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Exercise Without Injury: Get Fit. Be Safe. Go the Distance.

A conversation with Todd Weitzenberg, MD, about preventing exercise-related injuries.


Interview by Dolores Radding

Todd Weitzenberg, MD, is co-chair of Kaiser Permanente’s Sports Medicine Northern California Regional Peer group and chief of the Sports Medicine Program at Kaiser Permanente Santa Rosa. 

Dr. Weitzenberg is a life-long athlete and a competitive cyclist. He’s also the featured guest for this month’s Health Talks Online titled “Get Fit. Be Safe. Go the Distance.” 

 To hear more from Dr. Weitzenberg on preventing injuries, register for his upcoming Health Talks Online: https://www.signup4.net/public/ap.aspx?EID=20111274E&OID=172 

You’ve been practicing sports medicine for more than a decade. What trends are you seeing?

A new development in the last few years is people saying, “I want to run, so I’m going to do a marathon.” It’s sort of like saying, “I want to hike, so I’m going to hike Mt. Everest.”

I’m the medical director for the Nike Women’s Marathon, so I think doing a marathon is great—but you need to work up to it. We’re seeing a lot of repetitive motion injuries related to running. If someone wants to start running they should give it a try for awhile and see how it goes. They could maybe do a 5k, then a 10k, and see what that feels like. Then maybe do a half marathon.  If all goes well with that, maybe do a marathon. It’s trendy to do a marathon, but it’s not for everybody.

What’s your philosophy for avoiding injury when you exercise?

I have two sayings. The first is commonplace and that is “Listen to your body.” If something’s hurting, and you have a training schedule, it’s okay to deviate from the plan in the best interest of your body. That’s the number one training error I see. If your knee hurts and you’re supposed to run 5 miles, maybe you should take the day off or do something different like core work, upper body work, or workout on a stationary bike. If the pain doesn’t improve, then be sure to see a medical professional. Don’t just blindly try to run through the pain.

The second is: “A little a lot is better than a lot a little.” Your body responds really well to small doses of stress. So you want to avoid the weekend warrior phenomenon where you don’t do anything for five days, than go out on Saturday and run 10 miles, which would be a huge stress to your system. Instead of doing 10 miles on Saturday, go out and do 2 or 3 miles Monday through Friday then 5 miles on Saturday. Your body responds better to small amounts of stress.

What’s your take on stretching?

I do believe in stretching, but I think everyone’s unique. I don’t think you can make cookie cutter recommendations for everyone.  A good warm-up is important, and stretching out tight muscles, especially if you’ve been sitting all day, helps you loosen up and prepare your body for exercise. Ideally, you’d do something called a dynamic warm up—which is a combination of a stretch and light exercise. So instead of doing an old-fashioned static calf stretch, the dynamic warm-up for your calves would be to come up on your tip toes and lower back down. That way you’re warming up the muscle while you’re lightly stretching the muscle.

Any advice for exercising safely as you age?

It’s important to strive to be fit and healthy no matter what your age. Studies have shown that even in the presence of osteoarthritis (which is arthritis due to aging, and wear and tear on a joint) exercise will improve your quality of life without worsening your condition. Also, people who exercise tend to be happier and enjoy life more. As you age, you have to be more creative in finding ways you can exercise. For example, if you have knee arthritis and it hurts to walk, then try cycling or water aerobics. It’s important to find a safe and fun way to exercise so you can keep your muscles and bones healthy and strong. Exercise will make your life so much better. It’s the best “medicine” you can give your body!

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