Hitting the pavement? What your inner athlete should know first.

FRANKLIN, Tenn.—Springtime in Tennessee means neighbors are hitting the trails, fields and pavement for better health. There’s no question that marathons and spring leagues provide great motivation to get moving, but new fitness routines require preparation and patience. As an orthopaedic surgeon, my office fills each spring with hopeful athletes sidelined by pain and injury.   

The starting line 

Anyone who’s been sedentary for several months should first undergo a medical exam to make sure they’re healthy enough for regular exercise. When starting out, people are often eager to dive head-first into their favorite activity. Whether you’re headed to the running track or cycling class, remember to incorporate cross training into your workout to build muscle and prevent injury. In fact, 90 percent of first-time runners who forgo cross-training are likely to experience an injury within the first six months. That’s because working a single muscle group isolates supporting muscles needed for full function. Runners and cyclists alike require both upper and lower body weight training for a safer, well-rounded fitness routine. Worried about bulking up? Don’t be. If you’re going for a leaner build, simply try lighter, repetitive weight training. Stretching programs are also critical, as many sports use one core group of muscles, causing imbalance in surrounding muscles and increasing the likelihood of injury. A great way to decrease the risk of imbalance is to participate in a variety of activities that incorporate other muscle groups. If you’re a cyclist, spend time on the elliptical. Sign up for classes that will challenge your body.  

Pain isn’t always gain 

Heading into marathon season, the most common patient I see each year is the inexperienced runner with big goals. Too often they’re overworked and overtired, running through the old “pain is gain” adage. Many who experience pain will get discouraged and give up. Adopting a new workout routine is a tremendous adjustment to your body and requires time and patience. Oftentimes, a complaint of “I can’t run,” is simply a sign of muscle imbalance. For example, the inner thigh is often overlooked in weight training but can trigger runner’s knee, characterized by pain behind the kneecap. I frequently advise patients to add weight training to their running program to improve mechanics and muscle balance. Leg presses and curls are typically the best exercises to strengthen the knee. While muscle soreness is common, especially among beginners, it’s important to listen to your body. If pain persists for several days, even after rest, or affects walking or day-to-day activities, talk to your doctor.    

Avoiding injury

As dynamic training programs grow in popularity, so are injuries associated with intense lifting. While high intensity workouts can be beneficial, injuries are common among athletes who lift heavy weights to the point of exhaustion. Avoid injury by minding your form, and stop lifting when technique might be compromised. Summer also means an increase in swimmer injuries, particularly those related to shoulder overuse. Weight lifting will help swimmers prevent injury and keep weight and form in check as well. Shoulder injuries also are common among baseball players, but are preventable with light throwing programs and strength training to build up muscle.   

The finish line 

Competition is a good thing, if you focus on competing with yourself. Trying to out-lift that 22-year-old at the gym will only result in pain, and not only to your ego. Commit to your goals, remember to incorporate all muscle groups in strength training, and keep moving and stretching throughout the day. Whether you’re running your first marathon or just biking with your kids, let 2018 be the year you get moving.   

About Dr. Stark Christopher Stark, M.D., is a board-certified surgeon at The Bone and Joint Institute of Tennessee. An avid mountain biker and trail runner, Dr. Stark specializes in sports medicine, joint replacement (including robotic-assisted total hip/knee and partial knee replacement), shoulder and upper extremity care, general orthopaedics and rehabilitation. To reach his Franklin office call (615) 791-2630.