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Check your 'ego': How to prevent injuries from even the most basic exercises

Performing common weight-bearing moves without the correct form,

Performing common weight-bearing moves without the correct form, like a squat with weight on one's toes instead of heels, can prove to be disastrous Photo Credit: iStock

Before you attempt that side plank or do another downward dog, stop and take a step back before you hurt yourself. That's right, even the most seemingly benign exercises can cause serious hip, lower back or shoulder injuries when not executed properly.

Colin O'Banion, a physical therapist and the owner of Integrate Health & Wellness in Manhattan, says he often sees patients who, despite exercising four to six times per week, get injured when they take boot camp, core fusion or other boutique fitness classes above their fitness level.

"It's just a recipe for injury," said O'Banion of this phenomenon, known to insiders as "fitness ego."

Performing common weight-bearing moves without the correct form, like a squat with weight on one's toes instead of heels, or a plank with a sagging midsection, can prove to be disastrous, too.

So what's an exercise enthusiast or a beginner looking to get in shape to do? Knowing your body -- and its limitations -- is key.

"Take responsibility for your own fitness level," said Joanna Paterson, a personal trainer and the owner of Bodiesynergy. "When you're trying out something new, go for an introduction or beginner level."

Finding a fitness professional you trust, developing proper form and alignment and progressing from basic to more advanced classes and exercises are advised, too.

Middle-aged female yogis should pay particular attention. According to a recent New York Times article, orthopedic surgeons are reporting a rise in a hip injuries and hip surgeries among this population. The injury -- called Femoroacetabular Impingement, or FAI -- occurs from the repeat grinding of the hip socket on the upper thigh bone, which Jill Abelson, a 14-year veteran yoga teacher and trainer, says occurs in basic poses, including seated forward bend, standing forward bend and a low lunge.

"If women are ending up with hip replacements from basic poses like these, I think something is going seriously wrong," said Abelson.

One factor that might be causing these issues is the inability of teachers to monitor all students in large classes, said Abelson. She also puts some of the onus on students. They need to rid themselves of the "no pain, no gain" mentality and the belief that "harder, faster, extreme is better," she said.

Abelson recommends that students choose a class level that's right for them and find an instructor with a breadth of knowledge and a good deal of teaching and training under his or her belt before jumping right in. Working on the basics is also important.

"The details really do matter," she said.

Paterson, who's worked as a fitness professional for almost 20 years, also recommended communicating any injuries or limitations before a workout so that the trainer can offer modifications, as well as understanding the difference between good pain and bad pain. Feeling sweaty and out of breath is expected, if you can't breathe or balance properly, you're sweating too much or you feel lightheaded, you've likely entered the "red zone." "At this point, you stop," said Paterson.

Other clear signals to back off include sharp pain and a popping or breaking sound.

"Listen when your body is saying no," Paterson said.

O'Banion he advocates for learning basic movement before building strength and endurance.

"To do these classes right, you have to have a good foundation in how to move right," he said. "There's no form of exercise that's foolproof, [but] there are forms of exercise that are a little safer."


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