Harm reduction: Safety tips for powerful exercises

Header image for Interrobang article CREDIT: ISTOCK (DOLGACHOV)
Start at your own pace and be mindful of your movements to keep safe during exercise.

Harder, better, faster, stronger: song or fitness goals? Both! Daft Punk lyrics aside, these are great goals to have but for some, can seem like a pipe dream, due to injury, immobility, inflexibility, anxiety, or if they are just starting a new fitness program. For others, they are already incorporating the moves, but very often, they are uncoordinated or not executing them in a safe way.

In order to improve in fitness, you need to increase the load. This could mean adding more weight, increasing range of motion, increasing or decreasing speed, changing the angle or lever and adding explosive power or plyometric movement. If you want a runner to run faster, it seems simple to just ask them to run faster.

However, if you want to train them in a variety of ways, so that when they get out and run, the acceleration is automatic and less of an effort because of the movements they have practised in the fitness centre (i.e., scissor jacks on the BOSU, reverse lunge and knee drive, skater jog, etc.).

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Many people are afraid of adding load especially when it comes to explosive movements that make them leave the floor momentarily. They believe that it is bad for their joints or they are afraid of falling. Both of these are legitimate excuses, especially for someone who is new to these exercises or is carrying excess weight. There are ideal starting points and proper progressions in order to avoid injury.

The ideal way to begin is with no weight and a small range of motion. Start slowly and build upon the reps each workout session. Some example exercise progressions are:

• Heel jacks to single leg jacks to regular jumping jacks

• Wide step-ups to quick-on step-ups to box jumps, low platform to high

• Knee push-ups with single hand lift, to knee push-ups to single arm raise, to knee push-ups to kneeling to power push up and clap

• Side skate or step touch, to side leap to side hurdle

• Alternating lunge burpee, to alternating walk-out burpee to full plank burpee

The list goes on and on. The hardest part for some is that they feel like their peers are judging them and that they have to go full out or that they will be perceived as unfit. If someone makes you feel that way, then that is their own insecurity or ignorance. You know your body best. Work at it one day at a time.

For those that are already incorporating powerful movements in their routine, even if they have been at it a while, it’s always good to check in and make sure execution is safe. Generally, the joints responsible for the movement should line up for the load. This is a complicated statement though because our bodies and joints move in so many different ways.

The most common safety cues are: knees stacked over ankles (not over toes), belly in (but not so far you are thrusting your hips forward), shoulders back and down, chin lifted away from chest. The next thing to watch out for is foot placement: practise the move a few times with a smaller range and note foot placement if you are moving your feet from one position to another or if your feet are providing the base.

Typically the wider the base, the more support you have, however, moving dynamically wider can cause imbalance.

Lastly, explosive movements that involve the spine or arms are very tricky and should be prescribed and demonstrated by and exercise professional who can lead you in the right direction. Your spine and shoulder joints are fragile and need to be treated with care or you can face devastating injury.

Explosive and powerful movements are great for everyone if executed properly and if they have meaning in the needs and goals of the person. These moves strengthen our bones, make us more mobile, and improve our agility and coordination and therefore reduce our risk of falling down stairs, on ice and snow, and improve our quality of movement overall.

If you’d like to lean more about adding powerful moves to your routine, you can book on orientation or consultation in the Wellness Centre using our app: Fanshawe Student Wellness Centre.

Karen Nixon-Carroll is the Program Manager at the Student Wellness Centre.