Fitness Questions and Answers

We understand how confusing the fitness world can be.

As a result, we've compiled some answers to common fitness questions, offering you invaluable advice to help make sure your workout is performed safely and effectively ...

Q. What's the best way to recover quickly from training and prevent sore muscles?

A. Believe it or not, the answer is to do another workout! It may be the last thing you feel like, but research by the American College of Sports Medicine has found we recover faster when we do gentle exercise instead of taking a rest day. It seems the key to quick recovery is to exercise without putting too much pressure on your muscles. On the day after a hard workout, do an easy one. If you're a runner, run fast on one day, then walk or jog slowly the next day or for several days until your muscles are fresh again. But any time your muscles are really stiff and sore, you should take the day off to prevent injury. Perhaps also book a massage to help ease the pain.

Q. My knees hurt when I run - I've heard this may be due to wearing high heels. Is this true?

A. Knee osteoarthritis is twice as common in women as men, yet biomechanical differences, such as wider hips for childbearing, do not explain this phenomenon. Women, however, tend to wear moderately high heels routinely, even when at work – and this is the deciding factor, according to a report published in the medical journal The Lancet.

Researchers found that wearing high-heeled shoes increased rotation forces on the knee by 30 per cent compared to walking barefoot. So, next time you're out shopping for something cool to adorn your feet, choose function over fashion. Go low on the heels and you'll be walking tall for a long time to come. In addition, both women and men can increase longevity in the knees by ensuring squats and lunges are in the exercise routine.

Q. Is it useful to keep a record of my workouts?

A. Researchers at the University of Calgary have proven that keeping an exercise diary is a vital tool in helping you stick to your activity programme. Those who record their workout efforts exercise more frequently than those who don't and so are far more likely to see the results. This is why it's crucial you and your instructors complete your programme card to track your activity. Another tip is to mark an X on the days when you miss a workout, as this has been shown to help keep exercisers on course.

Q. Is it okay to watch the footie or my favourite soap opera when I'm in the gym or should I concentrate on my workout?

A. TV or not TV is a common conundrum, and Sports Psychologists have now revealed that focusing your attention away from your body when working out may reduce feelings of fatigue and increase your chance of sticking to your exercise regime. A three-month study showed 87 per cent of those watching gym TV or reading whilst sweating were still going strong compared to 37 per cent who had no distraction and were concentrating on their activities.

Q. Why do I perspire more immediately after I finish my workout?

A. At rest, around 25 per cent of your blood supply is directed to the skeletal muscle to keep you moving. Working out at high intensity, however, could lead to this increasing to as much as 90 per cent, as the muscles need more fuel (by way of oxygen that is carried in the blood). Along with this level of activity, your core body temperature will rise considerably and your self-regulating thermostat will be trying to get rid of this excess heat.

Once you cease exercising, the muscles no longer need so much fuel so the blood flow can be reduced and re-routed to the skin, from where it is easier to release the heat through sweat. In addition, when you're exercising, you're moving your limbs, which encourages evaporation of the sweat. As you rest afterwards, though, the sweat is more likely to sit on the surface, so it's more apparent. Don't forget to rehydrate with an isotonic drink after your session.

Q. What and when should I eat to get the most from my workouts?

A. Muscles burn carbohydrates, so if you haven't eaten for several hours, a snack before activity will help you to work out better. For a pre-activity snack, choose a toasted bagel, a banana, dried fruit, bread sticks or cereal bar.

If you really can't eat, have a drink containing sugars instead e.g. fruit juice, smoothie, glass of milk, sports soft drink or a glass of ordinary squash.
Try to drink 300-500ml fluid before you start your workout and keep drinking during and after activity to replace the fluids you lose. Also, it's best to refuel and replenish as soon as possible after exercise, to help you recover quickly.

Q. I've been told weight training is the best way to reduce the risk of Osteoporosis but I don't want big muscles. How do I avoid 'bulking-up'?

A. Osteoporosis is a potentially fatal condition whereby, with age, the bones become less dense and more prone to fracture. Women are affected more than men are, as there is a link between the condition and the post-menopausal decrease in oestrogen levels. Whilst all exercise has plus points, your advice is correct, weight training is key due to its 'bone-loading' property, as the pull of the muscles on the bones actually stimulates bone growth.

The result is that bone density increases, so counteracting, even reversing , the effects of osteoporosis. The good news is that women do not possess high enough levels of testosterone that is the hormone responsible for muscle growth. Therefore, introducing weight training into your activity regime will not lead to you growing bigger, but looking more sculpted and defined – a real plus point when it comes to that little black dress.

Q. Although I know many women are most concerned about their hips and thighs, why do I seem to hold fat around my middle, like a spare tyre?

A. The route to successful weight loss is as simple as 1,2,3! Well, not quite, but it's all about mathematics. If you use up more calories than you consume, at the end of the day, week or month, you will be, as the experts call it, in negative energy balance i.e. you'll lose poundage. Unfortunately, despite what you may have heard, it's impossible to remove fat from one part of the body alone, so try to think whole body, but rest assured you will notice changes in your waistline.

To kick-start, challenge yourself with new cardio exercise options such as mountain biking or power walking. Now is a great time to enjoy the outdoors and an activity you've not tried before will produce a better calorie burn than routines you may be familiar with. If you visit the gym, try alternating bursts of high pace with slower bursts on the cardio machines. Also, don't forget the weights, as dumbbells can help increase muscle tissue, which speeds up your metabolism. Focus on shoulder sculpting exercises to balance out your body shape.

Q. Should I believe the promotional jargon surrounding sports footwear or simply buy any trainers for my workouts?

A. Choosing the right shoes for you, from the wide spectrum now available, is perhaps more important than you think. Of course, colour and design must play a part, but when you consider poor footwear can lead to shock-related injuries in the ankles, shins, knees and lower back, you must consider function as well as fashion. Although most trainers are not separately sized for width, some brands now have a lacing design to vary width, so look out for these. An elasticised inner sleeve will ensure an even more comfortable fit. Try to shop for your trainers at the end of the day when your feet are at their largest, as this will allow room for when your feet swell due to heat during exercise. Always try both shoes on, as around 90 per cent of us have different sized feet, and look for a supported heel cup, together with flexibility to bend at the ball of your foot.

Q: Is it vital to stretch to avoid injuries?

A: Unfortunately, there's no conclusive proof that stretching before or after exercise will either reduce your risk of injury or prevent the soreness you may feel in your muscles the following day. Stretching after a workout is a good idea, however, because warm muscles are more elastic and so will allow for a greater range of movement. Holding these stretches for around 30 seconds will lead to greater freedom of movement around the joints and so assist in good posture, which helps to reduce risk of spine problems. Prior to exercise, ensure you have a gradual warm-up, gently mobilising the joints and raising muscle temperature by performing gentle arm swings, leg lifts and slow striding motions. Never try to stretch when you are cold.

If you'd like more advice about fitness, please check out the rest of the Expert Zone – we'll be adding even more great tips in the weeks and months to come.

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