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Common Sense Sports Medicine Tips and Guidelines for Physically Active People

Peterson, James A. Ph.D., FACSM

ACSM's Health & Fitness Journal: March/April 2014 - Volume 18 - Issue 2 - p 45
doi: 10.1249/FIT.0000000000000027

James A. Peterson, Ph.D., FACSM, is a freelance writer and consultant in sports medicine. From 1990 until 1995, Dr. Peterson was director of sports medicine with StairMaster. Until that time, he was professor of physical education at the United States Military Academy.

  1. AN OUNCE OF PREVENTION. Nothing will make individuals more likely to incur an injury from the demands imposed on their bodies at work, home, or play than not being in tip-top condition.
  2. LISTEN TO THE BODY. Physically active people need to be aware of the “signals” their bodies are sending them. Discomfort is a sign that they are doing or recently have done something that their body is not used to doing physically. Pain, on the other hand, is a signal that something could be seriously wrong with their body, and that they should decease all nonessential or unrelated physical activity until a determination is made concerning what exactly is causing the pain and an appropriate response is undertaken.
  3. PACE THEMSELVES. Individuals should not try to do too much too soon when they either initiate an exercise program or change to a new activity modality. Instead, they should attempt to expose their body gradually to the demands imposed by the situation and then progressively (over time) increase their workload. This guideline applies to both aerobic and strength conditioning.
  4. DON’T TRY TO TOUGH OUT PAIN. Far too often, physically active people believe that they are invincible. Such a perception is often accompanied by an enhanced attitude that “nothing can stop me,” which, in turn, may lead them to ignore a pain in an effort to reinforce their perceived toughness. Overlooking the body’s signal that something is seriously wrong only will exacerbate the situation. As a result, the injury will either get worse or lay the groundwork for other more serious problems.
  5. SEE A PHYSICIAN. If the pain persists after a reasonable period of rest, individuals should see a physician—preferably one with experience in working with exercise-related injuries, ideally with the exact type of injury in the current circumstances.
  6. REMEMBER WHO THE SMART ONE IS. Physically active people should follow the advice of their physician. If they don’t believe that the feedback that they receive from their physician is warranted, they should obtain a second opinion. They should not expect or look for quick fixes. The primary objective should be to treat the injury in a way that is safe, sound, and sensible. As such, they should never attempt to return to exercising too soon. If they do, their body may suffer an even more serious injury.
  7. KEEP IN MIND THAT THE BODY IS A CHAIN. Every part of an individual’s body is linked inexorably to its adjacent parts. As such, the human body only is as strong as its weakest link. Accordingly, individuals who want to be as injury-free as possible should attempt to strengthen and condition all parts of their body. They also should be aware of the fact that they could suffer an injury to one part of their body that was caused by a weakness or a problem in a different part of their body.
  8. THE HEALTH-EXERCISE CONNECTION. The value of getting sufficient rest and eating a sound diet should never be underestimated. Although extremely worthwhile, strengthening and conditioning are not enough to prevent injuries. To keep the body as injury-free as possible, the body also needs an appropriate amount of sleep and the right amount and kind of fuel (food).
  9. BALANCE IS KEY. In the best of circumstances, the muscles in front of the human body are as strong proportionally as the muscles behind the human body. The basic rule of thumb is that the frontal muscles (which accelerate human movement) should be just as strong (but no stronger) than the muscles behind the body (which decelerate human movement by serving as a “brake” on acceleration). The only exception to this guideline are the muscles of the legs. The frontal leg muscles (e.g., the quadriceps) should be approximately 1.5 times as strong as the muscles behind the body (e.g., the hamstrings). If the proportional relationship is skewed, the disproportionally weaker muscles are more apt to be pulled, which is the main reason for the preponderance of hamstring pulls in physically active people, particularly weekend athletes.
  10. TWELVE MONTHS A YEAR. Physically active people should exercise all year-round (fortunately, most do). If, for any reason, they stop working out, their body will return to a lower level of fitness, whatever that might be if a particular individual doesn’t exercise regularly. In fact, some researchers suggest that the body will begin to regress physically after a period of 72 to 96 hours of inactivity.
© 2014 American College of Sports Medicine.