Choosing and Using Athletic Equipment
A wide variety of exercise equipment is available for home use, but how do you determine which equipment is best for your needs? Experts say to choose equip- ment that you are familiar with and comfortable using and to make sure that you will use it regularly before making your purchase. In other words, you have to try it before you buy it. Let’s begin with the basics. The most important athletic equipment you can own is appropriate shoes.
There are many different types of shoes for various athletic activities—run- ning shoes differ from walking shoes, which differ from basketball shoes. Cross- training shoes can be used for more than one activity, such as running and walking. First you need to decide which activity you will most often perform and then shop for an appropriate shoe. Wearing the proper shoe for a particular activity can prevent blisters or injuries such as shin splints and stress fractures (see page 63). When trying on shoes, wear the kind of socks you will be wearing when you exercise to ensure the proper ﬁt. A stable shoe is one that prevents excessive movement of your foot inside the shoe. The insole should be cush- ioned, and the sole should provide traction while retaining ﬂexibility. Athletic shoes usually have a midsole, which absorbs shock when the foot strikes the ground during walking or running.
The midsole is the layer that will wear out ﬁrst on any athletic shoe. That is why ﬁtness experts recommend replacing your athletic shoe every 350 to 500 miles of use. If you are heavy, buy new shoes closer to the 350-mile mark. If you walk 15 miles per week, you will have to replace your shoes in 6 to 8 months. Your shoes may not look worn and you may be reluctant to replace your shoes so often, but the price of a good shoe is a small investment when it comes to injury prevention.
Your athletic socks are also important. Appropriate socks can reduce the like- lihood of blisters, toenail injuries, infections, and bone problems. The right socks can also enhance performance. Cotton socks effectively absorb perspiration from your feet, but if you perspire excessively or exercise in the rain, your cotton socks may reach the saturation point. If that happens, your socks will stretch and lose their shape, and your feet will begin to slide around inside your shoes, leading to friction blisters and skin irritation. Socks made of acrylic or other syn- thetic materials may perform better under “wet” conditions. Try wearing differ- ent types of socks when you exercise to determine which type of sock works best for each type of activity.
When considering the many different types of exercise machines you can pur- chase for home use, choose carefully. Remember that exercise equipment does not have to be expensive to be effective; you can use a length of rope to skip rope, and walking requires little more than sturdy shoes. If you are interested in purchasing strength-training machines or equipment that delivers an aerobic workout, here is a short equipment guide:
Americans buy more treadmills for home use than any other piece of ﬁtness equipment. The motorized track of a treadmill allows you to walk, jog, or run at a pace you choose. Many treadmills have programmed inclines to simulate the intensity of jogging uphill. Others include resistance levers that give your arms and upper body a workout. If you hold the handrails, you can lower the intensity of your workout.
Stationary bicycles are good for exercising when the weather is bad and, unlike running, have only moderate impact on your knees. You can increase the inten- sity of your workout by pedaling faster or adjusting the resistance on the wheel. Some models offer movable handlebars for an upper-body workout. To avoid injuring your knees, you should adjust the seat so that your knees are still slightly bent when the pedals are at the lowest point of their cycle.
Stair climbing is one of the most intense forms of aerobic exercise you can perform. Stair-climbing machines give you a rhythmic workout that does not put a lot of stress on your knees. You can adjust the resistance for a more intense workout. Be sure to place your entire foot ﬂat on the step to protect your Achilles tendon, which runs from the back of your calf to your heel, from injury. Do not climb using only your toes.
Cross-country Ski Machine
Because this type of equipment uses the muscles in both your upper body and lower body, it is an excellent form of exercise that burns plenty of calories. Cross-country ski machines place little stress from impact upon your joints. Some models allow you to raise the front of the machine so that you can simulate uphill skiing for a more intense workout.
Rowing machines simulate the effort exerted when rowing a boat. Rowing machines work the upper body and the legs. Some rowing machines are electric, while others are manual. You can adjust the resistance to vary the intensity of your workout. Sitting upright as you row will help prevent back strain.
This type of exercise machine combines the motions of rowing with those of leg presses to provide a total-body workout. You can adjust the resistance to alter the intensity of your workout. Exercise riders provide a more intense workout for men of average ﬁtness than for very ﬁt men.
It is important that before you purchase a piece of exercise equipment for your home, you try it out for 5 to 10 minutes in the store to make sure your lower back and joints feel comfortable. Do you like the “feel” of the machine? Does it seem sturdy? Is it noisy? Does it operate smoothly? Are all of the handrails and bars padded? Are the controls easy to use? Ask the salesperson how long it takes to assemble the machine and how much extra features cost. Think about your home and determine whether you have enough room to set up and store the machine. And consider honestly whether you will actually use it.
To purchase good-quality, dependable equipment, be prepared to spend at least a few hundred dollars on each piece. Once you have the equipment, be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully and use it properly to avoid injury.
Common Exercise-Related Injuries
Weight-bearing exercise such as jogging, running, or even brisk walking can place a lot of stress on joints and muscles. If you are overweight, you may be at greater risk for discomfort, pain, or injury from weight-bearing exercise early in your ﬁtness program or when increasing your level of intensity or duration. Overuse injuries affect most men who exercise from time to time. There are a number of things you can do to prevent common exercise-related injuries such as sprains, strains, inﬂammation, and pain. Minor injuries usually can be treated with simple ﬁrst-aid measures (see RICE routine, page 65). However, if you have a more serious injury, such as a broken bone, go directly to a hospital emergency department.
Rubbing or irritation inside your shoe can cause a blister to appear on your foot. Good-ﬁtting athletic shoes can help prevent blisters. However, if a blister develops while you are walking or jogging, wipe the blister and a needle with alcohol to kill any bacteria that are present. Then carefully prick the blister with the needle to let the ﬂuid out. Do not remove the overlying layer of skin; it will help protect the underlying skin. Cover the blister with a bandage. The blister will heal on its own in a few days.
Pain is your body’s way of telling you that something is wrong. When pain occurs during or after exercise, it usually signals the overuse of a muscle, tendon, or joint. Most overuse injuries respond well to the RICE routine, a ﬁrst-aid treat- ment you can perform at home.
Here are descriptions of some common preventable exercise- and sports- related injuries and tips on how to prevent them:
Tendons are ﬁbrous tissues that attach your muscles to your bones. Tendons can become inﬂamed from overuse, causing pain and swelling in the affected area. For example, running can cause inﬂammation in your Achilles tendon, which stretches from the back of the calf to the heel. This inﬂammation is known as Achilles tendinitis. The tendons in your forearm that attach to your elbow can become inﬂamed while playing tennis, causing a condition known as tennis elbow. The tendons in your forearm also can become inﬂamed by other activi- ties, such as bowling or playing softball. Swimming can irritate the tendons in your shoulder, producing an overuse injury known as swimmer’s shoulder. Ade- quate stretching (see page 58) before and after exercise helps prevent all forms of tendinitis. Exercises that strengthen your forearms, such as push-ups and lift- ing weights, can help prevent tennis elbow. Raising and lowering your heels and standing on your toes can strengthen your calves and prevent Achilles tendinitis. Strength-conditioning exercises (see page 57) can prevent the development of swimmer’s shoulder.
Pain felt along the front or the back of your shin that occurs during or after exer- cise such as jogging or running is called shin splints. This type of injury occurs when you exercise too much without taking enough rest periods. The best treat- ment for shin splints is rest. Stretching your legs before and after you exercise is the best way to prevent shin splints.
This term refers to the pain and inﬂammation felt in the arch and heel of your foot when the plantar fascia (the band of tough connective tissue that runs along the bottom of your foot from your heel to your toes) becomes partially detached from the heel. This condition often occurs in runners. The pain is usually strongest in the morning and gradually diminishes throughout the day. After using the RICE routine (see page 65), or to prevent this type of injury, try strengthening the muscles in your feet by using your toes to pick up objects off the ﬂoor.
Strains and Sprains
Overstretching or tearing of a muscle or a tendon is known as a strain. The ham- string muscle in the back of your thigh is a common site for a type of strain called a hamstring pull. Inadequate stretching before sprinting or distance run- ning contributes to the development of this condition. A sprain occurs when a ligament (a ﬁbrous band of tissue that attaches one bone to another) is pulled or torn. Sprained ankles can occur when you are walking or running, especially if you step into a broken area of a sidewalk or trip over something in your path and your ankle is forced into an abnormal position. You may hear a snapping sound at the time of injury. Pain and swelling follow. Use the RICE routine (see page
65) and see your doctor. For the ﬁrst 24 hours after a sprain or a strain, avoid applying heat to the affected area—for example, from a heating pad or a hot shower—because heat will increase the swelling.
Stress fractures are hairline cracks that occur in bones when the muscles, ten- dons, or ligaments that surround them become weakened by overuse during exercise and can no longer protect the bones. Stress fractures can occur in these bones, especially in your feet, after the repetitive impact of jogging or running. Stress fractures usually heal on their own, but if you experience severe pain, stop exercising and see your doctor as soon as possible.
In general, the best way to prevent exercise-related injury is to start exercising slowly and increase your intensity gradually. Being overly zealous in your work- outs, especially in the beginning, will quickly result in an injury that will put you on the sidelines.
The RICE Routine for Athletic Injuries
The standard ﬁrst-aid routine for most strains, sprains, and pulls caused by overuse during exercise is RICE, which stands for rest, ice, compression, and elevation. If you think your injury may be serious, or if it does not heal after using the RICE routine for
several days, see your doctor.
Rest: Stop exercising immediately. Don’t put any weight on the affected area for 24 hours.
Ice: Apply an ice pack to the affected area to reduce swelling. (Place the ice in a seal- able plastic bag and wrap it in a towel.) Reapply ice for 20 minutes every hour during the ﬁrst 24 to 48 hours while you’re awake.
Compression: Wrap an elastic bandage around the area, being careful not to wrap it so tightly as to interfere with blood ﬂow. Compression also helps control swelling.
Elevation: Raise the affected joint or limb higher than your heart so that gravity can help prevent blood and other body ﬂuids from collecting at the injury site.
You can take an over-the-counter painkiller such as aspirin, acetaminophen, or ibupro- fen. Aspirin and ibuprofen also help reduce inﬂammation. After 1 or 2 days of RICE, begin gently stretching the affected area. Don’t stretch to the point at which it becomes painful, or you could damage the muscle again. Your doctor or a physical therapist can rec- ommend simple exercises tailored to the speciﬁc injury to help you regain strength.
When the weather is very hot and humid, it is a good idea to avoid exercising in order to prevent heat injury. In optimal weather conditions, sweating cools your body. But if high humidity prevents sweat from evaporating, your body cannot cool itself properly. Continuing to exercise produces more and more sweat, and dehydration can quickly occur, especially if you aren’t drinking enough ﬂuids.
Heat injury occurs in stages. In the ﬁrst stage, called heat exhaustion, you experience muscle cramps, dizziness, weakness, and profuse sweating. At this stage you need to lie down in an air-conditioned room and sip cool water to recover. The next stage, called heat stroke, includes symptoms such as cool and pale or hot and red skin, no sweating, headache, nausea and vomiting, an unusu- ally high or low blood pressure, and a temperature of 105 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. Loss of consciousness and coma can soon follow. Warning: Heat stroke is a medical emergency. Call 911 or your local emergency number and request an ambulance. While you wait for medical help to arrive, lie down in a cool place and have someone place cool, wet cloths on your skin or ice packs under your armpits and at the wrists and the groin area.
Remember to drink plenty of ﬂuids whenever you exercise, but especially in hot, humid weather. Try to work out indoors when the heat or the humidity rises, or skip your exercise routine until the weather turns cooler.
When to Stop Exercising
Exercise provides many health benef its, but it is important to know when to stop exercising. If you feel any unusual symptoms, such as difﬁculty breathing, joint pain, dizziness, chest pain, or an irregular heartbeat, stop exercising immediately. Although regular exercise can reduce your risk of heart attack and early death from heart disease, overexercising can also bring on a heart attack, especially in sedentary men who have one or more risk factors for heart disease (see page 204). Become familiar with the warning signs of a heart attack so you recognize them if they ever occur—in yourself or in some-
one else. The most common warning signs of a heart attack include:
• a feeling of pressure or fullness, a squeezing sensation, or crushing pain in the center of the chest that lasts more than just a few minutes and is not relieved by rest
• chest pain that spreads to the shoulders, neck, jaw, or arms
• chest discomfort accompanied by light-headedness, fainting, sweating, nausea or vom- iting, cold or clammy skin, or shortness of breath
A heart attack is a medical emergency. If you have any of these symptoms, stop exer- cising immediately and call 911 or your local emergency number, or go directly to the nearest hospital emergency department.