Weekend Warrior Warnings
Exercise smart – even if it’s only on Saturdays
By Terri Akman

It’s a glass half-full kind of thing. You could say limiting your exercise to just weekends isn’t worth the effort. Or, you could recognize the benefits of any exercise, even if it is only two days, and get up off the couch.

Before you lace up your sneaks, take heed of these tips and advice from SJ orthopedists. Because while weekend warriors can be mighty, they can also be injured – and then the glass is definitely half-empty.


Don’t be a warrior

“You can’t just go and do what you did when you were 20,” says Merrick Wetzler, MD, of Advocare South Jersey Orthopedics. Like most doctors, Wetzler advises getting a physical exam before beginning an exercise program, especially if you have health issues. “You can also get a fitness assessment from your gym,” he says. “You have to be smart. Have a game plan and a goal of what you want to do, whether it’s a 5K or getting in shape for softball season. Be prepared for what you want to do and increase your length and intensity no more than 10 or 20 percent per week.”


Do something. (It’s better than doing nothing)

Even though exercise puts you at risk for a sports injury, the risks associated with a sedentary lifestyle are much more serious, so it’s better to get moving. “The problems you get from activity are easier to treat than the problems associated with not doing anything,” says Chris Carey, MD, co-director of Virtua Sports Medicine. “Obesity is the biggest problem with being too sedentary, and that comes with other risks such as heart disease and diabetes. Orthopedic problems caused by overuse are easy to treat and fix, whereas medical problems are more chronic and not so easy to fix.”


Feel pain? Stop

If you think you’re hurt, stop what you’re doing. “You can make an injury worse and instead of being injured for a week, you could be injured for a month or maybe even longer,” says John Neidecker, DO, of the Cooper Bone and Joint Institute.

“Signs of injury include pain at rest, pain while doing something you normally do with no problem, and you can’t put weight on it. Stop the activity and start with ice, the safest thing to go with. Motrin is good for a lot of things but unless you know exactly what you’re dealing with, Tylenol is a safer choice. In some cases, like a broken bone, I say stay away from anti-inflammatories because it slows bone healing. If things don’t resolve in the next couple of days, call your healthcare professional.”

Even if you don’t have an injury, slow your intensity if you feel run down. “You might be going hard for a couple of weeks, and then you go out there and feel sluggish and tired,” says Wetzler. “That’s your body saying you’ve worked hard and it needs a little break. You don’t have to take the week off, but back off. Don’t do the same quantity and intensity. Instead of going your normal pace, go a little slower to give your body a chance to rest and rejuvenate before you hit it hard again. Go in cycles of two or three hard weeks and then an easy week.”



“Don’t go to the gym on an empty stomach,” stresses Laura Ross, DO, of the Ross Center for Orthopedics. Because weekend warriors do bursts of exercise – not a regular exercise routine – the body needs to be prepared for that burst.

Ross says to eat some form of protein for fuel, like a protein shake or bar, an egg white sandwich on whole grain bread, oatmeal or Greek yogurt. “Be sure to maintain a well-balanced diet throughout the week. You don’t want to eat crappy all week and pretend you are a healthy person who works out on the weekends. If you can’t workout during the week, at least eat healthy during the week.”


Don’t get hurt

“Most of the time when people get hurt it’s because they are doing something they are not particularly used to,” says Neidecker. “Make sure you have the proper training before starting. If you’re a sedentary person, walk around the block before taking an hour-long Zumba class. Plan ahead before jumping into a neighborhood football game by starting with some cardiovascular training, whether it be a run, bike ride or treadmill workout. Also work on flexibility, so you don’t pull muscles. Always stretch out your legs, because that’s what I see get injured more than anything.”

Overuse injuries are also common, which are caused by making the same motion over and over, like hitting a tennis ball with a racquet. “If all you do is run, for example, you will be more prone to injury, so mix it up,” says Thomas Plut, DO, of Lourdes Sports Medicine. He also suggests doing resistance exercises using your own body weight, such as push-ups, sit-ups and pull-ups.


Women warriors: Lift weights

“I do weight training because I know it’s good for my bones as a middle-aged woman,” says Ross, a self-proclaimed weekend warrior. “I want to make sure I don’t get osteoporosis. As we age we lose bone density, and one of the best ways we can maintain bone density is through weight-bearing exercise. Walking is good exercise for your long bones – your leg bones and spine, but you also need weight training for your upper extremities. Bone responds to forces that are put across it to strengthen it. People who are pre-disposed to osteoporosis may get it anyway, but you can slow down the process through weight training.

Peak bone mass forms when we’re in our early 20s and then starts to drift off, so you want to maintain your bone density your whole life. It’s important for everyone, but especially important for women.”


Stop looking in the mirror

To get the most from your exercise, focus on the health benefits, not weight loss. “People become so obsessed with appearance that they end up forgetting the point of why they are exercising, which should be to promote the quality of life and a healthy lifestyle,” says Plut. “It’s important to keep your body moving in a healthy way and to enjoy the activity. Focus on promoting your overall health as opposed to trying to hit a target weight.”

January 2013
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