Physical Fitness Part 2: Monitoring the Effects of Exercise and Preventing Injury
By: Diana Richardson, MPT, CSCS
Congratulations! You have started an exercise routine and now you are ready to see some results. But how do you know if what you are doing is really going to produce the desired outcomes you're looking for? And, more importantly, how can you avoid potential injury in the process? We'll cover everything you need to know to stay the course on your path to success.
As you design and implement an exercise program, one of the first things to consider is your goals. What do you want to get out of the exercise? What are your objectives? Exercise has several physiological and psychological benefits, including improved cardiovascular health, enhanced musculoskeletal and joint function, decreased risk for chronic diseases such as obesity and Type II diabetes, increased energy levels, and decreased stress levels as well as feelings of depression (1: www.healthline.com/nutrition/10-benefits-of-exercise). The type, intensity, and frequency of exercises you choose to perform will lead you toward a specific goal. And as you meet those goals, you'll have a greater sense of accomplishment because you are able to measure your improvement over time.
Variety is the Spice of Life
Have you ever noticed that when you perform a new skill or task, you have to devote a greater amount of time, energy, or concentration on that activity in order to complete it? Then, as you continue to perform this activity, it gets easier and more efficient to do? This is called adaptation or the process of the body becoming accustomed to a particular activity through repeated exposure. With exercise, adaptation happens all of the time. As the body adapts to the stress of a new exercise or training program, the program becomes easier to perform. This also explains why beginning exercisers are often sore after starting a new routine, but, after doing the same exercise for weeks and months at the same intensity, they experience little, if any, muscle soreness. (2: www.sharecare.com/health/types-exercise/what-is-principle-of-adaptation-). In order to achieve maximum results, varying your routine is a must! And the variations don't have to be drastic. A few simple things to tweak are the following: duration of exercise, order of exercise performance, intensity of exercise, and amount of resistance. If you keep your body guessing, it is difficult for the body to adapt - and this will keep pushing you closer to your goals.
The Scale Can Be Deceiving
When it comes to measuring your exercise outcomes and seeing results, many individuals get hung up on the number that appears on the scale. Yes, actual body weight is an important qualifier to consider. There are age and height-related norms out there for what a healthy body weight should be. However, this doesn't always tell the whole story. The critical factor it doesn't consider is that muscle weighs more than fat. Or more accurately, muscle is denser than fat - 1.1g/ml vs. 0.9g/ml, respectively. Muscle also takes up less space than fat, so your body will appear leaner and more defined. From a metabolic standpoint, muscle is more active than fat - meaning it burns more calories when you are at rest. Muscle tissue will burn 7-10 calories per pound whereas fat only burns 2-3 calories per pound (3: www.livestrong.com/article/438693-a-pound-of-fat-vs-a-pound-of-muscle/). So instead of obsessing over what number is on the scale, consider how your clothes fit, how your arms look in that tank top or your legs look in those jeans, and most importantly, how you feel!
Hazards and Roadblocks
Let's face it; at some point in time, you may experience an injury while exercising. The mantra "no pain, no gain" is commonly heard, but it cannot be farther from the truth. Although not ideal, pain should never be ignored. Understanding the difference between muscle soreness and pain is critical in determining how to respond to unpleasant sensations after a workout. Muscle soreness typically peaks 24-72 hours after activity. This is the result of small, safe damage to muscle fibers as they grow and adapt to exercise and is called Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS). During this time, your muscles may be tender to touch and feel tight or achy. Movement may initially be uncomfortable but moving and gently stretching your muscles will help to decrease soreness. In contrast to muscle soreness, pain may occur during or after performing exercise. It may feel sharp and it may linger without fully going away, perhaps even after a period of rest. This may be indicative of an injury. Pushing through injury can worsen the problem. If you feel that your pain is extreme or is not resolving after 7-10 days you should consult a medical professional (4: www.moveforwardpt.com/resources/detail/soreness-vs-pain-whats-difference).
In conclusion, if you want to get the most out of your exercise routine, keep these four simple points in mind: set specific training goals, vary your exercise routine to keep your body adapting, measure your success based on how you look and feel, not what the scale says, and don't ignore pain - if it doesn't feel right, it probably isn't. Now get out there and exercise!
Diana Richardson is a Physical Therapist and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist at The Centers, OrthoMaryland. Diana is a member of our rehabilitation team, providing Physical Therapy for a variety of injuries or concerns.