[Editor's Note: Tampa Bay Buccaneers Director of Sports Medicine and Performance Todd Toriscelli is part of a rotating panel of Buccaneer experts who will be providing advice all season to those who have taken the UnitedHealthcare Get Fit! Pledge. In the third of our weekly installments, Toriscelli introduces the S.A.I.D. Principle to our new workout warriors in order to help them avoid injury and stick with their program long-term.]
I believe my colleagues Kevin Luhrs and Jay Butler have provided you with some very good advice the last two weeks about starting a successful workout regimen, and I'm going to echo one basic point that both Kevin and Jay made: Have a plan. This is just as important in avoiding injuries and the disruption it will cause to your program as it is to eating right and choosing the best forms of exercise.
The key factor in being able to begin and sustain an exercise program, in terms of avoiding any type of delay due to injury, is what we call the S.A.I.D. Principle. That stands for "Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands."
Now, I know that sounds complicated, but if you think about it, it makes a lot of sense. The one thing the human body is extremely good at is adaptation. Whatever you do to your body, it will make specific adaptations to the demands you place on it. For instance, if you start a running program, your muscles will adapt to gain endurance, your bone density will become greater to put up with the work your putting on it, your cardiovascular system will become more efficient and adapt to burn more oxygen as fuel.
The average person who is sedentary doesn't experience those types of physiological changes, but when you start working out, whatever you do, your body is going to start making adaptations to that activity.
Knowing that, the key to staying healthy is allowing your body to adapt to the changes it is trying to make, because those changes will only happen at a certain pace. What happens to a lot of people who start an exercise program is that they get through the initial soreness and aches and pains that come with exercising for the first time in a while and they start to reap the benefits of their work. That's a good thing, of course, but some people will then get a little too excited about their progress and increase the volume of their work too quickly, whether it's adding mileage to their runs or weight to their lifting program. They increase their volume at a weight faster than the body can adapt to it, and that can lead to problems.
For example, consider what I said earlier about a runner's body adapting by increasing bone density. If you increase your mileage faster than your body can adapt, you can end up with a bone stress reaction, which could lead to a stress fracture. Another one of the most common things both runners and lifters can face is tendinitis, an inflammation of a tendon is simply an overuse injury, as the tendon is unable to adapt at the same pace as the increase of the workload.
This is a very key point to keep in mind as you advance through your workout regimen, and here is a good rule of thumb to follow, especially in a running program: From week to week, you never increase more than 10%. I don't know if that exact number is scientifically proven, but I know that 10% rule has worked for a lot of novice distance runners, and even competitive, elite athletes. That goes for lifting, running and any other exercises: You can't increase your volume faster than your body can adapt. If you do, your body will simply break down. If you get a bad case of tendinitis or a muscle strain or stress fracture, what happens then? Your exercise program stops for weeks. If you want to maintain any kind of consistency, it's very important that you have a plan and you increase your volume of work in increments that make sense.
I also want to address one very common question that people have when beginning an exercise program. That is, "If I get a cold, is it okay to continue exercising." The answer is that it's okay to exercise if you have a common cold, to a certain extent. Studies have actually shown that exercise increases your immune system, but too much exercise will have the opposite effect. Now, if you have a fever, then you need to stop. A fever means your body is trying to fight off an infection, and you need to wait until the fever has gone away, indicating that the fight is over.
Finally, I know people have questions about stretching before exercise in order to avoid injury. We see professional athletes warming up before games, so we assume it is essential to safe athletic activity. The thing to be aware of is that the thoughts on stretching have really changed in recent years. The key point is that there is a difference between static stretching – for example, bending over and touching your toes – and a dynamic warm-up. I actually don't advocate static stretching before a run at all. Rather, it is best to jog and go through some movement warm-ups before you run, and then do the static stretching after your run in order to work on flexibility. There is really no need, especially with jogging, to do a static stretch. And with weightlifting, the best approach is to warm up with a light weight to go through the motions of the exercises you will be doing in a dynamic manner.
So, again, as Kevin and Jay told you the last two weeks, have a plan and stick to it. You will make progress, and if you do it in a planned and steady manner, you'll have a better chance of avoiding injury and maintaining your program. Good luck!