Don’t knock yourself out at the gym

I have noticed lately that too many of the people signing up at gyms are there only because they are eager to improve their appearance. Now, it is always a good thing to start a fitness regimen, whatever the motives. But the problem with going in with such a blinkered agenda is that you misuse the gym programme and end up causing wear and tear to your body because you have not done your research or properly charted your path.

Worse still, you could end up leaning heavily on supplements, which are not healthy in the long-run and are often unhealthy even in the short-run.

Worst of all, when you go in thus blinkered, determined to look better or treat one narrow condition — extra pounds, invisible muscles, flabby abs, whatever — you lose sight of the overall fitness picture. And this can be the beginning of a slippery slope.

A gym routine is a great way to get fit and stay fit. But every gymbased programme must be customised to suit the user, the weights and workouts calculated based on the individual's physical condition.

Too many people just walk into their gym, hop on the treadmill till they’re exhausted, then take a break and begin lifting weights. That’s one of the main reasons they leave the gym exhausted rather than refreshed.

If you want to use the gym correctly, make sure you always get a fitness assessment first.

Next, you must get a personalised programme put together for you by a professional, telling you exactly what kinds of weight to lift, how and for how long, and fixing other elements of your cardiovascular workout.

This way, you can avoid all those shoulder impingements and upper back and neck strains, some of which can eventually case chronic problems such as trapezitis, an ache on the sides of the neck that a lot of overly buff studs suffer from because they have not listened to their trainer but instead tried to get rock-hard pecs and six-pack abs in two weeks.

Another common pitfall to watch out for with gym workouts is the emphasis on quantity rather than quality. Too many gym-goers focus more on set routines and multiple repetitions rather than on doing a certain exercise the correct way. This can be harmful, leaving you, once again, with aches and pains.

Most important, however, is to prepare your body and judge its capability before you begin. Often, people enroll in weight-loss programmes at the gym and begin trotting on the treadmill without a care. If your joint muscles are not strengthened before you do this, you could cause longterm, irreparable cartilage damage, especially to the knees and hips.

This is why well-planned, regulated weight-training and strengthening exercises are so important. Your exercise treatment plan should be designed such that it includes muscle strength, flexibility and a range of motion for each joint. Opposite groups of muscles should be strengthened - such as leg extensions and leg curls, biceps and triceps etc.

Some of these pointers may seem obvious — or unnecessary — but make no mistake, if you do not know how to use gym equipment properly, if you do not have a good trainer to help you when you are starting out, if you use shortcuts and skip warm-ups, chances are you could adversely affect your health, cause harm or injury to yourself and even create chronic health conditions.

Instead, follow your trainer's advice, pace yourself and learn to respect your body and you will begin to love your gym workout — and will reap the benefit of incredible, longterm results.

(The author is head of the department of advanced physiotherapy in sports, orthopaedics and neuro-rehabilitation at Saifee Hospital)


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