This is a follow-up to the earlier post on “safety versus fear – beginning a Functional Fitness workout program.” In that post, I wrote about balancing out the necessity for being safe against the fear of doing something new and difficult.
Now it is time to get to the reality of things for many of us. I have had the opportunity to “orient” dozens of folks over the years to our Functional Fitness program. I have introduced runners, weight lifters, couch potatoes, and the injured. During this process, I have noticed some common patterns that I would like to address here.
I have written before about safety and anybody who works out with me knows that I am always initially concerned about knees, backs, shoulders, and wrists. These joints are the ones that are affected easily for people not used to our “interesting” exercises.
Backs – let’s start with the most important areas on your body. The back is part of your core and a strong back will provide you with a wonderful quality of life. The back is also something that is sore for most people. This is largely due to our sedentary lifestyle, heel raises in our shoes, and pore posture in general. Also, the back is something you can easily injure when you start throwing around weight, or even doing bodyweight exercises poorly.
A good rule of thumb for the back is to keep it straight. Keep you shoulders back and down like you are a skeleton hanging in biology class. Lifting your head up while squatting or leaning forward is a good way to help keep your back in line. Rounded shoulders = rounded back = lower back working extra hard to keep straight = soreness and/or injury. Only when you have a strong back can you do some animal walks like the Bear Walk without causing pain or discomfort. So at first, avoid any movement/exercise that allows you to round your shoulders/back.
An excellent way to monitor this is with a mirror while you do exercises/movements. If you work out with others, everybody should be paying attention to each other’s backs. You know…you have to have your partner’s back!
Conversely, the back is something that needs to be strengthened. If you do not have a pulled muscle, you should be concentrating on making your back stronger. Deadlifts are one of the best ways to strengthen a back. You use tons of other muscles with your back, but your back learns how to work well with the rest of your body and gets stronger. But you HAVE TO use perfect form here and don’t go crazy on weight, or you can damage your back. Go light, and go right. Ok, I just made that up and it sounded way too cheesy, so please don’t repeat it 🙂
Another way to help strengthen a lower back carefully is to do an Air Squat and then extend your hands out in front of you in the lower position. Add weight in your hands when you are able to. That will get your lower back working with the rest of you body. Also, getting a stronger core in general will help protect your back and build strength in it. That is why a Functional Fitness program is core centered.
Knees – Knees…oh how they hurt the older we get. I actually don’t have great knees, and unfortunately I don’t know how to “strengthen” a knee. What I do know, is how to protect a knee. The simplest way is to always keep your knees behind your toes. For example, if you do an Air Squat, make sure to stick your butt out behind you and do not let your knees stick out past an imaginary line at your toes. This goes for Burpees, Lunges, etc.
Remember…if an exercise makes your knees hurt (poorly done Pistols will be one) then replace it with something else. Don’t work past the pain. Listen to your body.
Shoulders – These guys are complicated. There are many ways to injure a shoulder. We work shoulders often in our workouts by the nature of what we do. Just pay close attention to any discomfort, especially if you are swinging around a Macebell or Clubbell. The beauty of a shoulder injury, however, is I have yet to find somebody who (usually with the guidance of a physical therapist) could not do our workouts just by changing up a few exercises. Usually a shoulder injury only affects 1 or 2 motions, but allows for some others.
Wrists – This one is an issue for some people. I have heard physical therapists who hate Push-ups in general due to the stress it puts on wrists. I can’t argue with that. It doesn’t horribly affect a lot of us, but it is something I warn people about and suggest they pay close attention to this, especially in the beginning.
There are two ways to deal with your wrists. One is to simply cut back on the number of Push-ups or other exercises that have your wrists bent like that. If you can tolerate the lower reps, you just might be able to increase the number as your muscles get stronger. For some, however, the wrists are already too damaged. Fear not, there is help. There are Push-up handles you can buy, or just simply hold onto small dumbbells in each hand. That way you can keep your wrist locked in the relaxed position while you hold your body up and so there won’t be that stress on your wrists. This works pretty well.
No matter what, you need to learn good form to avoid injury. But do not avoid working your total body. It is amazing how when you muscles work with other muscles and work with neural connections, how strong you can be without being any large in size. Our bodies were meant to be strong (not big in certain areas such as bi-ceps). Always think total body and concentrate on your core. Not only will you enjoy the increased strength, but you will enjoy playing with your kids without pulling a muscle! 🙂
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The bonus about working out when you have bad joints is that when you strengthen the muscles that operate around a bad joint, you actually stabilize the joint. I experienced that with my knee. Before I started working out, I wore a knee brace constantly at work. I don’t have to any more now.
I did find out that wrapping my knees at the beginning of doing higher intensity training helped me avoid the sore knee problems that I used to develop. I wrote a post about it here:
Now I only worry about wrapping my knees and elbow if I know I’m going to be doing some high repetitions on squats or push-ups, but I pretty sure its all placebo effect now.
Excellent post about wrapping. That fits in perfect with the topic.
The weakest body part – the mind. If you can over come weakness in your mind, you can do anything. Sounds cheesy – but it’s the absolute truth.
I just posted a new blog entry about lessons I learned from doing the Insanity program, and at least two (if not all five) of the things I learned were mental in nature. The hardest thing for many of us (me included) is the believing that you can get started and accomplish goals.
So in short, I agree with you completely.
Quick follow-up: I can reasonably be assured that the wrapping is only placebo now for me. I’ve done my last three workouts without anything wrapped and everything is going fine. So the wrapping did its job until everything else was strong around the weak joint.