You need to keep moving now more than ever, but that can be a challenge when activity causes achiness. Here’s how to reduce discomfort so you can get the most out of your workouts.
By Christine Yu
Do you really need to warm up before exercising? Yes, you really do.
“Not properly warming up is probably the biggest reason people are in pain when they exercise,” says physical therapist Jason Barone, PT, DPT. He recommends taking between five and ten minutes to do a dynamic warmup before you start a session; think lunges with an upper-body twist, bodyweight squats or a light walk.
Warming up can improve range of motion and blood flow to your muscles and joints, decreasing discomfort. Plus, you’ll activate the muscles that you’ll use during your workout, which will make your workout more effective.
Keep It Slow and Steady
It’s tempting to lift a lot of weight right off the bat. After all, we all want to see results right now!
However, whether it’s running too far or too fast, or using weights that are too heavy, that extra effort may be more than your body is conditioned to handle.
“When this happens, the body does not have an opportunity to move with the appropriate mechanics, and as you become fatigued. The forces are too great to handle. As a result, the body compensates in various ways to achieve what is being asked of it, and injury occurs soon after,” says physical therapist Klaus Dobra, PT, DPT, CSCS.
Instead, start simple and don’t rush things. Take the time to learn proper movement patterns and form, especially when it comes to strength training.
As you build your fitness base, gradually increase the intensity and/or length of your workouts from there.
“It’s always easier to add something on,” notes Barone. He also recommends having a concrete plan for each workout and keeping an exercise journal, which can let you see your progression and spot areas that need adjustment.
Get an Expert Opinion
The biggest reason people hurt themselves when they exercise? Improper form and technique.
If you don’t pay attention to what you’re doing, you may “pull your body out of alignment so the force generated by what you’re doing isn’t being distributed optimally throughout the body,” says Pete McCall, a personal trainer and strength coach in San Diego. That can lead to pain and discomfort.
If you’re new to exercise, especially strength training, or unfamiliar with the moves prescribed in an exercise program you’re doing, work with a pro.
A personal trainer can introduce you to different kinds of exercises and make sure you’re doing them correctly. And now many trainers will conduct virtual sessions, which keeps everyone safe.
It doesn’t have to be a long-term commitment: “Five to ten sessions can really put you in the right direction,” says McCall. Once you find a trainer, talk to that person about what you want to accomplish.
Strengthen Your Core
You know that it’s important to train your core. In fact, it could be the key to exercising pain-free.
“The core is the center of force production and absorption in the body. With the correct strength and ability to activate with activity, the core can absorb forces that would otherwise be absorbed by more injury-prone structures,” explains Dobra. By using your core “to initiate and generate movement, you can do more and, potentially, damage less.”
But we’re not talking about just crunches or sculpting six-pack abs.
Dobra says to concentrate on exercises that help stabilize the spine so that your body can move efficiently and with ease. That includes include movements like planks, side planks and bird-dogs; also incorporate back extension exercises like supermans into your routine (see below).
Mix It Up
You can have too much of a good thing: Doing the same workout day-in and day-out can cause your muscles to become overworked and tight. That, in turn, will cause them to fire less efficiently, which can eventually lead to pain.
So don’t be afraid to shake things up. If you love running, try strength training or lower-impact activities like yoga a couple times of week. Always hit the weights? Do a session of bodyweight exercises.
You’ll see fitness gains. “When you push yourself harder or differently than you’re used to, your body makes adaptations,” says McCall, What’s more, engaging in different types of exercise gives your brain a boost. As McCall puts it, “Your brain works different. You’re rewiring your motor patterns.”
Take a Break
If you still feel nagging aches and pain when you work out, it may be time for a break.
In fact, rest is what builds muscle. It works like this: Exercise causes micro-tears in your muscles, while rest days (plus sleep and good nutrition) gives your body time and fuel to repair the damage and grow stronger. When you step back from your workout routine, you may come back feeling fresher and fitter than before.
There’s a difference between effort and pain. “You don’t want to stop at the first hint of discomfort. Your muscles may burn and you may be sore the next day,” says Barone. However, “if you have sharp, stabbing pain, stop. It’s better to be proactive than reactive.”
While most of us don’t think about physical therapy until we’re actually hurt or in pain, prehab may be one of the best ways to side-step injury and nagging aches before you’re sidelined.
Short for “prehabilitation,” prehab routines shore up imbalances and weaknesses in your body that may flare up and cause bigger problems down the road. Think of it as a regular tune-up and maintenance for your body so you can avoid major repairs later on.
McCalls says prehab routines can include basic movements like glute bridges and planks, which help to realign the entire body and strengthen stabilizing muscles around your joints and spine. Plus, they can help to improve your body’s range of motion and mobility, which can prevent overloading your joints.
“For example, if your hip loses range of motion, your lumbar spine or knee will try to create that lost range of motion,” says McCall. “If you have good range of motion in your hip, it takes tension off your knee and lumbar spine.”
Get Supplemental Help
For discomfort that doesn’t signify disease or injury, nature offers a number of ways to ease those annoying aches.†
For years, a combination of two naturally occurring nutrients, glucosamine and chondroitin, has been the standard recommendation in joint-health supplementation, especially when bolstered by MSM and black cherry extract.†
Today, hemp represents a new approach to achieving soothing relief. Its active constituents, known as phytocannabinoids, have been found to ease mild to moderate discomfort, a welcome alternative to those who wish to avoid harmful drugs.†
Hemp is often enhanced when taken in combination with other plant-based substances—including boswellia and curcumin, particularly in a form called Longvida—as well as substances that help the body make the most of hemp’s benefits, including acacia, black pepper extract, cocoa and sunflower lecithin.†
Two Exercises to Sculpt Your Core
Start on hands and knees, with knees and feet hip-width apart, toes pointing towards your body, and hands directly under your shoulders, fingers facing forward.
Pull in your core muscles. Then slowly extend your left leg backwards until it is at, or near parallel, to the floor without any rotation in the hip. Your goal is to keep both hips parallel to the floor.
Slowly raise your right arm until it is at, or near parallel, to the floor without any tilting at the shoulders. Your goal is to keep the both shoulders parallel to the floor.
Gently lower yourself back to your starting position and repeat with the opposite limbs.
Lie on your stomach on a mat with your legs extended, toes pointing away from your shins, arms extended overhead with palms facing each other. Relax your head to align it with your spine.
Exhale, contract your core muscles and slowly raise both legs a few inches off the floor while simultaneously raising both arms a few inches off the floor; avoid any rotation in the limbs, arching in the back or raising of the head. Hold this position briefly.
Gently inhale and lower legs and arms back to the starting position without any movement in the low back or hips.
Source: American Council on Exercise
†The information provided is not an endorsement of any product, and is intended for educational purposes only. NaturesPlus does not provide medical advice and does not offer diagnosis of any conditions. Current research on this topic is not conclusive and further research may be needed in order to prove the benefits described.