Biggest winner

Mark Marietta/For the Observer-Reporter

Trista Thurston, Taylor Crouse and April Crouse, members of the Observer-Reporter’s Biggest Winner team, talk with trainer Tyler Weyers during a recent workout.

More than 80 contestants are working hard on their fitness and diet goals during the Biggest Winner competition at the Wilfred R. Cameron Wellness Center, and they’re almost halfway through the seven-week challenge.

One of the biggest concerns some of the Observer-Reporter team members voiced before starting the challenge was getting injured. Wellness center fitness manager Kate Stache said the best approach is slow and steady.

“It is very common to begin a routine and want to jump right in, but each person needs to master basic functional movements before adding weight or more intensity,” says Stache. “You can always increase your intensity, but if you start out too intense, an injury may put you out of commission for weeks to months.” She recommends basic movements to learn how to do exercises. For example, properly sitting, then standing simulates the motion of a squat while picking up an item from the floor replicates a dead lift. Reaching for a glass in a cabinet is the same motion as a shoulder press.

Certified Physical Preparation Specialist Tyler Weyers is training the O-R team, and the biggest piece of advice he gave them was a lesson on bracing.

“In order to be able to safely perform any movement pattern, you have to understand how to keep your torso from your hips to your shoulders braced as you move throughout the range of motion,” Weyers explains. “This keeps your spine rigid and provides you the confidence to perform everyday tasks, such as picking up the remote off the floor.”

At the end of their first day, he assigned the team homework to practice by pressing their fingers into their side between the pelvis and rib cage. “Using their abdominal muscles, they would have to force their fingers away from their sides,” says Weyers. “This is a very basic but practical way of learning the bracing pattern, and it has worked wonders on providing them the rigidity they needed to be able to progress as fast as they have.”

Take it slow

The best way to start a routine and avoid injury is to take it slow and always be thinking 48 hours ahead.

“It’s important to understand that the workout is not what builds muscle and tones their bodies, but the recovery that happens afterwards,” says Weyers. “I take this into account with every individual that approaches me for training and make it known that we want the weights to feel light on the first week or two, as we’re concerned about how the body responds the following 48 hours.”

He’s seen many people come into the gym and then disappear because they overdid it on their first few visits. “When they get a bad case of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), it’s easy to believe that the gym is the culprit and use that as an avoidance strategy.”

Recovery from workouts also plays a role in preventing soreness and injury. The first step is to drink lots of water and to keep moving. “Not only does it aid in preventing muscle cramps, but proper hydration will also help lubricate the joints and facilitate recovery by carrying nutrients to the damaged tissues,” Weyers says. “Light movement is going to force blood flow into the muscles, which carry all of the nutrients needed to recover from a hard workout.”

Static, consistent post-workout stretching can also help prevent joints from becoming too tight. “Stretching is a wonderful tool in the toolbox, but if you have tight fascia you could be stretching yourself in circles,” he says. He also recommends myofascial massage using items like foam rollers. “Myofascial trigger points can not only improve your recovery,” he says, “but if done properly it can decrease pain and make you feel lighter.”

Above all, listen to your body and know when you need to take a day off from exercise. “There is no one-size-fits-all recovery protocol, and every individual is different,” says Weyers. “If you roll out of bed and can’t move, it may be best to take a rest day and live to exercise another day.”

Lower the impact

Another way to get the benefits of exercise and avoid injury is to incorporate low-impact workouts, including aquatics. Using the pool is a great way to burn calories at a high intensity with low impact.

“The water creates resistance from all angles and always provides support through the entire range of motion,” says Stache. The wellness center offers a wide range of aquatics classes from low to high intensity. Classes in the 92-degree therapeutic pool focus on range of motion, balance, flexibility and strength. In the 82-degree lap pool, classes have higher intensity with circuit training using items like parachutes, medicine balls and resistance-based equipment.

There are also moderate-intensity classes that focus on strength and cardiovascular work such as Aqua Zumba. “We recently added barre and kettlebell classes in the water as well,” says Stache. “In these classes, participants are able to try exercises traditionally done with weights or on land, but with the natural compression of the water.”

Just because aquatics are low impact doesn’t mean they are low intensity. The great aspect of the water is that it can be done at your own pace and intensity. “For those interested in burning more calories, you can add more weight, resistance or speed,” Stache says. “Since the water adds additional resistance, changing one’s pace or resistance dramatically will increase calorie burn. It is quite common to burn between 350 to 600 calories in the water whether you are participating in a class or swimming.”


Kristin Emery is a meteorologist at KDKA-TV in Pittsburgh, an O-R columnist, and writer for Total Health magazine and other publications. Kristin is a Washington native and a graduate of Washington High School and West Virginia University.

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