Now that you’ve read all that go get ‘em, get your ass out of that chair and into the gym tomorrow stuff in the last entry, and you find yourself itching to buy some new workout gear, beware. The healthy road before you will be brief if you’re not mentally prepared for some foreseeable and in some cases avoidable setbacks. Anyone who goes to the gym regularly, and particularly anyone over the age of 30 getting back into the gym can expect some common setbacks… don’t be discouraged, many of them are avoidable, but you will most likely be hit at some time or another by one or more, if not all of the following.
Some of the most common exercise-related injuries include: plantar fasciitis (a painful and tender tissue inflammation right near your heel, bursitis of the hip or elbow (an inflammation or blister-like formation in the bursa of a joint (the slick coating that allows bones to move freely) or a pulled groin, hamstring or bicep muscle.
The best way to avoid all the above is to start slowly, going to the gym two to three times a week for a few weeks before increasing your attendance to four or five times in a week. If you don’t start your workout with cardio, make sure to spend at least 5 minutes on a treadmill or exercise bike before lifting weights and make sure you end your workout session with 10 to 15 minutes of stretching / rolling your muscles with those large foam rollers.
Most of the aforementioned injuries are your body saying, “what the fuck was that, you haven’t done whatever that was in a while and I (your body) wasn’t ready for it, so please accept this gift of a pulled bicep / groin / hamstring muscle on me.” Don’t be discouraged, people. Instead, plan on enduring some strains and pains and prepare yourself accordingly. When you go out to buy your new exercise gear, pick up a few ice packs too – I like the Cryo-max ones or the generic rip-off versions of them at your local drug store.
If you feel your elbow joint burn or seemingly tear, for the love of god, stop lifting immediately and go to some other exercise not involving that muscle… that goes for a groin or hamstring too. Don’t get discouraged, you got excited about your progress and over-strained your muscle. Move on to another exercise, or some cardio and when you get home, ice that bad boy for 20 minutes as soon as you can. Put your Cryo-max ice pack back in the freezer (they recharge quickly) and 20 minutes later, apply it again for another 20… the old 20 minutes on, 20 minutes off, 20 minutes on a regimen. If you can repeat that 20 on, 20 off, 20 on at least two or three times a day for the first 3 days, you may be able to lift again within a week, as long as you decrease the weight drastically and slowly work your way back up. Don’t start adding heat into your recovery regimen until 3-4 days of icing after the initial injury. If it’s an ongoing injury then you can rotate heat in, every other day or so, but a new injury requires 2-3 days of icing for smaller muscle groups and 3-4 days of icing for larger muscle groups before you start heat treatment.
Never use “dry” heat on a muscle… buy a heating pad that is designed to be sprayed with a water mister and re-spray every 20-minute session. There are tricks to treating all of the above common injuries that you’ll find online… Irene and I still keep a frozen bottle of water in our freezer (along with 6 or 7 different specialized ice packs), because rolling your feet on the frozen bottle is part of the plantar fasciitis cure.
Getting back to our initial argument, going too fast, adding too much weight too soon, trying to get in shape overnight after months or years of inactivity can all set you up for a rough start in the gym, but don’t despair, it’s human nature to try and fix shit overnight… you may do almost everything right and then decide your biceps are really coming along, wow, I think I’ll add another 5 or 10 lbs, and boom, you really screw yourself. Simply have your reusable ice packs (preferably ones with covers and elastic Velcro straps) lying in weight in your freezer, you’re going to need them at some point and there’s a thousand YouTube videos, many of them by actual Physical or Occupational Therapists that you can watch to get you on the road to recovery.
Most importantly, if you do fuck up some muscle, don’t stop going to the gym, just alter your workout accordingly, maybe hit the pool, get off the treadmill and onto an exercise bike or rower to take the pressure off the injured foot etc. If you really screwed yourself, get yourself to a doctor and have a physical or occupational therapy prescription written for you… this is a process and it’s not easy. The older you get, the more shit will go south, but the good news is, once you’ve suffered and been treated for a few of these common injuries, they’re not so daunting anymore, just more bumps along your path forward to a fitter you.
Bottom line, be prepared for discouragement, it’s part of changing your life and fitness routine. If you get back into the gym knowing that setbacks can and probably will occur, you’ll be far more likely to overcome them without giving up on your new fitness regimen, which is not so much a regimen at all, but a new lifestyle really.
So please drag yourself to that gym for the first time in eons, go ahead and work your legs out if you want to really suffer; your legs and ass will hurt like hell the next day, particularly if you don’t heed my advice to stretch and roll your body on those foam rollers for 15 minutes at the end of your workout. Take that next day off the gym, even if you want to go several days in a row – don’t do it at this point, go back on the third day and lift with a totally different muscle group – the chest and back maybe, feel the pain in those areas, the next day, which you’re taking off, then go back to the gym on day 5 for your arms workout. Look online for different exercises to do, but make sure to also find out the stretches you want to do to limber those muscles up at the end of your workout. Now take the weekend off, and repeat your Monday Leg day, Wednesday chest and back, Friday arms schedule for three or four weeks before adding a fourth or fifth day at the gym. By the third week, your muscles will be far less painful, I promise, and your body will start adapting to this new “positive” strain you’re putting it through.
If you have the money, it’s always nice to get a trainer, but beware, trainers love to throw the kitchen sink at you day one, like some kind of fucked up boot camp. Don’t buy in… tell your trainer you want to start off at a reasonable pace, one that you can stick to and build upon without straining yourself to the point of discouragement, got it? If you don’t have $1200 to $1,500 bucks for 10 sessions with a trainer (Manhattan prices), do what I do on occasion, watch what trainers teach other clients – if it looks good, steal that routine.
The main advantage to having a trainer is forcing you to actually show up to the gym of course, for those 10 sessions. Other than that, I find trainers are best for advanced athletes that are looking for purposeful routines that can improve their tennis game, or their cardio for the Mudder’s Nightmare, etc. If you just want to be fit, you can just watch really fit people, see their form and then go on YouTube to learn a few different exercises for each of the major muscle groups: Legs, Chest, Arms, Shoulders, Back… in fact, that’s a good order to work those muscles in if you wanted to go to the gym Mon-Fri. Some people might hit the gym 3 times a week and do a mishmash of all of them. The key is to take at least one day off before lifting with the same muscle group again. The only group you can work every day are your abs because they’re not attached to the bone, so they don’t fatigue like muscles that are. But don’t let me see you doing even one fucking sit-up or crunch. Planking is your spine’s friend, but that’s for another exercise motivation blog. I do a session of planking and plank-like exercises every day I go to the gym, mixed in with my 15-minute stretching session at the end of my workout. I suggest you do the same, but not for 6-pack abs for the love of god, for spine health. More on that in our next blog.
I’m outta here,