The Olympic Games may make us want to break out our inner athlete, but overenthusiasm and overtraining are a recipe for injury. For advice about how to prevent you from ending up on the DL, ConsumerSearch asked Robert Forster, a physical therapist to 38 Olympic medalists, as well as NBA and Grand Slam champions.
"All new physical endeavors require some body preparation. The more sedentary you are before starting, the more preparation required," says Forster, who also brought athletes like Jackie Joyner-Kersee and Pete Sampras back to elite levels of fitness after devastating and potentially career ending injuries. "Regardless of your chosen sport, a fitness base derived from a regular program of aerobic activity is required to be successful and avoid injury. This can be as simple as stationary bicycling, elliptical training, or walking three times per week, building up to 30 minutes each workouts."
And if you're a regular exerciser, it isn't necessarily play and go, says Forster. "Active people also need to foster a transition to new activities. Just because you are a runner doesn't mean you will adapt easily to tennis or swimming injury-free without some sport specific preparation. At the very least you must master the correct stretching exercises and warm up routine for your new activity." Forster recommends checking out online resources from reputable sources or books to know what these things are.
Once you have your fitness base developed, turn your attention to technique. "Even running requires a basic understanding of bio-mechanics to be sure you are using your body correctly," he says. "A basic understanding of technique will improve performance, increase enjoyment and help you avoid injury."
For more involved activities, such as volleyball, racewalking, or gymnastics, that require more technique training, consult local sport clubs or ask local athletes and coaches. "Interview experienced coaches regarding their approach and ask for injury rates for newcomers and ask for references. The more years of applicable experience a coach has the better your chances of having a rewarding and injury free experience." Forester warns that your gym's trainer may not be the best resource since most "trainers are not qualified to coach or even create a gym program for your new sport unless they happen to have specific experience for beginners in that sport or activity."
Finally, manage your expectations. "Human nature and the passion to work as hard as your Olympic heroes will not serve you well when taking up a new sport," he says. Forester suggests starting slowly: at first do about half the volume of minutes, strokes or miles you think you can handle. "Your body needs time to adapt and you have the rest of your life to get into full swing, so take your time." A good rule of thumb is increasing the time practicing or working out by no more than 10 percent per week and you must stretch before and after every workout.
"Typically, non serious aches and pains can be expected when performing new activities and movement patterns. These require stretching, icing and recovery. If you feel pain in the same area of your body during or after two consecutive workouts, or two or three times over several weeks of training, consider yourself injured," Forester says. "Back off the activity and consult a physical therapist immediately. Most states allow physical therapist to perform an evaluation before an MD diagnoses the problem suggests treatment. The physical therapist will steer you to the right MD for sprains and strains as apposed to going directly to a orthopedic surgeon, which most times is an inappropriate and expensive route to the right care."
If insurance requires your doctor's referral to a physical therapist, Forester warns that the advice to "simply rest" will not help prevent injury down your active road. "Rest alone does not solve the most common overuse sports injuries, instead, mechanical intervention through simple stretching and strengthening exercises is required to avoid chronic injury." Typically, if there is no pain with your stretching routine and your fitness base activity, (i.e, cycling, swimming or walking) you should continue these to maintain your hard-earned fitness while you rehab, but check with your physical therapist, Forester says.
If you are committed to a new sport you can succeed with these simple measures to reap the health benefits and stay injury-free.