I readily admit I haven’t been as disciplined with my training during the last 4 months of the year. So I, like many other people, will be ramping up my exercise volume come January first. Here is where we see a lot of people make mistakes, however, and those mistakes often lead to injury. So lets talk a bit about programming. Meaning, how often you workout, your methods of working out, and how stressful those workouts are for your body. Then we can talk about how to manipulate them to mitigate your risk of injuries.
I see it often, January first comes around and the gym parking lot is packed, not an available bench to be seen, classes are full, and instagram is flooded with new sweat sessions. As much as I love to see people active and making health a priority, this is the biggest pitfall. More is not always better. In fact, there needs to be a very gradual ramp up period. I know this because of what’s up in my brain, but also because about 6 weeks later the parking spaces open up, the classes get smaller, and we see a rise in acute injuries in the office. Why is that?
Most of the time we can predict either low back, shoulder, or knee injuries after people ramp up their exercise too quickly. It is usually the tendon structures that breakdown which is why we can predict with confidence those particular injuries and it is the textbook sign that the exercise variables were not programmed correctly. The variables are frequency, duration, and intensity and they apply regardless of the mode of exercise. Lifting weights, running, jumping, rolling around, boxing, etc, they all are subject to these three variables.
Frequency is how often you perform the activity in a given time period. Once a day, twice a week, 8 times a month etc. Duration is how long the activity lasts. This can be sets and reps or time. Intensity is how stressful the activity was on your body, more importantly your muscles, tendons, and bones for the purposes of this post. This means how hard those structures have to work and recover. Intensity is usually increasing weight, increasing tempo (explosive or plyometric/jumping motions), or increasing speed or hills for cardio. Now let’s talk about how we program these variables.
The safest way to ramp up exercise is by focusing on slowly increasing frequency and duration first. This is the overall volume. Think of it like building a big strong foundation before you add more stress to it. If your foundation of a house isn’t strong enough to support the stress of the weather, walls, or things in it, then it may break. Similarly, if your musculoskeletal system isn’t prepared well-enough for a rapid increase in stress, then it too will break down. And unfortunately for us, the patellar tendon, rotator cuff, biceps tendon, and low back are the common areas that break down after rapidly increasing exercise. These are the first signs that you’ve either increased too much volume too quickly, or too much intensity.
The best way to mitigate those risks is by keeping your increase from week to week lower. I usually tell people only add about 25-30% more intensity per week per body part. Return from injury usually stays around 20%, or less around 10% for bone injuries. So you can play with those numbers and see how you’re feeling. It also helps to limit the amount of plyometrics or jumping or explosive movements done early on. These types of movements are like the tip of the food pyramid, they should comprise the least amount of overall volume, but many people use them for cardio or do too much in general. So if you can keep your ramp up more gradual, and limit the plyometrics early on, you’ll save yourself some guaranteed headache down the road.
See you in the gym!