Healthy Back Tips

January 2007

Safety in Starting an Exercise Program

A familiar refrain at the start of a new year is the resolution to exercise. A local YMCA prepares for the increase in member participation by offering valet car service, which if you think of it, is antithetical to the notion of getting more exercise. At the Atlanta Back Clinic, the physical therapists will often see patients that have good intentions to get fit, but instead sustain back injury due to improper form, poor exercise selection and/or over-exertion.

The following suggestions may be of help to you in preventing back strain or injury when you start an exercise program.

1) Determine exactly what your objectives are in your exercise activities:
• Aerobic conditioning,
• Increasing flexibility,
• Strengthening,
• Improving balance and coordination,
• Losing weight.
2) Realistically assess your present fitness level. When was the last time you exercised? When was your last physical exam with your physician? How is your blood pressure? Have you had a recent musculoskeletal injury and have you completely recovered?
3) To begin a training workout session include some form of movement prep or dynamic stretching to warm up your muscles and raise your body's metabolism. This will reduce your risk for injury. Gentle passive stretching after your training session is also advisable during the cool down period.
4) If your work-out is to involve weight machines, familiarize yourself with how each machine works. Be sure to adjust the machine so that you use proper body mechanics. Most facilities have trainers in the gym who should be able to set up the exercise machine correctly for your body dimensions.
5) If your goal in weight training is to strengthen, select weights that allow you to perform 6 - 12 repetitions. If your goal in weight training is to improve muscle tone and endurance, use weights in which you can perform 15 - 30 repetitions.
6) For cardio-vascular health, the goal is continuous, un-interrupted exercise for 20 - 40 minutes. Depending on your fitness level you may need to start with 5 minutes and build-up gradually to the recommended time frame. To gauge your work-out intensity, take your pulse or use a pulse monitor to evaluate your cardio-vascular status. For healthy individuals, heart rates during exercise should be between 65 - 90% of your age adjusted heart rate (220 minus your age). Individuals with cardiovascular problems and/or who are on medications have differences in heart rate responses to exercise and may need additional supervision from an exercise specialist such as a physical therapist or exercise physiologist.
7) For weight loss, build up your total exercise time gradually (approximately 5 minutes per week) until you are exercising for one hour each day.
8) If you plan to exercise in a class, be sure to tell the instructor of any physical limitations you may have. Select a class that is suited for your needs and instructed to your level of conditioning. In class, ask the instructor for a modification or stop altogether if an exercise doesn't feel right for you. Take charge of your body.



The physical therapists at the Atlanta Back Clinic can help you develop an exercise program that is safe, specific to your needs and effective. Should you want further supervision in getting started with an exercise regime, give us a call and set up an appointment for an evaluation to determine the best program for you. If you are interested in Pilates or Feldenkrais® exercise, consider our classes, which are led by physical therapists with expertise in the musculoskeletal system and who are certified instructors.

For more information specific to your condition, contact the Atlanta Back Clinic, or call us at 770-491-6004 to set up an appointment with a physical therapist.