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The Importance of Rest

On this Motivation Monday, I send a hearty congratulations to the tens of thousands of FITASTIC men and women who laced up for the 47th TCS New York City Marathon. As my repeat readers know, despite my love for exercise and endorphins, I never became a runner. So I remain forever in awe of anyone who can run for any length of time – especially 26.2 miles.

In addition to some well-deserved celebrating, I hope the more than 50,000 runners are also taking a well-deserved rest day after pushing their bodies to the ultimate extreme. While the rest of us may not have clocked 26.2 miles on our fitness trackers this weekend, it’s important to remember each and every one of us regardless of our fitness level needs at least one rest day each week. If you don’t allow your body to rest and recover, you’re simply putting yourself at risk for overtraining. That can lead to a gamut of problems ranging from stress fractures and joint pain to sleepless nights.

To put it simply, too much of a good thing – even exercise – can be bad. Why? Because working out, especially at high levels with high impact, breaks down your body tissue. Resistance training actually breaks down muscles causing microscopic tears and it is on rest days when the muscles, nerves, bones and connective tissue get the needed time to rebuild.

So if this Motivation Monday turns into a rest day, don’t sweat it. Sometimes your body and mind need a nap or an overdue chat with a loved one more than a heart-pounding workout. If you’ve made the commitment to exercise and watch what you eat, you also owe it to yourself to give your body time to rest and recharge. It’s all part of the winning formula to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

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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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