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Wellness exercise know your body's limits.

They start showing up every year around February at the physical therapy and sports clinics. By early spring, they're arriving en masse, with pulled muscles, aching knees, and shin splints. They are the newly active legions who have declared New Year's resolutions to get in shape or to return to old passions like bicycling or running. Unfortunately, too many of them don't listen to, much less understand, their own bodies. As a result, they end up with injuries that sideline them for a while, or worse, convince them to quit altogether.

"Experienced athletes might know their bodies pretty well, but its something that's difficult for people who are just starting out," said Thomas Minton, a USA Cycling coach and physical therapist at Mission Rehab and Sports Clinic. Minton and other experts say knowing your body and understanding its limits can be as important as having the discipline and drive to push yourself in new ways. They recommend paying attention to how your body feels, easing into new activities, and learning the right way to chase new pursuits, preferably with some professional advice. Do that, and you're more likely to have an injury-free year and stick with your activity, they said.

To follow this path, one should first recognize the difference between good old-fashioned soreness and potentially harmful pain.

"Good" pain tends to be evenly distributed, or symmetrical, and not concentrated in one spot or one side of your body, Minton said. He described the difference as a "general burn versus a sharp pain." Sore arms might be acceptable after an upper body workout, for example, but not a stabbing sensation beneath one shoulder. Rest days can be vital in preventing a little soreness from into an injury, he said. Overall, good physical activity should actually give you more energy; chronic exhaustion may be a sign you're pushing too hard, or may signal a deeper health issue.

Unfortunately, many people throw themselves into a sport or exercise regimen with a kind of all-or-nothing gusto. Instead, they should ease into one with patience and determination.

"People decide they're going to go for it and undo ten years worth of sitting around in one week," said Kathie Campbell Beldon, owner of the Pilates studio Asheville Body Works and also a physical therapist. "It just doesn't work that way." Start off easy by scheduling two or three easy workouts in the first couple of weeks, with restdays in between. During this time, you will build a good foundation for a successful year, but also learn to listen to messages from your body.

After those initial sessions, which body parts develop aches or soreness? Heavy biceps may be a sign of a good upper body workout, for example, but lower back pain may signal poor form during the workout. Good form makes, a difference in so many activities--a straight back here, a good stride there, for example. Bad form can be a prescription for pain. But other than aches after the fact, how does one know whether they've got good form?

Check yourself in a mirror at home or have a friend observe Better yet, consult an expert who is already well-versed in the body language of a particular endeavor. Countless yoga and Pilates DVDs will no doubt be sold in these early months of the year, but a television can't tell you whether or not you're doing a pose correctly, Beldon said. A yoga or Pilates instructor can make minor adjustments to your form. As the instructor does so, note how your body feels before and after the adjustment. The more you note these differences, the clearer they will become.

Likewise, a 0ne-time session with a cycling or running coach can also fine-tune your pedaling cadence or running stride, Minton said. Constantly maintaining a good cadence or stride can be difficult; even seasoned pros find themselves slacking occasionally. You may find yourself in "the zone," that special place where the world fades away and the soothing repetition quiets the mind. Then a passing thought grabs hold. The mind becomes preoccupied with an unpaid bill or forgotten chore, and then you notice you're mashing down on the bicycle pedals instead of drawing smooth, consistent circles. It's OK--just refocus, As you learn to note these lapses and gently correct them, you will notice you catch them more often before they take over.

Even when her clients perform exercises correctly, Beldon must constantly monitor their facial expressions for signs they're pushing too far. Often, the clients don't want to admit they're going too deep. "I think it's this culture of no pain, no gain," she said. That same culture also fosters competitiveness, and many clients in her group classes try to match their neighbor's performance. So it goes in just about every sport; it pushes us to go farther, but sometimes pushes us over the edge.

"There is probably some DNA linkage as well," said Stephanie Keach, owner of Asheville Yoga Center. She notices this mistake most often in beginners, but sometimes even in advanced practitioners.

So what happens when you push too far and hurt yourself? No doubt, an injury can be disheartening, but Keach suggested an injury might be it natural part of getting to know your body--"a wake-up call" to listen more closely.

Don't become discouraged when injuries strike. Seek medical care if necessary and learn from the experience. Remember that lesson as you ease back into your practice. "It sounds simple, but it is quite a journey," she said. "In the end, mindfulness prevents all injuries, but we need injuries sometimes to discover ourselves on another level."

RELATED ARTICLE: Prevent injuries this year with these tips.

At the gym: Start with weight twenty to thirty percent below what you think you can handle, and work on form instead. Many weight-lifting injuries come from bad form, and good form will make you stronger in the long run.

Practicing yoga and Pilates: Don't compete with others and forget the "no pain, no gain" philosophy. Instead, focus on your breathing and properly doing on the exercise or pose at hand. Listen to how your body reacts those poses and exercises.

Running: Start with small runs before working up to speed drills and long runs. Have a running coach examine your stride.

Bicycling: Start with small rides to avoid strains to the ligaments in your knees. Proper fit is the equivalent of good form; visit a bike shop or sports clinic for a professional fitting.

Mark Vanderhoff is a freelance writer living in Asheville, North Carolina.
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Title Annotation:DEPT.: breathe in
Author:Vanderhoff, Mark
Publication:New Life Journal
Date:Feb 1, 2006
Previous Article:Q & A.
Next Article:Healing into the oneness of spirit through honoring our ancestors.

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