Mastering the Art of Working out (or how to avoid injuries with mindful exercising) -June 2019 Blog

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I was always mindful of using my best technique while training and exercising, even before I became a personal trainer or Alexander Technique Teacher.  I am, however, competitive by nature, with myself and others and often pushed myself to the limit resulting in injury. I was in my early to mid twenty’s when I was training at my hardest, youth was on my side and the idea of sustainable training didn’t seem an issue at that point. I always seemed to bounce back.

When I qualified as a personal trainer and taught exercise classes and 1-2-1 training sessions I was even more of a stickler for ‘good form’ or technique. Sometimes with weight training in particular, I saw people ‘cheating’ while performing exercises. ‘Cheating’ by performing for example, simple bicep curls (an exercise for the front upper arm muscles), with too heavy a weight for their present capability.  This meant they swung the weight up to create speed and momentum, using and arching their lower backs, rather than only using their bicep, thus risking injury. They also failed to perform the exercise with a full range of movement which meant they wouldn’t benefit fully for the exercise. I tried to be a good example to clients, promoted good technique and explained the risks of poor technique. Unfortunately however, I still sustained injury for two main reasons;

  1. My biggest habit – and competitive nature, I always pushed myself and didn’t listen to my body.
  2. I misunderstood exactly what ‘good body use’ or good poise/posture were. 

I had a classic ‘military style’ posture at the time, not slouchy, therefore good so I thought? Well no, I was wrong, It created undue stress and tension especially in my lower back and between my shoulder blades. As a result these were areas I regularly injured. Also, having spent my teens competing at discus and shot-put at school, with much enthusiasm but without great technique, I would regularly injure my ‘throwing’ shoulder. (My lack of technique meant I was using my arm from my shoulder and not supporting it with the rest of my body).

It wasn’t until I started having Alexander Technique lessons that I realised where I was habitually holding excess tension due to my faulty sense of ‘good posture’. I gradually understood what I was doing that made me prone to repeatedly injuring the same muscles and joints.

Now, through the skills learnt with Alexander Technique, when I do exercises, go for a walk or even sit at my laptop to write this, I have a more accurate sense of how I am using my body and tools and techniques to help me move well. This improved body use is built on a foundation of mindful awareness of my body. I am able to bring my attention into my body, while still being aware of my surroundings. I wish AT had been part of my physical education, I am sure it would have prevented many of my injuries.

Another thing that I feel contributes to injury within the gym environment, is that we are NOT encouraged to train mindfully. We are often distracted by watching television screens and work out more from a sense of duty rather than enjoyment. We rush around mindlessly, going through the process without much thought. When new to a gym, an instructor should demonstrate the exercises and machines to us, but it can be tricky to accurately replicate something demonstrated in this way. Many gyms, however, are not supervised by instructors and we are left to our own devises. These factors may make gyms more of a health hazzard than an aid to our health and wellbeing. There are also more controversial exercises, that are not appropriate for some people and getting advice is helpful. However, with all exercises it’s more about how we perform them and thinking mindfully about our bodies capability as we train. Training in a conscious and intelligent way, makes the most of the exercises we do and allows fitness to become something with long term benefits. 

My Top Tips for Exercising

  • Be mindful of how you are using your body, especially with relation to your head, neck and back. If we are over tensing and compressing our spines it can lead to all sorts of problems. Alexander technique teaches us how to move our spines, joints and limbs in a well co-ordinated and free way. It improves our proprioception (awareness of the position and movement of the body)  and kinaesthetic awareness  (The ability to be aware of one’s own body parts (e.g., muscles, tendons, joints), posture, shifting of weight and movement of the body through space).  For example, if you have ever seen a kids karate class, adult BodyPump class or similar, you may have noticed the different ways people ‘interpret’ the instructors demonstration, you can see how inaccurate our body awareness can be. N.B. If you are hypermobile, or have Hypermobility Syndrome, then your proprioception is sometimes less accurate. It’s best to improve this first before going to the gym, as your chances of injury are higher with poor proprioception. I shall write more about this next month, but feel free to contact me for more information. 
  • Understand which muscles and joints the exercise is working and moving. We need to have an accurate body-map, a practical understanding of our own basic anatomy to train well without injury, Alexander Technique will teach you this. 
  • Listen to your body, understand where you are now, from week to week things can change, respond to what your body is telling you.
  • Think about your breath. If you are holding your breath or modifying it too much you maybe creating problems. Alexander Technique helps!

To change unhelpful training habits, try some Alexander Technique lessons, learn how to master the art of working out and move well throughout the rest of your life. For more information or to book a lesson please use the contact details on top of the page.

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Author: Esther Miltiadous

Alexander Technique Teacher, North London, U.K.

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