Story by Bekah Porter | Photography by Scott Rogers
If you’re seeking a reason to skip the traditional New Year’s rush to the gym, you need look no further than Google.
Type in “exercise injuries,” and within seconds, you’ll be inundated with statistics that’ll scare you right away from that stepping machine. If such organizations as the Centers for Disease Control and the American Medical Association can be believed, then nearly half a million Americans are injured each year using exercise equipment and emergency rooms across the United States treat an average of 10,000 people daily for acute traumas stemming from sports or exercise.
Remind us why, exactly, the treadmill is so tempting?
Oh, yeah, those nagging little conditions known as diabetes, cancer, depression, heart disease, muscular atrophy, brittle bones, organ malfunctions, and a bazillion and one other things that exercise is known to improve or prevent.
So, to the gym we go. But isn’t there some way to end up being a success story rather than a medical stat? Turns out, there is, says Jeremy Warner. According to the owner of Max Kane Health and Fitness in Gainesville, as well as other medical professionals and organizations, the best way to get healthy this year is to ease into it.
“Most people want a quick fix, so they’ll lean toward gimmicks,” he said, “but you need consistency more than you need anything else.”
Here’s how you can achieve your optimal health without the bruises, breaks and medical bills that could otherwise haunt your efforts:
• Focus on food. “It all starts with nutrition,” Warner said. “Dial in on what you eat, starting with the quality of the food. It’s all about quality over quantity.” He recommends whole, natural foods not “made in a factory somewhere” or “altered.” He suggests a diet filled with lean meats, lots of vegetables, some fruits, nuts or seeds, and a little bit of starches.
• Technique, technique, technique. Gym equipment can be intimidating, as can asking for help in a new environment. But don’t let that get to you, Warner said. Ask your gym’s staff for a tutorial on how to use the equipment. “If you have no knowledge of proper technique, then you should seek out advice or avoid (the exercise),” he said. “If you choose to steam ahead and come up with your own idea of what a squat is and throw yourself into it and get hurt, was it the squat that hurt you or your interpretation?” By hiring a personal trainer or attending a fundamentals program, you learn how to safely enjoy new exercise methods.
• Prepare yourself for the movement. We’ve all heard that we should stretch, and while this is a good rule in general, Warner suggests taking that one step farther. “Movement preparation is vital,” he said. “So, let’s go with the squat example again. Let’s say I know I’m going to be doing squats in my workout. That means I know I’m going to be utilizing my legs. So, I need to warm up my legs. I need to get the stiffness out of them before I perform that task of squatting. So, I can do some leg swings. I can jog in place. I need to focus on range of motion in those legs.”
• Take a break. If something hurts, stop. While this should go without saying, people seem to ignore this basic advice. Don’t push yourself farther than your body can handle, and be willing to take a step back and rest when your body needs it.
• Protect yourself. If you are playing a sport in a recreation league or with friends, gear up. Shin guards, mouthpieces, helmets … they’re all there for your safety. And don’t be lured into thinking, “Oh, this is just me tossing a ball around with friends.” Plenty of injuries happen even when playing a friendly game. “You don’t have to be playing competitively to be hurt,” Warner said. “I’ve been in the military for 15 years, and I’ve seen more people get hurt in the military shooting hoops with friends than anything else.”
• Consider more efficient movements. Warner is a big believer in weight training, as it helps condition muscles and doesn’t place a body unaccustomed to exercise in a position where it needs to pivot, as it would in, say, that game of hoops. “Everyone can benefit from free weights,” he said. “Actually, the research shows that it has the lowest injury rate by far of any activity. Even tennis and swimming has a higher injury rate.”
• Hydrate. More and more studies show that drinking water helps keep the body limber, and a limber body helps.