Fantastic goals and ways not to get injured achieving them
Tell me if this sounds familiar: You pick up a new hobby. You become obsessed with it and do it every day. Then, after about a month, you burn out.
The burnout is generally caused by either an unsustainable pace or a loss of motivation, and in the fitness world I’d say it is a 50/50 split. With January 1st around the corner, we’re mere weeks away from people setting some unrealistic goals. As an online strength coach I’ve heard them all, but two of the most common are:
“I want to lift weights five days a week.”
“I want to run every day.”
These are awesome goals that are totally in the cards for trained athletes or gym rats. Unfortunately, couch potatoes trying to turn over a new leaf don’t fall into either of those categories.
Even when a consistent gym-goer asks me to write them a program, one of my first questions is always, “How many days would your ideal self lift weights?” Then I subtract one day from their answer and write a program they could realistically accomplish.
But anything worth doing is worth overdoing, right?
That is my usual train of thought, but unfortunately I’ve learned the hard way that there is a better way. For about six months in 2015, I was doing Muay Thai twice a day, four days a week. Because I’m a strength coach, I keep odd hours, which meant I could make it to both the noon advanced class and the 7 p.m. fundamentals class. I really wished the classes were in the opposite time slots. Things started going south around the fifth week of two-a-days, though. I had purple knuckles and couldn’t punch things anymore. Turns out I was making my fists too tightly and holding them clenched even when I wasn’t punching. It took two weeks for me to be able to throw a firm punch with my right hand again.
Luckily Muay Thai is known as “the art of eight limbs,” so there were still plenty of things to work on. With most sports, people don’t get that lucky. A complete novice starting a bodybuilding split for weightlifting five days a week will likely suffer an injury by the end of the first month.
For aspiring weightlifters, the solution is simple. Start with three days a week for a month or two, working on form for the major lifts. Then, progress to a more complex program from there. (Or don’t—that is still a fine program for the rest of your life.)
Running is a little different than weightlifting in this regard, and novices and experts fall into the same trap equally. When someone decides to start running, they tend to do it as their one athletic activity before resting, which is a great way to start if you plan on running only three days a week. (Of course, this is all assuming you have good form: driving your knees forward, keeping your hands at elbow height, imagining you are holding a potato chip between your thumb and your forefinger)
What if you want to train more aggressively? Say, five days on and two days off? Some problems are going to arise. Thankfully, you can fix them before they happen:
You are going to become quite quad-dominant, meaning the muscles on the front of your legs will be much stronger than those on the back of them. This is common in every population except weightlifters, but it only becomes a problem when there is a significant discrepancy, and it almost always leads to injury.
This problem could be solved by running a mile backward for every three you run forward, but let’s take a more practical approach.
Deadlifts- First off, everyone on the face of the earth who plans on picking things up should do this exercise, but it is even more important for runners because it targets all the muscles running ignores (e.g., hamstrings, glutes, lower back).
Single Leg RDLs are also great because they require no equipment.
Imagine your calf muscles as the two springs in your lower body that allow you to run. After immense amounts of springing day in and day out, they’re going to tighten up. “Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life.”
It’s all in the hips
Driving your knees forward repetitively will eventually cause some stress on your hips, but don’t fret—I have the answer. This is like my favorite stretch:
Couch Stretch- One thing to remember here: the more vertical your shin on the back leg, the deeper in the quad you’ll feel this stretch.
The dreaded shin splints. There are a few ways to fight the shin splints powers that be, but the best one isn’t sexy: it is called slow progression. But, let’s assume that isn’t in the cards.
The best treatment available to you is copious amounts of dorsiflexion and stretching.
With all that said, set realistic goals. Go out there and don’t get hurt!
If you need help building a program that is injury-proof, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!