Let’s Get Physical

Personal trainers weigh in on fitness.

photograph by Andres Rodriguez | Dreamstime

Most people want to stay active and fit as they age, whether through golf, tennis, biking, running, or aerobic exercise routines, but they worry about injuring themselves in the process. We’ve spoken with two local personal trainers who have shared with us some valuable information to help us keep fit and hopefully prevent overexertion.  

Dion Welling, ACE-CPT, is the owner of Teneo Fitness, a personal training studio where he offers appointment-only, one-on-one training, semi-private training, small group training, boot camps, and TRX classes. Welling is a certified personal trainer with 23 years of experience. Many of his clients come to him for weight loss, but others come to stay in shape and increase flexibility.

For active adults who play golf or tennis or run or bike, certain exercises can aid in flexibility and help prevent injuries like torn rotator cuffs or torn ligaments. “With any sport, one of the first things you want to do is strengthen your core,” Welling says. “Any exercise we do where we’re rotating the body that also incorporates your core — as long as you’re keeping the belly button pulled back against your spine — helps protect your lower back and helps to develop and strengthen your core.” Some successful core exercises include different variations of planks. “We do what’s called a side plank. That’s where you’re moving the hip down to the floor then all the way back up,” Welling says. “We also do straight leg lifts, rotational exercises, or squats.”

Beyond core strengthening, Welling works with his clients to promote joint integrity, since that’s how most injuries occur. “Many athletes and trainers concentrate on training the larger muscles in the body, like the quadriceps or the chest, but fail to strengthen the smaller muscles in the body, like the ones surrounding the joints, so they aren’t as strong as the larger muscles,” Welling says. “Then you’ve got a counterbalance where one’s tugging a little harder than the other, and that’s where a lot of the imbalances or injuries come into play.”

The shoulder joint, for instance, if not properly stretched and exercised, can be injured. “To work the shoulder,” Welling says, “we take a resistance band and do what I call ‘scarecrows’ — inner and outer rotation — to get all aspects of the rotator cuff in motion.” In addition, Welling suggests back rows and other movements with the resistance band to help strengthen the smaller muscles around the shoulder joint and the rotator cuff.

For hip joints, Welling suggests abduction exercises — movements that draw a limb out to the side, away from the body. “We do what I call ‘fire hydrants’ or ‘dirty dogs’ where you get down on all fours, keep the knee bent and lift your leg out to the side — abduction away from the body — and then all the way back down,” Welling says. “We also do ‘horseback riders’ where you straighten out the leg and make a circle with the hip joint.”

For clients interested in muscle building, Welling encourages functional training, in which you work with your own body weight, like push-ups, pull-ups, squats, and lunges. “Sometimes we’ll incorporate a dumbbell chest press or a stability ball, or we may do a one-arm roll with a dumbbell to work the back,” Welling says.

To increase flexibility and assist in injury prevention, a light warm-up is suggested before any workout routine. The warm-up can be two to five minutes; even just a casual walk outside or on the treadmill will suffice. “You want to warm up the muscles before you start trying to stretch or work them.” Welling says. “We’re doing a lot with foam rollers now, and that’s almost like giving yourself a deep tissue massage. That helps if you’ve got any knots in your legs or your upper back or anywhere. You can roll that muscle over the foam roller to help roll out those knots.”

Welling recommends that the average person exercise anywhere from four to six times a week for 20 to 30 minutes a day. “There’s a lot of research out there now that says exercising or being in a gym for an hour or more at a time is not more effective than if you’re there for 20 to 30 minutes going at it hard,” Welling says.

Dawn Stein, an attorney and former University of Mississippi tennis player, has been a personal trainer for 10 years. She says most of her clientele is middle-aged; many come to her after they’ve been injured or have just been released from physical therapy. Like Welling, Stein believes in the benefits of foam rolling before working out. Foam rolling can make workouts more effective while speeding recovery and preventing injury.  

“The foam rollers we use are pretty hard and solid,” Stein says. “There are different theories on it. There’s something called the MELT method, which is using a soft roller, and the belief is that there shouldn’t be anything hard against the body. With Trigger Point Therapy, the equipment is very hard and sturdy, and the belief is that it’s more about the breathing and relaxing, so that you can get tight muscles to release.” Stein says the Trigger Point Performance Therapy website (tptherapy.com) has some great products that help with foam rolling.

To foam roll, you place the roller against your body and roll it along the muscles. To roll certain areas you’d lie on your back to position the roller against your muscles. Says Stein, “When you do your calves, you’d sit up, place your leg on a platform, put this device against your calves, and then you put your other leg on top to add pressure.”

Stein says she foam rolls first thing every morning. “I get up and foam roll before I do any kind of active exercise,” Stein says. “I don’t necessarily do any kind of static stretching. I do the foam rolling and a dynamic warmup, and then after the exercise, I foam roll more once the muscles are loose, and the body is all warmed up. It’s like self-massage.” Stein says it’s good to foam roll seven days a week “because it’s getting blood flowing, and neurologically, it helps connect everything.”

Stein prefers dynamic warm-ups over static stretching. Dynamic stretching is where you’re going through a motion, not just static stretching where you hold it in place. An example of a dynamic stretch is when you hold your left foot out just a bit in front of you and flex your toes, and you take your hands and pretend you’re scooping something up from the ground to stretch out each hamstring.

Along with foam rolling and dynamic stretching, staying hydrated is essential to preventing injury while working out. “You must be well hydrated because if you aren’t, you’re going to injure yourself. You’re going to cramp up, or you’re going to pull something in your lower leg,” Stein says. Though we may drink plenty of water, many of us are not necessarily hydrated. We might lack the potassium and magnesium that we need. “There is so much connective tissue around your ankles and calves, and you’re going to tear something or pull something if you aren’t properly hydrated. Many people complain about cramping in their calves, but often that could be remedied with proper hydration.”

Once Stein ensures her clients are properly hydrated, she takes them through the foam rolling process. “We use a roller that is a little smaller than a roller you’d get at Sports Authority, and I put it just above the ankle and have them do some ankle rotations just to see how well that goes,” Stein says. “Then we move on all the way up the leg and hit the hips and go to the back and just try to see where they feel tight. Based upon that, we develop a plan of action.”

Because everyone is different, a plan of action will depend on the person and if he/she has particular issues. If you are someone who sits a lot, for example, your hip flexors and chest could be tight due to sitting. “If someone sits all day, I don’t have them do push-ups because their chest is already too tight, and their back muscles probably don’t fire correctly to begin with,” Stein says. “So the preventative things would be to do some type of dynamic stretching to open up the hip flexors and things like Trigger Point Therapy to open up their chest, to make sure the back is loose. To me, the biggest factor with all of that is if the person is too tight. Then I focus on trying to get all of the muscles loose.”

Stein believes strengthening your core is important as well. “Everyone has a core, and many people don’t realize that it really helps you on all different facets,” Stein says. “I try to concentrate on that kind of thing with my clients through planks and jack knifes as opposed to crunches because a lot of times, I don’t know what’s going on with their back, and if they’re sitting all day, making them come up forward is only going to make the other issues worse.”

As far as workout routines, Stein prefers interval training. “From my standpoint, because I’m older, I find that you can get better aerobic conditioning faster doing either high-intensity training or Tabata-style training, which is either through weights or cardio or both, doing 20 seconds hard and 10 seconds rest, eight sets of that exercise.” What you do will be determined by your fitness level. “For instance, if I have somebody who never really works out very much, we might do something on the treadmill where they go as hard as they can walk for a minute and then slow down for about two or three minutes to give their body a chance to recover,” Stein says. “If I have someone who is in great shape, we’re going to do sprints for 30 seconds, and we’re only going to give them 15 seconds to recover.”

In addition, Stein says a steady-state cardio won’t necessarily improve your fitness level. “It will only be an uphill battle, as opposed to the interval-type training where you can push yourself in different ways,” she says. “And it’s less wear and tear on the body as opposed to 45 minutes of that constant wear and tear.”

Because of the high intensity of the Tabata-style workout, which is more about taking you out of your comfort zone, the average person is only going to want to do that two to three times a week, says Stein. “Given the stress level everybody’s under — because exercise is also very stressful on the body, in addition to life — it’s about moderation. You might work really hard one day, and the next day, you take it easy. I think you have to ask yourself every day, ‘How am I feeling today?’ and go from there.”  

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