise that is done to increase the strength of the hamstrings (muscles at the back of the thighs) and glutes. While performing the deadlift, it’s important to note several small guideline principles like keeping the back flat, spine aligned, head lifted, weight of the body on the heel, dumbbell or barbell to be held as close to the body as possible, and so on. When done incorrectly, the exercise has a potential to cause injury to the back, the very muscles you are trying to protect and build. You may then ask, why perform such an exercise at all? The benefits far outweigh the possibility of injury when done correctly. The deadlift addresses the part of the body that is least addressed, especially as we grow older… that is the posterior chain or the back of the body.
Running can cause injury to the knees in the long term. So a runner should participate regularly in strength training to strengthen the thigh muscles and protect the knees.
Many of the new modes of exercise like crossfit, boot camp and so on, can lead to injury due to the very nature in which they are performed, unless monitored and taught carefully. I would still advise that before participating in any such exercise, build a strong foundation with a simple, basic exercise first. Your body then becomes capable of performing complicated moves that involve several muscles (called compound exercises) without injury.
If you are new to weight training, ensure you are taught all the basic exercises properly to build a strong foundation before moving on to the more advanced ones. Request assistance whenever required. If something does not feel right, stop. In your anxiety to see quick results, don’t be lured into gimmicks and unhealthy strategies.
Ask questions: It’s your body; you need to understand exactly which muscle you are working. Understand how to execute the exercise perfectly, and more importantly, how you could possibly do it wrong.
Choose the right trainer and gym: There are several to choose from and most likely you will choose one that is close to your home or workplace for logistical convenience. A gym is really just a combination of machines and iron bars. If you are already familiar with exercises and methods of training, a clean space with the right ambience is all you need. If you are a beginner, or are not familiar with some exercises, or need the motivation to keep progressing, then the trainer becomes integral. The attitude of the trainer is as important as his knowledge of exercise techniques. Does she/he push too hard, does she know how to correct and modify the exercise to suit your body, is she patient while being motivational?
Exercise is supposed to make you healthier not injury-prone. Keeping that in mind it’s never a good idea to try to get the quickest results at the shortest time, as that itself can lead to injury. A careful, slow and steady approach, that requires a great deal of mindfulness and attention to form, will ensure that while you are building a better body, you remain injury free.
The author, an Obstetrician and Gynaecologist, is a Fitness & Lifestyle Consultant, and has published two books: Get Size Wise; Gain to Lose. www.drsheelanambiar.com