As a personal trainer, I like to read articles either online or in print as part of my ongoing education in the business of fitness and exercise.
Every day is a school day, etc.
I also tend to pay special attention to those articles which focus on potential problem areas where exercise is concerned and the dangers they can cause to people if they are not prepared. You would be amazed at how many people rush into exercise programmes without due preparation or education, sometimes over-enthusiastically, and who suffer as a result (occasionally in significant ways).
So, I am always alert to this risk and how to enable my clients to make progress on the gym floor without injuring themselves. Indeed, to my mind, being responsible in this regard is as important as moving clients through a fitness programme that delivers the results they want.
One online article that recently caught my eye was on BBC News concerning the potential risks posed by yoga to those who are overly-aggressive in their undertaking of this exercise.
Yoga has developed something of a reputation over the years as being a go-to exercise for a certain kind of person. It can seem to be measured, holistic and almost spiritual in its ethos and can also appear to be built almost entirely on the principle of stretching. Yoga comes in many forms, of course, and can be undertaken to a number of levels, but whatever yoga discipline is followed I would say that this characterisation is off the mark!
In the BBC article, Benoy Matthews (pictured), a leading physiotherapist, describes the increasing number of yoga teachers he has seen over the years who have injured their joints, and particularly their hips.
Matthews, a member of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapists, says he now sees four to five yoga teachers a month with these kinds of injuries, caused, he says, by people repeatedly pushing their bodies into "prescribed" positions when their physiology does not support this kind of stretching.
“Ego might mean them trying to take a position ‘all the way’ to the end when they should just stop where it’s comfortable,” he says in the article. “Just because the person next to you can reach all the way doesn’t mean it's necessary, or desirable, to do the same."
Into this mix of over-extension beyond the boundaries of what a body can deal with, Matthews adds that “they might be doing yoga six days a week and think that’s enough, without doing any other kind of exercise, like cardio or cross-training. It's like anything. If you do the same thing again and again, there can be problems. You need to mix it up in terms of the kind of exercise you do.”
What Matthews is bringing into focus here are the clear dangers any gym-goer can face, regardless of their level of experience, in attempting to do too much when working out, by over-exercising the same body parts too often.
Our bodies are designed to exert and repair in that order when we exercise. To build stronger (possibly bigger or faster) bodies, the key principle is to push the body, or parts of it, within reasonable boundaries and to then allow the body to repair itself.
This cycle can be repeated regularly, but targeting different body parts and allowing a suitable timescale between training cycles is crucial to allow the body to recover and to build strength and form. Getting this scheduling wrong and injecting over-determination into the mix can result in the body developing pockets of weakness which in turn can lead to the build-up of degenerative injury over time.
I have seen a lot of joint and muscle-tear injuries on the gym floor over the years (not with my clients, I hasten to add!) and they are not pretty sights, or indeed sounds to listen to when they happen.
So, if you want to avoid engaging the services of professionals such as Beony Matthews (or the NHS) my advice would be to exercise with the correct form, allow your workout to be demanding within safe limits and to build-in recovery time to your fitness programme.
Otherwise, a whole world of pain awaits.