Exercise is a science. Research gives us more and better information all the time. Still, many of us continue to do exercises we were taught in PE classes as kids – exercises which were once thought to give physical benefit but which could instead cause harm.
Andrea Klein is director of preventive medicine and wellness at Yavapai Regional Medical Center. At the hospital’s Pendleton Fitness Centers, she and her staff give their clients guidance on how to do the right kind of exercise – safely and for maximum benefit. She says classic physical fitness moves such as keeping your legs straight and knees locked while touching your toes can actually be harmful to the lower back and hamstring muscles. For those at risk for osteoporosis, it could even result in a vertebral fracture.
Some other examples she gives are:
- “Bouncing” in a stretch. Many believe that bouncing in a stretch helps to give a little extra benefit. It does not. When stretching, you want to hold to the point of tension, but not to the point of pain. Once that tension his held, however, bouncing the body, even softly, can lead to muscle injury.
According to Klein, a far better way to stretch the lower back is lying on the ground and bringing your knees up toward your chest or putting one leg up onto a bench or step and leaning into the leg, always keeping the knee slightly bent.
- Deep squats. When doing squats, many people believe it’s necessary to get to 90 degrees – with the thigh parallel to the ground – to really benefit. According to Klein, that’s not so. “A 45 degree angle, halfway between full standing and 90 degrees, is much safer and achieves just as much in terms of physical benefit,” she explained.
- Traditional sit-ups. Old-fashioned sit-ups required you to anchor your feet under a piece of furniture or have someone hold your feet for you. Then, you’d sit all the way up, touching your elbows to your knees – which were either bent or flat to the floor with legs straight out. Klein warns that this type of sit-up is no longer recommended at any time.
“Abdominal crunches” are safer and deliver just as much benefit as the old style of sit-up. Crunches are performed by lying face up on the floor with knees bent, then lifting and curling the head and shoulders toward the pelvis. All that’s required is to get the shoulders off the floor a few inches to achieve the workout benefit. Going up further toward the knees does not increase the benefit and may cause harm.
- Double leg-raises. That’s a movement where the person exercising is laying flat on the back with legs extended and raising both legs up a few inches off the ground – often holding for several seconds. “That can put too much strain on the lower back,” Klein says. “The alternative is to raise one leg at a time and keep your back flat to the floor – you don’t want to arch or over-extend it.”
“Depending on your goals, working with certified staff like we have at the Pendleton Centers can be very helpful. Not everyone needs to or can work regularly with a personal trainer, but if you have concerns about technique or injury, or you have limitations from past history, it’s best accomplished in a one-on-one session with an expert.”
“The bottom line is, most people have limited time,” Klein said. “When they give their time to exercise, they want to know they’re getting the most bang for their buck. So, why waste time doing things that aren’t achieving what you want to achieve?” QCBN
By Bob Ryan