Less pain, more gain

Article Mar 4, 2016

Step out of the hurt locker and stay on the safe side with our handy guide to ‘ouch!’ prevention

We know it, and you know it: getting in shape is hard work. Exercise demands a huge amount from your muscles and, occasionally, injury is simply inevitable. 

But, let’s face it, there’s nothing more frustrating than your goals being thrown off track by an annoying stitch during your boxing class or killer back pain during your weights session. 

It doesn’t have to be this way. Figure out the triggers causing you pain – and learn the best way to safeguard your body before, during and after a workout – and you’ll be well equipped to make the most of every single session. 

1. Avoid dizziness

Ever feel light-headed when you’re sweating by the bucket load during your spin class or giving your all on the treadmill? A small study published in the Journal of Nutrition found that being dehydrated during exercise caused dizziness, reduced concentration and fatigue, so fuelling up before your session is really important. ‘Carbohydrate is your body’s primary fuel source for moderate-to-intense exercise,’ explains Reebok Club’s personal trainer and nutrition expert Tim Hart (reeboksportsclublondon.com). ‘If your levels are low then workouts do become harder, as the body has less immediate energy available. If you feel dizzy, rest and recover until the feeling goes before continuing. If dizziness lasts longer than five minutes, end the session or reduce the intensity.’ 

Tackle the problem: Staying properly hydrated is key. ‘For gym training, drink at least one litre of water per hour and an extra litre post exercise,’ Tim tips. ‘For long outdoor runs, sports matches or anywhere in high heat, consume at least one litre of isotonic water during exercise and one to two litres after your workout.’ 

2. Beat lower back pain

If you want to sculpt washboard abs or simply improve your all-over strength, core work is an absolute must. But, when your tummy muscles are weak, your back muscles are likely to take a hit, so it’s vital to work both areas. 

Tackle the problem: Avoid advanced movements if you’ve got a weak back and start with basic core exercises. ‘Lie on your back and bring both legs up into the air, knees bent at a 90-degree angle,’ says Rebecca Gentry, Bodyism performance specialist. ‘Push your lower back into the floor by pulling your bellybutton in towards the spine. As you exhale, slowly lower one leg – keeping it bent – until the heel brushes the floor, then return to the start position. If your lower back lifts up from the floor, or you feel any pain during this movement, stop immediately,’ adds Rebecca. 

3. Tackle muscle cramp

If you’re training for an event and striving to smash your PB or run further than you’ve gone before, muscle cramps are the last thing you need. ‘The primary cause of cramps is sweating during exercise,’ explains Tim. ‘Research indicates that a decreased concentration of electrolyte minerals, such as chloride, magnesium, potassium and calcium, is a big factor in muscle cramps. These minerals are lost through sweat.’ 

Tackle the problem: There’s no cure for sweating, sadly, but you can reduce its effects. ‘An isotonic drink containing sodium and other electrolytes can help to reduce the risk of cramps,’ says Tim. ‘A snack a few hours before exercise – such as some mixed nuts or dried fruit – can also help. However this will not stop the loss of electrolytes once you’ve started exercising. So if you’re exercising for longer than an hour, have some small snacks or an isotonic drink handy while you’re working out.’ 

To ward off cramp before it strikes, eat plenty of leafy green vegetables, such as spinach and kale, for a hit of the muscle-easing mineral magnesium. 

4. Protect your knees

If you’re looking to tone up and boost strength, squats always hit the spot. When performed correctly, squatting sculpts the lower body and supercharges your fat-burning engine. However, if other areas of your body are tight, such as your hips or hamstrings, pain is likely to be on the menu. 

Tackle the problem: Warming up your knees and butt with some hip extensions will help to take the burden off weak knees. ‘Place a Bodyism Mini Band (bodyism.com) just above your knees to keep your knees in line with your toes, and stop them dropping inwards as you move,’ Rebecca suggests. ‘Only bend to a point where you have no pain, keeping your heels firmly pressed into the floor – then push up through your heels, engaging your bottom, hamstrings and core.’

5. Reduce muscle aches

We’re sure we don’t have to tell you that post-exercise soreness tends to set in a day or so after your workout. Usually the result of overloading muscles, soreness is often necessary to help muscles repair and grow, but that I-can’t-get-off-the-sofa pain stems from an improper warm-up. ‘Foam roller work and stretching can loosen the fascia to allow muscles to work to their full potential,’ explains Rebecca. 

Tackle the problem: What you do before and after a workout is just as important as the session itself. ‘Use a foam roller on the body parts you’re going to work, and on areas of tightness,’ says Rebecca. ‘Follow with dynamic stretches such as arm circles and lunges to activate your muscles.’ If ice baths really aren’t your thing, use good nutrition to help you bounce back. Eat plenty of protein and put watermelon on your shopping list. A study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that watermelon juice can help alleviate muscle soreness thanks to high levels of an amino acid called L-citrulline.

6. Dodge stitches

Stitches are a common complaint when overexerting through exercise. Although rarely serious, they can impair your physical performance and reduce the effectiveness of your workout.

Tackle the problem: It’s thought that beginners suffer more than seasoned gym bunnies, so don’t go too hard if you’re a newbie. And, while it’s important to drink water prior to your workout, too much liquid could do you more harm than good. ‘Drinking water before your workout increases your chances of suffering a stitch,’ says fitness expert Dean Hodgkin (ragdalehall.co.uk). ‘There is also anecdotal evidence to suggest shallow breathing, or panting, can be a trigger, so concentrate on deep inhalations and exhalations during your workout.’