Picture the lonely jogger; forging his way down a busy road on Saturday morning. His face relays the grueling endeavor and the fact that there is still quite a ways to go before the familiar driveway is in sight. Upon completion, there is a feeling of both accomplishment and mild concern. “I made it, but it used to be so easy.”
Whether it is a run, mowing the lawn, the walk up the hill to the cabin, or the amount of energy at the end of the day, we often recall better days in regard to our level of fitness. The feeling strikes an uneasy chord within. Though well aware that time for exercise has somehow diminished, the desire to maintain historic levels of fitness/vigor remain. From this flood of guilt arises “catch up” exercise, the opportunity during the week to catch up on all the previously missed workouts. This is generally a noble ideal, and one that was probably well tolerated as a young adult. Unfortunately, the price to play gets higher as we get older.
As the Years Pass
As the years pass, poorly maintained muscles and joints no longer withstand infrequent periods of high physical demand. Here, tissue and joint quality (resiliency, flexibility and strength) has diminished. This is a by-product of; previous trauma to these structures, recurring sedentary postures, lack of/diminished exercise and the failure to stretch. What subsequently arises is a body that is relatively stable through the mid portions of the available range of motion, but fails when similar loads/forces are encountered at the extremes of motion. An example of this would be the ease at which one can carry 20 lbs. close to the body at waist height (mid range), whereas the same 20 pounds held away from the body at arms length is quite difficult (extreme range). It’s the same amount of weight, but the problem arises due to the positioning of the joints. This situation commonly arises after being involved in a physical activity that hasn’t been done for a while, for example, walking up/down numerous hills or steps, aggressive lifting, snow shoveling, water-skiing, etc.
A similar pattern of trauma arises with overuse. For example, one pushup is well tolerated, but 100 would create not only muscular, but joint pain as well. Somewhere between 1 and 100 is a happy median; a point where muscles and joints are challenged via exercise, but are not traumatized due to overuse.
These two scenarios, exercising outside of a safe realm, and patterns of overuse are the primary culprits with catch up style exercise and the pain symptoms that are subsequently created.
Obviously, the goal is more consistent exercise and stretching. This maintains (even well into the golden years), the tissue and joint status at the outer limits of motion, allowing for greater intensities of exercise without the residual pain symptoms. Of course, this is not always possible, and this fact must be acknowledged in a realistic fashion. A mindset needs to be established where the concept of exercise is that of a lifetime process, not a weekly chore of maintenance or catch up. “Nothing good comes easy”.
Preventing the Problem of “Catch Up”
One of the better routes to take to prevent the problem of “catch up”, is to schedule workouts with a friend, don’t forget to have fun too. This will insure consistency and minimize the need to catch up. Another is maintaining a journal. By jotting down specifics of the program; ie. distances and pace of a run or walk, or number of reps/weight/intensity with a particular mode of exercise, one can determine what was previously well tolerated and what may need to be modified if in fact there were problems. If there were pain symptoms, rest the joint for a day or two (continue to exercise with the rest of your body), then return to the last pain free workout for the involved joint (no matter how long ago it was), and cut the time or weight/intensity by 50%. If that goes well, return to the 100% level on the next workout. Progress at a 10-20% increase from that point as long as each subsequent workout is pain free. This may test your patience, but will insure a steady, safe progression with one’s exercise program.
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