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Fitness is important, but don't hurt yourself

PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- With Air Force physical fitness standards incorporated into annual performance evaluations, physical fitness has become serious business. Recently, overly aggressive training has become a trend, causing a noticeable increase in number of fitness-related injuries.

Well-designed exercise programs balance aerobic (cardiovascular), resistance and flexibility training to improve fitness and health. However, when exercise intensity, frequency or duration is increased too rapidly, the results could be disastrous.

Randall Hubbard, Exercise Physiologist at the Health & Wellness Center (HAWC) provided the following tips for safe exercising:

* Include a few minutes for warm-up/cool-down with each workout. This can be done simply by performing the same activity at a slower pace before and after the workout. The best time to perform stretching/flexibility exercises is immediately after the cool-down period.

* Aerobic exercise (e.g. running, cycling, etc.) should be tailored to the member's fitness level. A rule-of-thumb for safely increasing exercise time is the "10 percent rule". Aerobic exercise should be increased by no more than 10 percent per week. Members able to run 20 minutes this week should not increase their run by more than two minutes the following week.

* "Cross-training" by performing different exercises on different days (e.g. run on Mon/elliptical on Wed/cycle on Fri) is another way to reduce your risk of injury and achieve more balanced overall fitness. Cross-training allows injury prone members to remain "fit" while minimizing injuries to their joints/muscles.

* Resistance training should also be tailored to the member's fitness level. Correct weight selection and using proper form during the exercise is vital for maximum benefit while minimizing injury. Choose weights that allow 8-12 reps using perfect form. Avoid using momentum, "forcing" an extra rep when tired or locking your joints. Make small incremental weight changes and let your body dictate the correct weight. Decreasing your weights between sets is okay.

* Take at least one day off per week. It is important for members to listen to their body and for units to clearly understand the member's fitness restrictions or profiles. Also, be knowledgeable of Air Force fitness guidance. For example, in AFI 10-248, Fitness Program, formation running is not recommended routinely due to increase risk of injury and not providing an optimal workout for a group.

Remember, safety is everyone's responsibility. Safe exercise enhances health. Unsafe exercise can led to injury to the member, as well as hamper the unit's readiness.