Year of Leadership: Keys to avoiding injuries

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Carl David Conner
  • 341st Security Support Squadron first sergeant
As most of us should know by now, beginning January 2010, the Air Force will see new changes in our fitness program. One of the most eye opening will be that full-time active-duty Airmen will test twice a year. With that being said, it's obvious most everyone will ramp up their quest to ensure they do well. One aspect that some may not pay attention to are the effects on certain body parts that this new standard may impact, especially the knees. Most of the problems can be prevented, however, if you understand why knees get damaged in the first place. Check out these three common ways to abuse your knees and what you can do to avoid them.

Bad move #1: Letting yourself get weak in the knees (literally). Leg strength is the key factor in avoiding knee injuries. Here are a couple steps to strengthen the muscles around the knees. First, master the skier's squat. Place your back against a wall and maintain a sitting position with your thighs parallel to the floor for 1 to 3 minutes. Second, muscle up with the barbell squat. Using a weight that you can lift with good form, half your body weight is a good starting point, perform two to four sets of 10 repetitions.

Bad move #2: Refusing, even after you've been urged to do it a thousand times, to warm up. Not warming up before exercise is the equivalent of driving your car on a winter morning without letting the engine heat up. Without warm oil to lubricate its parts, your engine will grind metal on metal. The same thing happens in your knee when you don't give the joint's natural lubricant, called synovial fluid, a chance to spread across the area. But it's not just the lubricant you have to worry about. Cold, tight muscles can't work smoothly either. A sudden start or stop could tear one of the muscles surrounding the knee, cause or exacerbate an overuse injury such as tendinitis, or damage the cartilage. What to do: A good warm-up should be specific to your activity. If you're lifting weights, warm up by lifting light ones; if you're running, start with a slow jog. Once your body is warm, stretch your quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves, all of which stabilize your knee joints.

Bad move #3: Always walking it off. If you're feeling a lot of pain in your knee, something's wrong. A little bit of pain during exercise is acceptable, depending on what the activity may be. If there's pain when you're finished, or if there's pain the next day, that's not so good. What to do: Aches that plague you over a long period of time, discomfort that causes you to limp, and swelling around your knee are all signs that you have a serious injury and should see your doctor.

In closing, the aerobic run will account for 60 percent of the test (previously 50 percent), when the new standards go into effect. During the recent CORONA TOP conference, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz stressed the need to promote a year-round fitness culture, and send a clear message that health and fitness are critical to mission readiness. Emphasizing proper physical and mental preparation will ensure his intent is met.