How to get the most out of UCSF fitness

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Fall is a busy time of year! UCSF’s gym certainly seems to be bustling as well, having rolled out several new programs: Motown Moves, Pre-Masters Fitness Swim, and a slew of outdoor programs.

I’ve jumped on board and have tried several new classes. As a physical therapy student, I can’t resist evaluating fitness from a biomechanical-ish lens, and I have a few personal tips I recommend to get the healthiest workout.

1. Don’t leave class early.  This is especially hard for clock watchers and those of us who schedule events back to back. It makes sense not to arrive late for class—jumping into the middle of a workout without warming up is a recipe for injury, since the body gets loaded quickly without having the chance to adapt gradually. But the converse is also true: leaving class early means you skip both the cool down and working all the intended muscle groups. Instructors design classes so that opposing muscle groups are both strengthened and stretched. But heading out early means some muscle groups don’t get worked, resulting in imbalances.

2. Modify your weight as needed.  You should be able to maintain gorgeous form throughout all sets of lifting. It’s more important to lift smaller weights with good form than an extra 5-10lbs with form breakdown. Some clues that things are falling by the wayside: arching of the back to provide momentum (most common during bicep curls), unable to maintain a steady, slow descent of the weight, wrist flexion or extension with lifting rather than staying neutral, knees pointing inwards instead of forwards during a squat, and neck muscles tensing with overhead lifts.

3. If you have an injury, speak up!  Not all versions of an exercise are appropriate for you. Avoid inappropriate stresses by telling the instructor before the class starts, so you will not be expected to push yourself to potentially more harmful movements. Specific example: some yoga classes involve repeated forward bending of the back (which could be a risk factor for a herniated disk, if you already hunch over a computer for most hours of the day). Instead, opt for more cobras!

4. Condition for outdoor programs.  Did you know that for $69 you can hike Yosemite, camp in Big Sur, paddleboard and kayak your way around the bay? Many of us weekend warriors sign up for outdoor trips without accounting for the physicality involved. Some pointers: do lots of calf raises and calf stretching in the weeks prior to hiking, engage your core and flex your abdomen while kayaking (it will prevent an arm injury!), and stretch your butt and hip muscles after stand up paddle boarding.

5. Watch out for cleans, deep squats, and tricep dips!  Cleans are the classic bar maneuver, but also a classic shoulder impingement position. Deep squats put high loads on the knees even in the best of situations, and tricep dips push the humeral head forward, thereby stretching out the anterior shoulder capsule and contributing to shoulder instability. If any of these moves sound familiar to you, back off!