Why being active is not the same as being strong

WORDS: Bradley Bennett - Physio Fit PHOTOGRAPHY Freepic.diller

If you want to be more active while looking after your body, what should you do? ORM finds out more.

As a physiotherapist, I hear many sentiments along the lines of “I am very active. I go for long walks and I’m very active doing gardening and housework almost every day. I don’t understand why I am getting injuries. I thought the more active you are, the healthier and more injury-free you should be.”

So what goes wrong?

The way I explain the problem to my patients is that our body has a finite capacity to perform an activity. Whether it is an athletic task such as running, cycling, or playing sport, or even as simple as maintaining good sitting or standing posture, there is always a limit to how long our muscles can work until they become overloaded.

Often, this is a particular muscle or group of muscles that is mechanically disadvantaged because of poor posture. Motor control issues may also contribute to a particular muscle being a ‘weak link’ too.

Pushing past your limits will not necessarily make that ‘weakest link’ any stronger and often will cause problems for the surrounding structures that will have to pick up the slack as you press on past your capacity to do that activity. What results is muscle overload that feels like muscle tightness and soreness, and the surrounding passive structure feels stressed and strained, which feels like an achy and inflammatory pain.

So if you want to be more active while looking after your body, what should be done?

You want to identify what is the weakest link in the chain that starts to break down as you reach your limits to do an activity. Your physiotherapist can help you with this and identify what the best strategy will be to do some targeted strengthening for your weak links. Often this can also involve finding the best strategies to attend to any associated motor control issues that should also be addressed.

What makes a good strength training program?

Beyond targeted strengthening, you want to ensure you have a formal strength training routine so that you can improve your overall capacity. While it may be necessary to customise your strength training routine around any pre-existing conditions and your recovery time, it should have the following three characteristics:

  1. Muscles should be challenged against resistance to a certain repetition maximum. This means after performing the exercise a certain number of times, you can’t continue any further without losing good technique. This could be as little as three reps to 20 reps depending on your strength or endurance goals.
  2. The strength training session should be repeated ideally every three to five days. Typically, if greater than seven days, your body will start to return to baseline levels of strength as the super-compensation that occurs in the muscle will be lost.
  3. Each successive bout of exercise should be carefully progressed so that progressive overload of the muscle occurs. You should be able to do ‘a little bit more’ with each successive bout of training. This could be done in a variety of ways, such as increasing the resistance, repetitions, or the time under tension.

At Physio Fit Studio, we advocate for our clients to develop and maintain a strength training program. We specifically cater for individuals who are already managing pre-existing injuries and conditions as well as those unfamiliar with strength exercise and who want to minimise their risk of new injury.

Furthermore, we assess posture to identify ‘weak spots’ that may need targeted strengthening before a full-body strength-training program is implemented.

So if you want to look after your body and are unsure where to start, our experienced physiotherapists can guide you in the right direction so that you can be active and minimise injury.