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Festive Friday: Decking the Halls with Caution

As we prepare to welcome December, I realize many people will spend this weekend decorating for the holidays. That means it’s time for those annual rituals including bringing heavy boxes down from the attic or up from the basement and climbing ladders to string some lights.

All that climbing and lifting can make a festive time a bit hazardous if you don’t use some caution. You probably already know it’s not a good idea to jump into a high-intensity interval training program following a six-month period of zero exercise. You may have also read my previous posts describing the importance of building stabilization before strength. While I expect decorating your home for the holidays isn’t as strenuous as a boot camp class, I still want to remind you of a few key moves that deserve some extra attention:

  • Lifting: Over the years, I’ve grown into the role of “good elf” helping my parents get their house decorated for Christmas. Since that involves moving some heavy boxes from the attic to the living room, I have to repeatedly remind myself to not pick up those boxes in a way that could hurt my back. Don’t bend at the waist! Instead, turn those heavy-item lifts into an opportunity to perform the perfect squat. Whether you think you have a “strong” back or not, these are good tips to keep in mind to help prevent back injuries.
  • Repetitive movements: Stringing lights around the house or tossing tinsel on the tree are a couple of decorating duties that require you to work with your arms overhead for long periods of time. This presents a situation where the latissimus dorsi (the broadest muscle of the back) can become overactive and tight. This can ultimately lead to shoulder soreness. So, it’s not a bad idea to do a couple of  lat stretches before (and after) you get started on any type of arms-overhead activity.
  • Ladder safety: While Chevy Chase’s classic turn as Clark W. Griswald in “Christmas Vacation” (my all-time favorite holiday comedy) makes ladder disasters look hilarious, in reality, ladder accidents are no laughing matter. Click here for a checklist on proper ladder usage.

If you can pop in a workout DVD, take a walk or hit the gym for a group exercise class before the decorating begins, extra kudos to you for burning yet a few more calories during this hectic season! (Just remember not to void all your hard work by having a cookie for each ornament you put up on the tree.) In the end, following a few safety tips and using some good ol’ common sense can help you have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

Cross Training

I hope you enjoyed some rest and recovery time over the weekend. As you outline your attack plan on how to fit fitness into the week ahead, I offer this bit of advice: mix things up a bit.

Whether you’re a fitness novice, getting back to a routine or have been exercising for years, variety can make the world of difference when it comes to sticking with a fitness regimen and also preventing injuries. Doing the same routine day after day causes repetitive stress and can lead to overuse and stress-related injuries. Some of the more common ones include:

  • Chondromalacia patella (often referred to as “runner’s knee”): An overuse injury causing pain in the kneecap. Pain can occur from weight-bearing knee flexion activities like squats or sitting for long periods of time with bent knees. Symptoms may also include swelling or grating noises.
  • Stress fractures: Microscopic fractures usually to a weight-bearing bone like the tibia in the leg or metatarsals in the feet.
  • Tendonitis: Inflammation in the connective tissue that joins bone to bone. (One common form is “tennis elbow”)

If you love group exercise classes, one of the easiest ways to avoid overuse injuries is to mix up your schedule. For example, the twisting, dance-like movements executed in Zumba classes put extra stress on your knees and can be damaging if the surrounding muscles (e.g. the quadriceps) are weak. The same can be said of cardio kickboxing. Repetitive high kicks and other movements places stress on the hip region. If any of the above mentioned exercises are not performed in proper form, the risk of injury is even greater.

I am not saying you can’t take your favorite group ex class multiple times during the week, but try to give yourself a day in between to allow the muscle groups to repair and recover.  If you’re a five-day-a-week-group-ex “addict,” here’s a possible schedule:

  • Monday: Cardio kick
  • Tuesday: Pilates mat (Followed by 30 minutes of cardio)
  • Wednesday: Zumba
  • Thursday: Pilates mat or Yoga
  • Friday: Cardio kick or Zumba

The same can be said for strength training.  Most beginners should aim for a resistance training workout of two days per week and not on consecutive days.  If your schedule forces you to strength train on back-to-back days, split the muscle groups over two days.

Stretching is one activity you can do every day of the week. One of my personal fitness goals this year has been to incorporate more flexibility training into my routine. If only I had made that goal a priority earlier in my life, I’m sure I could have avoided many trips to the doctor along with multiple X-rays and MRIs.

That being said, we can all push ourselves a little too hard at times. However, if a couple days of rest, ice and over-the-counter anti-inflammatories don’t alleviate the pain, you should talk to your doctor. Preventing injuries is one of the most important things you can do to ensure your body and mind are working together to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

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