I can relate to an incident back in the higher institution. I engaged in a lot of sporting activities. I had to be committed to different kinds of exercises, both in the early hours of the morning before class and in the evenings after class. I had to be fit to represent the school in a competition.

At a point during my exercise sessions, I began having pain like a tiny hand gripping my chest which I ignored. After a while, this tiny grip became a piercing pain in the chest anytime I embarked on exercise. I eventually told my coach about this and after several questions, he recommended I stayed off training for some time. I did irrespective of the approaching competition and resumed my regular exercise afterward.

Regular physical activity is vital for good health. While there is a risk of injury with any type of physical activity, the benefits of staying active far outweigh the risks.

When deciding if any exercise is safe, you need to consider the technique used and the load, as well as your individual condition, such as injury history and fitness level.

Let’s consider possible ways you can be injured during exercise sessions:

  1. Bouncing while stretching

It is mistakenly believed that ‘bouncing’ as you stretch (ballistic stretching) helps muscles to stretch further. Sudden overstretching stimulates the stretch reflex causing the muscles to contract even tighter in an attempt to prevent injury. Bouncing is counterproductive as it can cause small tears to the muscle tissue, which are experienced as muscle soreness or tenderness.

Suggestions include:

Don’t bounce.

Concentrate on slow, sustained stretches.

Hold the stretch for 10 to 20 seconds.

Once the muscle feels comfortable, gently increase the stretch and then hold again.

  1. Standing toe-touches

Avoid standing toe-touches altogether. Bending down to touch the toes, with straight legs, can overstretch the lower back muscles and hamstrings, and stress the vertebrae, discs and muscles of the lower back and hamstrings. Adding a twisting movement to the toe-touch can cause damage to the joints.

Alternative stretches for the abdominal muscles or the lower back muscles and hamstrings include:

Stretch the hamstrings and lower back muscles by placing one foot on a low bench or chair, with both legs slightly bent so as not to stress the knee joints and, keeping your back straight, gently reach forward with your arms.

An alternative hamstring stretch involves lying on your back with both knees bent. Straighten one leg by lifting it towards the ceiling, keeping the knee slightly bent. Support this leg by clasping both hands behind the knee. Hold. Repeat for the other leg. You should feel the stretch on the back thigh of the straight leg.

For an alternative lower-back stretch, sit cross-legged on the floor then slowly lean forward, keeping your back straight while reaching your arms out to the floor. Hold.

  1. Deep (full) squat

Full squats push the knee joint past 90 degrees. Whether they are done with or without weights (a barbell or a weight held across the shoulders or in the hands) this can strain the ligaments, cartilage and muscle of the knee joint and lower back, and create problems with the tracking (movement) of the kneecap. Suggestions include:

Perform half-squats instead (45-degree bend of the knee).

Use a mirror to check when your knee joint is at 90 degrees. You could also ask someone else to watch you or seek instruction from a qualified fitness professional.

  1. Sit-ups

Two common but potentially harmful variations of the sit-up include anchoring the feet (where your training partner holds your feet) or keeping the legs straight along the floor. The hands are held behind the head or neck, and the upper body lifted. These types of sit-ups strain the lower back and tend to target the muscles of the hips and thighs rather than the abdomen. Suggestions include:

Avoid this style of sit-up altogether.

Perform abdominal curls instead. Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor and arms folded across your chest or alongside your body. Breathe out and curl your ribcage towards your pelvis.

  1. Double leg raises

Avoid double leg raises. This exercise involves lying on your back and raising both legs at the same time. This places enormous stress on the lower back. Another potentially harmful variation is to lie on your stomach and lift both legs at the same time. An alternative is to perform the exercise one leg at a time, making sure your hips remain stable throughout the movement. Keep the other leg bent, with your foot on the ground.

  1. Behind the neck press

The ‘behind the neck press’ or ‘lat pulldown behind the neck’ should be avoided, especially if you have been told you have instability in the front of your shoulder.

  1. Stretching and exercise safety

Stretching, warming up and cooling down were previously thought to aid injury prevention during exercise. However, there is not a lot of evidence that these activities are effective in reducing exercise injury risk.

There is some evidence that warming up and cooling down might help to reduce muscle soreness after exercise, even if they don’t prevent injuries. Careful stretching can be included as part of your overall warm-up and cool-down routine. Some people also find psychological benefits in stretching and warming up to put them in the right frame of mind for exercise or to help them relax after exercise.

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