An article by exercise physiologist, Jennifer Smallridge
Spring is in the air, and as Australia starts to open up again, you might be thinking about picking up your old exercise routine. Whether it be team sport, the gym, or travelling and exploring, getting back into physical activity is great for our health, but it must be done mindfully to prevent doing more harm than good.
The 20% rule
A great place to start is to measure what you are currently doing and add 20% each week. This could be calculated by your average daily step count, or your total time spent exercising. For example, if you currently achieve 2,000 steps per day, next week aim for 2,400 per day, rather than sharply increasing it.
Protect your tendons
When people suddenly go from the lounge room to life again, tendons and their surrounding structures can be susceptible to overuse injuries. Tendons are the fibrous connections between muscles and bones - so whilst they are all throughout the body, common sore spots include the Achilles tendon at the heel, patella tendon at the knee and gluteus medius tendon at the hips.
Think of your tendons and muscles like pizza dough: you have to warm them up first and then gently get them going! Tendons also love strength training, so don’t forget the weights before you get out there again.
Bite sized pieces
Try not to assume that what you used to be able to do will immediately come back to you. If playing tennis is your goal, you could prepare the body by having a regular walking routine for cardiovascular fitness and hitting the ball up against a wall in the backyard to load the muscles and joints again. If going travelling and walking once more is your goal, make sure you’ve got supportive footwear and check out “walking workout” videos on YouTube - where an instructor can guide you through a walking-in-place routine to music.
For both of the above examples, you can then apply the 20% rule and gently increase your weekly exercise until you feel ready to take on the task!
The take home message: Going from zero to 100 puts you at risk of soft tissue injuries and will make it harder to do what you love. Start low, build slow, and always consult an Accredited Exercise Physiologist if you need specific advice for your exercise routine.
Archambault, J.M., Wiley, J.P. and Bray, R.C., 1995. Exercise loading of tendons and the development of overuse injuries. Sports Medicine, 20(2), pp.77-89.