I hadn’t gone for a run in nearly 18 months, the amount of time it took to get through a challenging pregnancy and survive most of the first year of parenting twins. Between the drastic changes in my body and the extreme sleep deprivation that comes with early parenthood, I just hadn’t wanted to run for the first time in my adult life. But when spring weather arrived early in North Carolina this February, I felt the familiar itch to lace up my shoes and go outside.
So I did. I counted my first day back to jogging as a success when I managed to jog half a mile without stopping. The warmer temperatures and the smell of early spring mornings were seductive, and by day 3, I ran 3 miles straight – just like I used to! I was feeling great until my knees started to ache that evening, and I could barely walk down the stairs the next day. Humbled, I realized that I’d need to ease back into my old running routine just a bit more gradually to avoid injury.
If you want to ease back into exercise after a long absence or start a new movement routine for the first time, here are a few tips for getting into shape without getting injured:
Your body will tell you if you’re taking it too fast! Pay attention to any physical sensations that might be cues to slow things down a bit: joint aches, unusual fatigue, or extreme muscle soreness can all indicate that you might be pushing too hard. Respond accordingly by taking rest days when your body needs them.
Your mind (and the weather!) might be encouraging you to go all out on your first day back at the gym or on the trail, but your body may need a bit more time. Increase activity gradually to give your musculoskeletal and cardiovascular systems time to adjust to new demands. Warm up with gentle, relaxed movement at each movement session instead of diving straight into intense activity. Listen to your body, and don’t hesitate to reach out to a professional athletic trainer or coach for guidance on how to gradually build up to your fitness goals.
Even better than rest days forced by injury or pain are rest days that you build intentionally into your movement routine. Try to take at least 1-2 rest days a week , and make sure you’re getting plenty of sleep: rest is a critical component to muscle repair as you’re working to increase your strength and stamina. Another way to build rest into your movement routine is to vary your activity so that you’re not working the same muscle groups too many days in a row: try a routine where you alternate days of cardiovascular work (e.g., jogging or aerobics), strength-training (e.g., weight lifting or barre class), and stretching (e.g., gentle yoga).
Many injuries arise from exercising with less-than-ideal form. These injuries can be easily prevented by learning proper body alignment for the kinds of exercise you love to do. If you’re a newbie to yoga, go to a few studio or private yoga classes with an experienced teacher before embarking on a yoga marathon at home. If you’re easing into running, try a session or two with a running coach, and have the coach check your form. Some running shoe stores have staff who can watch you run and make sure you’re wearing proper footwear for your individual gait.
Think of props and modifications as injury prevention tools: if you’re in a yoga class, don’t be afraid to use a block to help you balance or reach your toes in a tricky pose. If you need running shoes with extra arch support or special orthotics, consider them a worthy investment in your well-being. And if you’re dealing with a specific injury or physical condition (e.g., arthritis, cancer, or pregnancy and the postpartum period), an experienced athletic trainer or coach can help you modify your movements in a way that will keep you moving without injury for a long time to come.
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