It’s a new year and many of us have set ourselves optimistic diet and exercise goals. But before you leap on the treadmill, heed the advice of fitness trainer Smit to ensure you get fit without injuring yourself.

Yorainne Smit has been involved in personal fitness training and group exercise instruction for nearly 12 years – both in her own business, Trainer-on-the-Move, and as part of Virgin Active, the largest fitness and gym company in South Africa and part of the global Virgin Group.

The first step before starting to exercise is to get clearance from your doctor, especially if:

    • You're unfit and have a diagnosed medical condition

    • You're a female aged 65 or older, or a male aged 55 or older

    • You're pregnant.

Once you've got your doctor’s go-ahead, you may be referred to a physiotherapist or biokineticist for specialist professional advice on how to start exercising.

Get the basics right
Despite the Internet’s information overload on fitness and exercise, many people are generally uneducated or confused about basic training safety concepts, like getting shoes appropriate for the specific exercise they want to do.

“I often see people walking barefoot on a treadmill and this is a sure-fire way to sustain an injury,” she comments.

She says common reasons for exercise-related injuries are overusing (overloading) one muscle group, using incorrect techniques and underestimating the importance of flexibility, which ensures range of motion.

People who are unfit or have not exercised for some time should also decide on the type of exercise they mainly want to focus on, she adds.

"I’d recommend speaking to an experienced fitness professional who specialises in your exercise field, whether it’s a gym instructor, personal trainer or exercise team leader.”

Deciding on your fitness goal beforehand – getting fit, losing weight, improving your general health or achieving overall body conditioning – is also vital.

"Injuries tend to occur more easily when someone chooses more than one fitness goal. The key here is to be realistic with yourself. It’s better to prioritise one goal at the start and as you progress to add more to your exercise regime,” remarks Yorainne.

Stepping things up
While various factors determine individual progress, Yorainne says people are generally classified as a beginner in the first 12 weeks of exercising at least three times a week. It may be time to step things up when you start sensing that exertion during exercise is becoming very easy, she comments, adding that, “It could be helpful at this stage of your training programme to get further professional advice, depending on the type of exercise.”

Yorainne urges trying to get “in tune with your body” by being more focused and “in the zone” while exercising. “That way, you’ll be able to pick up more quickly on whether you need to take things slowly or can increase your training,” she says.

General guidelines on taking exercise to the next level include:

    • Changing the type of exercise, e.g. alternating between land and water exercise

    • Increasing speed and intensity

    • Starting to work at different intervals (interval training)

    • Using heavier weights if you're training with gym equipment

    • Increasing the number of exercise repetitions

    • Introducing new elements into your exercise program, e.g. cardio, resistance training and flexibility to ensure variety of training and avoid muscle overuse.

Exercise warning signs
Stop immediately if you experience any of the following:

    • Severe or sharp pain/discomfort during exercise

Don’t heed the adage of “working through pain”. It does more damage than good and injuries will take much longer to heal.

Warm-ups are key
Few people realise how critical warm-ups are in any exercise, to prepare the body for what’s to come. “Dynamic stretching promotes flexibility and when you move outside your range of motion without warming up, it’s almost a given that you’ll injure yourself,” says Yorainne.

Yorainne says warm-ups “should be at least five to seven minutes so you can gradually increase your heart rate from resting and loosen up the muscles and joints.”

“If you’re doing group exercise classes and you know the instructor doesn't warm up, do your own warm-up and dynamic stretching exercises before the class starts," she advises.

Generic warm-up movements include climbing up and down stairs, jogging on the spot, brisk walking or using the static bicycle in the gym.

Examples of dynamic stretching are slow lunges from side to side while keeping the feet still, bending the knees, opening the arms and bringing them back, high slow kicks and reaching for your toes while walking.

If you want to avoid injury, Yorainne says you need to allow for rest in between exercising. "For example, out of seven days in your schedule you need at least one or two days of complete rest where you do nothing."

Lastly, if you have existing injuries, be sensible. Don’t push yourself too hard and especially avoid exercises that can make them worse!

Yorainne says if you have a knee injury, avoid running outdoors or on the treadmill. Rather try swimming or cycling. If you have a back injury, avoid running, spinning and indoor cycling. Instead, do swimming or use the recumbent static bicycle in the gym.


Interview with Yorainne Smit, registered personal fitness trainer, owner of Trainer-on-the-Move and Independent Group Fitness Contractor with Virgin Active, South Africa, which is part of the global Virgin Group established by Richard Branson.


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