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Just as we’re gearing up to watch the world’s best amateur athletes compete in the summer Olympics when the games kick off on August 11, members of the U.S. Olympic Committee’s medical staff offer up some tips on how the Olympians train smart.

We’d all do well to take a few cues from the Olympians and follow their injury-preventing training guidelines:

1. Don’t do too much, too soon. This is probably the biggest cause of weekend warrior injury. Although you might be mentally motivated to jump into a rigorous workout program or even something innocuous such as a competitive game of pickup basketball, if you’re not used to the level of activity, you’ll likely end up injured. Instead, start out slowly, working up to more aggressive training or play by increasing workouts or mileage by only 10 percent a week.

2. Although many of us shun it as a waste of time or consider it “boring,” make sure that you regularly stretch. During the games, you’ll see many Olympians stretching — take a cue from them and incorporate flexibility training into your regimen.

3. Drink enough water. If you’re feeling thirsty, you’re already 1 percent to 3 percent dehydrated, according to the medical staff. Dehydration is expected to be a big factor during the Athens games because of the broiling heat.

4. Regularly replace your shoes. Although this suggestion might put a hole in your wallet, it’ll help save your joints. The experts recommend replacing running shoes every 250-500 miles, whether they look worn out or not. Wearing shoes that don’t adequately cushion or support your feet and legs can result in nagging knee, hip or foot pain, they say.

5. Warm up before every workout. That means doing 5 to 10 minutes of low-level cardio exercise (brisk walking, running, biking) and easy movements that mimic the motions of your sport.

6. Strengthen your muscles. Do resistance exercises two to three times a week targeting all the muscles groups (lower, upper body and core).

7. Listen to your body. If something hurts, stop. Even though exercise by its very nature challenges your muscles, if you feel sudden sharp or chronic throbbing pain, definitely stop what you are doing. Pushing through pain can lead to serious injury that will leave you sidelined.

8. Learn and practice good technique. Not only will this make you more efficient, it will stop you from putting too much stress on your joints. Olympic athletes train hard to master perfect movement patterns. This goes not only for sports, but for your workouts in general. Lifting weights incorrectly can lead to injury, as can an awkward running gait.

9. Make sure your equipment is appropriate for your sport and in good condition. It should fit well, and protective gear should be worn consistently during training.

10. If you should find yourself injured, how do you know if you need to see a doctor? The U.S. Olympic Committee’s medical staff say you should see a doctor if:

You heard a popping sound when the injury occurred; the injury occurred to a joint; you have severe or prolonged pain lasting more than 48 to 72 hours; you can’t perform regular work or daily activities; or if you have an infection.

— Wendy Watkins is a writer and personal trainer certified by the National Academy of Sports Medicine and the American Council on Exercise. Send your questions to fitness@stripes.osd.mil.


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