Take precautions when exercising on trails

An off-road experience can be both exhilarating and a welcome change of venue for a good workout. This especially applies to athletes who exercise in areas where fall color changes are beautiful and the climate is moderate.

Safety measures such as wearing bright, visible colors, trail knowledge and adequate nourishment can be applied to almost all trail sports, but some precautions are specific to trail running and hiking:

• Stretching and warm-up: Even if this is done as part of a normal pre-run routine, special attention should be made before moving to rough terrain. Specifically, the feet and ankles become more vulnerable to injury on an irregular surface. Suddenly inverting the ankle can result in torn ligaments. Small muscles of the feet will be more prone to strain. The best way to loosen these muscles is by rocking forward and backward from heel to toe.

• Footwear: As opposed to typical running shoes, trail shoes have higher ridges for more traction. This helps when climbing and descending steep inclines.

• Adjust speed-running: Off-road requires a slower, more careful pace than road running. Hidden, wet surfaces, along with varying terrain, demand more attention.

• Avoid distractions: Many runners like to listen to music while on the road. While this may be safe in a controlled environment like a running track, it can be a dangerous distraction on a trail. Sound provides important information when running off-road and typically these natural sounds provide part of the enjoyment.

The fall season in New England provides an outstanding opportunity for workout variation. It is also a perfect setting to begin a new outdoor activity along with friends. Planning an outdoor adventure with safety in mind goes a long way.

When the leaves change, so can workouts

When fall arrives, athletes may be tempted to change the setting of outdoor workouts to more colorful and challenging terrain. Although this will add a new and more exciting element to any fitness regimen, it deserves caution.

Typically, biking, running and hiking are most suitable for an off-road experience.

Trail Biking Safety

Equipment: Road bikes are not well-suited for trail cycling. Mountain bikes are equipped with wide, densely treaded tires that are able to grip rugged terrain. The gearing of a mountain bike is also unique and allows for steep climbs and descents. The braking systems and handlebar grips are also safely positioned.

Protective clothing: Helmets are always imperative when cycling to avoid catastrophic injury — even the most experienced mountain bikers wear helmets. Other protective clothing includes gloves, elbow and knee pads. The rule in off-road cycling is that falling should be expected as part of the experience. Brightly colored clothing is also advisable when riding in areas that may be shared by hunters.

Knowledge: Try to use trails that you are familiar with or study the area on a posted map before entering a wooded area. A compass or GPS device is a wise investment. A cell phone or other communication device is helpful.

Group ride: It is best to travel with others when going off-road, and stay together as a group. This is important from the standpoint of safety as well as adding an aspect of socialization.

Nourishment: Water and energy bars are worth bringing along. Fatigue can be very dangerous and a rider shouldn’t hesitate to take a break for rest and nourishment.

Safety should always be the highest priority in any sport, even when they border on the extreme. Next week we’ll discuss trail running and hiking.

Barefoot running takes adjusting to get in stride

Consumers are constantly updated on the latest innovations in running shoes. Arch supports, gel insoles and weather-resistant fabrics are now standard components. Recently, a growing group of runners have gone against the “more is better” trend by beginning to run barefoot.

In his recent best-selling book, “Born to Run,” Christopher McDougall investigates the running habits of the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico. Members of this tribe are able to run hundreds of miles without rest. These tribal runners accomplish these amazing feats by running barefoot or by wearing a leather sandal to protect their soles in rugged terrain.

The human foot is made up of 26 bones held together by small ligaments. These joints are activated by a network of muscles and nerves. There are three anatomic regions to the foot: the forefoot in front, the midfoot and the hindfoot.

Barefoot runners use a different stride that keeps the hip and knee flexed while landing on the forefoot instead of the heel. Running experts believe that this style of running can diminish injuries to hips, knees and low back. Flexing a joint on impact will absorb more shock and avoid trauma to the cartilage, tendons and ligaments.

“The key to beginning a barefoot running program is to start slow on a level, natural surface,” said Dr. Jeffrey Kierstein, a podiatrist in Norwich. “Many runners don’t realize that when using the barefoot technique, they are beginning to use different muscles. Starting out too hard and too fast will injure those muscles and cause stress fractures to the small bones of the foot.”

Barefoot running is not for everyone, but runners who have been able to adapt are enthusiastic about their new sense of freedom.

Yoga benefits a wide range of people

The mind-body connection has intrigued scientists for centuries. The ability to meditate and visualize various physical activities is believed to be instrumental in healing as well as athletic performance.

This mental and physical collaboration is essential to yoga. Yoga has been practiced for more than 5,000 years. The meditative aspects were the principal emphasis, with the physical component added later.

Poses vary based on each person’s abilities and the yoga style. Many older participants with health limitations are able to benefit from the mental relaxation and stretching along with the camaraderie of class participation.

Among the benefits of yoga are improved:

Flexibility: Stretching ligaments and tendons protects against sprains and muscle strains.

Strength: The resistive component of some poses will improve strength especially in core muscles.

Concentration: Yoga encourages focusing on a specific task without distraction.

Medical studies have demonstrated that patients suffering from cardiac disease, respiratory conditions and neurologic illnesses have all been helped by adding yoga to their therapeutic regimen.

The image of a yoga participant as a thinly built individual able to contort themselves into a variety of “double-jointed” poses immediately comes to mind when thinking about a yoga class. Recently, Lee Elci, a local talk show host, and I challenged that image by attending a yoga class at the Centerspace Wellness Studio in Bozrah. We were both impressed by the intensity of the workout and the benefits.

“The popularity of yoga has steadily grown in Eastern Connecticut,” said Lyndsay Meiklem, a certified yoga teacher and owner of Centerspace. “Many young athletes participate to enhance performance in their primary sport and patients recovering from orthopedic injuries use yoga for rehabilitation.”

Utilizing yoga to treat and prevent illness may provide an effective tool in controlling future healthcare expenses. If interested, contact Centerspace Wellness at 860-886-8562.