New Year Resolutions
With every new year, you can predict the onslaught of ‘new year, new me’ kind of posts on social media. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for reflection and goal setting. However I’d like to remind everyone that you can do it any day. You don’t have to wait until the 1st of January every year!
One of the most common listed New Years resolutions involves improved fitness.
Today I would like to tackle this topic with the perspective of being a physiotherapist.
January and February are busy months of the year for physiotherapists. People have good intentions of losing weight, exercising more or strengthening/toning their muscles and they go full gas…from barely any exercise to daily workouts with increased intensity..and then wonder why they’ve ‘been so unlucky as to have gotten an injury because exercise is meant to be good for you!’. They feel really disillusioned.
To me, it is so obvious. Let me explain.
Pain is protection
Simply, if you do too much for what your body tissues can handle, they’ll let you know about it! It’s your brain’s amazing protective system giving you a ‘warning’ as such to make sure you address it.
If you suddenly increase your intensity, duration or frequency or even type of exercise, that could be doing more than your tissues can cope with. Hence, you might feel pain.
Let’s call her “Susie”*. Susie booked in for knee pain. She reported having ‘no idea why’ but was getting pain with climbing hills. Upon further questioning, Susie had a baby in July 2016 and did not ride through her pregnancy. She returned to the bike in October 2016 and until January 2017 was riding easy 80-100 km maximum each week along the flats. In early January she felt strong enough to ‘get fit and get her pre-baby body back’. Her husband had leave so she had him home to care for their baby. This gave her the ‘motivation she needed’ and she begun training in earnest with training intervals and mostly completed these rides in the hills. From week one to week four she increased from 130 km to 330 km in the week with 2000m vertical completed week one to 7500m vertical in week four. Impressive figures but her body was very grumpy with her!
So what did we do?
With all assessment, exercise prescription and manual therapy aside, the key management plan was education around what we call ‘gradual loading’. This allows her body a chance to adapt and to cope. My general rule is to not increase your training by more than 10% each week and do not change more than one factor at a time. My first task was to reign her in a little. We discussed building her kilometres up on the flat first and then build into the hills in a month or so and then add in intervals after that. Whilst this meant she saw fitness results a little slower, it allowed her injury to settle back down. When I followed her up mid-year, she had no pain and was stoked with her long-term, more sustained, approach to fitness.
Application for readers
Think about it this way. If you’re keeping injury at bay, you’re actually able to continue to make small progress. If you get injured, a lot of your time, emotion and energy (and finances) will greatly impact on your fitness progress. You will likely plateau or decline in fitness whilst you sort it out and then you’ll have to build back into it again. This can create a lengthy and frustrating return to fitness and some may give up if they lose motivation.
Key take away notes
- Think sustainable not immediate.
- Think of it as delayed gratification or an investment.
- Only change one factor at a time, do not increase everything at once!
- It is important to set goals that are realistic in both nature and time frame.
- If unsure, speak with a qualified practitioner to create a plan of action!
*Susie is a made up name and not the actual patient’s name.