You are heading to the gym and you are eager to start your fitness journey, goals are set and program is in hand. There are certain movements and exercises you want to avoid because of pain and you are physically unable to perform.

Why is that? Some of us ignore the fact that we are hurting or physically can not move well. Most of the time those people end up badly hurt or out for a certain amount of time, just to go back in training and have the same thing happen over and over again.

We all have certain goals we want at the gym; strength, cardio, aerobic or anaerobic conditioning, general fitness  (weight loss, build muscle mass), sports specific you name it.

But no matter what your goals are, a lot of us fail to look at certain factors to prevent repetitive injuries such as; Mobility, Flexibility, & Proper Breathing. Given some of us may have some medical issues that will prevent us from moving a certain way, we need to learn how our bodies work so you can identify what is tight, what hurts, and what is not working properly.

My goal here is to educate you on what you should look at before starting any exercise program and for you to learn more about your body and how it moves so you are aware of what is going on at all times.

1) Check Your Mobility

Mobility is the ability of a joint to move freely.

Having great mobility not only helps your joints move in it’s natural range of motion (ROM), it also keeps them healthy, improves posture, and reduces your risk of injury. If you are someone who is looking to start general training, strength training or functional training, you need to spend some time improving your joint ROM.

We are all in some type of pain; back pain, neck pain, shoulder pain, knee pain, and the list goes on. Ask yourself this, “Does it make sense to load these joints when they are already in pain?” Your answer should be a hard NO!

There are other factors that can cause pain but here are some basic tests to check if you have good joint ROM, try these out before you start any program.

Ankle Test

If you failed or feel any pinching in your joints during any of these test, perform some mobility and flexibility drills to improve your range of motion. If that does not resolve your pain please see your doctor.

A great tool to use and assess your movement and mobility is the Functional Movement Screen (FMS) by Gray Cook. This screen tests your most functional movements such as, Overhead Squat, Hurdle Step, Lunge, Shoulder Mobility, Active Single Leg Raise, Truck Stability and Rotational Stability. (www.functionalmovement.com)

2) Check Your Flexibility

Flexibility is referred to as the length of a muscle tissue.

Flexibility can sometimes be misunderstood as mobility but A flexible muscle can improve your mobility. The reason for this is when a muscle is flexible it can lengthen and shorten to allow the joint to move freely without any restrictions from the muscle tissue. To improve mobility, you must improve flexibility.

When a muscle is short it is not flexible, when it is not flexible the muscle cannot activate or produce enough force.

Here are different types of stretches to help Improve Flexibility:

Static Stretching

  • Hold for 15-30 sec up to 2 minutes.

  • There will be some mild discomfort during the stretch.

  • When?

  • After training.

  • You can perform static stretching before training but you must follow it up with dynamic stretching.

  • 2 times a week

Dynamic Stretching

  • Uses dynamic movements through a full joint ROM.

  • Warms up the joints and reduces muscle tension.

  • When?

  • Typically before training.

Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF)

  • Done with a partner using hold-relax, contract-relax, and hold-relax with agonist contraction.

  • Can increase ROM through autogenic inhibition.

Stretching is not the only way to improve flexibly, trigger point, manual therapy, Self myofascial release (foam rolling), and distraction work will also help improve your flexibility.

3) Learn how to breathe properly

Breathing helps us stay in a sympathetic (flight) state vs parasympathetic (fight) state.

Core strength and posture helps us protect our spine and place us in the proper position in our daily activities and in training. Without proper engagement of you core you put your spine into a dangerous position which creates an unstable base between your diaphragm and your pelvic floor. The best way to obtain a stable base is through breathing which will also teach you how to brace properly. Learning how to exhale fully will teach your core (Transverse abdominus, Obliques & Rectus Abdominus) to stabilize the spine.

The proper poster (RIGHT) is illustrated in this diagram. Notice how core engagement promotes optimal posture. Having proper posture takes unnecessary load off your spine to ultimately prevent injury.

A huge problem we have is the inability to use or diaphragm. Most of us are stuck in a thoracic flexion (rounded back) due to our daily habits. Because of this our diaphragm is unable to function properly (breathing) and we tend to use our secondary muscles (i.e. neck & intercostals) to breath which is another reason why your neck tenses up. Learn how to breathe properly through your diaphragm to take the load off your secondary breathing muscles, improve core activation and learn how to brace.

Here are some Basic Breathing Techniques you should implement in your training. (PRI??)

  • Belly breathing

  • Periscope (Tummy Time)

  • Balloon Breathing

Remember, do not start a training program if your body is not feeling optimal. You are already prone to injury and by starting a program with pain and discomfort will only lead to a higher risk of injury. Search for a trainer/coach that will help you lower your risk of injury and create a personalized training program for you to meet your goals.

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