Lockdowns have lifted. Gyms are open. Sports are back on. And summer’s coming. No wonder searches for fitness ‘tricks’ and ‘hacks’ have skyrocketed. Who could blame us? The perhaps-disappointing fact is, most effective practices, whether for performance gains or injury prevention, are not tricks at all. (It’s pretty hard to put one over the complex machine that is the human body.) Rather, they’re evidence-based approaches based on scientific research. The twist is, that non-tricks and non-hacks can actually fast-track results and reduce injury risk in the long term. If you’d like to skip the trial and error, our physiotherapists and chiropractors have compiled some key summer fitness tips that speak your body’s language.
Focus on range of motion
Maintaining optimal range of motion around joints has been shown to reduce the risk of injury in exercise and sports. Optimal range of motion means that your joint travels through that range without ‘borrowing’ that range from other areas (such ‘borrowing’ or ‘compensation’ can cause undue strain and increase injury risk). The challenge is identifying an abnormal range of motion in yourself. A physiotherapist can assess your range(s) of motion relevant to your preferred exercise or sport and prescribe exercises to improve any range of motion deficits.
Prioritise stability, strength and balance
The same study showed that strengthening exercises reduced injuries during sports participation by up to two thirds. Simply, engaging in explosive activity without preparing the joint (s) can result in sudden injuries such as tears or strains or promote the onset and deterioration over time of less-acute strains. Key exercises in this area address stability, strength and balance. (This is why elite sporting teams including footballers include stability-training and ancillary training such as yoga and Pilates.)
Build in a warm-up and cool-down
A good warm-up includes strengthening, stabilising and range-of-motion exercises. Aim for around 10 to 15 minutes. While your warm-up may include dynamic stretching, stretching alone has not been shown to reduce injury risk. After your workout, factor in a warm- or cool-down session to reduce the risk of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and let your heart rate return gradually to its resting rate while letting blood flow return to its regular course (during exertion, it will be channelled to working muscles). A simple example is following a run with a lighter jog before walking for five minutes.
Invest in rest
Rest is critical to fitness development, whether your aim is increasing muscle mass, gaining strength or increasing speed or endurance. Research shows that muscle growth and development relies on sufficient rest, during which repair occurs, in turn contributing to progress. Doing a hard session every day can be false economy. This doesn’t necessarily mean doing nothing. Active rest can include lighter exercise such as swimming or yoga. The other solid reason for building in rest periods is injury prevention. Exercising when you’re exhausted or depleted compromises your ability to engage core and stabilising muscles, which can lead to mistakes or deficits in form/technique and lead to injury. Within the ‘rest’ category, obtaining adequate, good-quality sleep is also integral to optimal recovery and repair.
While most fitness enthusiasts are conscious of obtaining adequate macronutrients from food and/or supplements (especially protein), many of us may be unaware of micronutrient deficiencies that can compromise performance and undermine progress and results. Magnesium is a case in point. If your body has too little magnesium, it can result in or worsen muscle cramps and tightness after exercise. A magnesium supplement may help to alleviate these complaints. Some research also suggests that high-quality fish oil supplements could help to ease inflammation, swelling and joint pain that may undermine performance.
If you're not sure how to implement these key elements, consider consulting a physiotherapist or chiropractor for an assessment and personalised recommendations that address your needs and goals.