Phil Anton, smiling, while people do physical therapy in the background

Photo by Russell Bailey

February 14, 2022

Win your personal Olympics staying healthy and injury-free with tips from SIU professor

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. — While most of our movements aren’t nearly as complex as the Olympic ice skater’s quadruple axel or the snowboarder’s backside triple cork 1440, doing them safely still requires the coordination of our many intricate bodily systems, said Phil Anton, Southern Illinois University Carbondale associate professor of exercise science and director of the undergraduate exercise science program and Strong Survivors Exercise and Nutrition Program for Cancer Survivors and Caregivers.  

In celebration of the Olympics, Anton offers his “Top 10 Personal Olympics Training Activities” to help you earn the “good health and fitness medal” on a daily basis. 

10) Lead the parade.

Warming up is important, and marching in place is a great way to do it, even in a small space. Start at a slow pace with minimal knee lift and arm swing. Gradually speed up to a faster pace and greater range of motion. This helps get your heart rate and breathing rate up and your blood and muscles moving, challenging your cardiovascular and musculoskeletal systems and improving their endurance.  

9) Have a dance party.

All you need to get started is your favorite song. Take it slow at first and gradually work up to a more vigorous pace with greater arm and leg movements. Let loose and have fun! This challenges your cardiovascular and musculoskeletal systems. 

8) Get on up.

Throughout the day, we all get up and down from chairs and beds and so forth, and practicing this simple exercise can help make those transitions easier. Keep your feet shoulder-width apart and your core contracted as you rise from a seated position. Stand up and then sit again. Control your movement so that it is steady up and down and make sure to take a nice deep breath and let your core relax for a moment before you repeat. 

7) Launch into space and land on Earth.

Many daily activities require us to jump vertically, and more importantly, land solidly and safely. With your feet shoulder-width apart, squat slightly and jump an inch or two. When you land, focus on landing as softly as you can, keeping your core and leg muscles contracted. This will take the stress off your joints and place it on the more resilient muscles. Practicing landings will help you do so more successfully when you have to in daily life. 

6) Stand your ground and reach for the stars. 

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Reach up as high as you can, as if you’re trying to grab a million dollars someone told you is hidden on that high shelf. Keep your core contracted as you go up on your tiptoes and hold that position briefly. This will help strengthen and improve the endurance of your calf and core muscles for those times when you need to “grow a little taller” and reach anything above your head. 

5) Suns out, guns out. 

On any given day you may be carrying groceries, picking up kids, moving boxes or various other activities that require holding objects in your arms. In order to do this with more aplomb – and without getting hurt – we need to exercise and strengthen the shoulder, upper arm, forearm and hand muscles. Have a strong base of support under you, your feet shoulder-width apart, relaxed knees and a contracted core. Grab a light weight and curl it a few times. You can also curl the weight into a “carry” position and hold it there for several seconds to train your muscles for that task. Increase the challenge by increasing the weight, the number of reps, and/or combining it with a balance activity.  

4) Going steady.

Good balance is essential to every movement that we complete, from the very simple to the most complex. It is very wise to practice balance on a regular basis; it just may help stave off falls and potential injuries. One exercise you can do is balancing on one foot. We have to balance on one when walking and running, as well as doing many reaching activities. And by learning to successfully balance on one foot during a typical fall, you can “right the ship,” often avoiding “running aground” and suffering injury. Keep your core contracted as you lift one foot off the ground and hold that position. Repeat several times. Be sure to do this in a place where you can grab a chair, doorframe, wall or other stable object if you lose your balance. Make the activity more challenging by balancing on an unstable surface, closing your eyes, and/or combining this exercise with a resistance activity, such as “Suns out, guns out” (No. 5).

3). Get pushy.

Many of life’s activities require us to push objects with our hands, and this requires strong arm, chest, shoulder, and back muscles. One of the best ways to strengthen these areas is a simple wall pushup. Place your toes about two feet from the wall and your hands on the wall, just outside shoulder-width. Lean in and bend your arms at the elbows, then push back out until your arms are straight. Increase the challenge by increasing the number of repetitions, slowing your pace (especially when moving toward the wall), and moving your toes farther from the wall.  

2). Get your stretch on.

Increasing the natural range of motion of your muscles, connective tissue and joints will help you be able to complete all movements more fluidly and safely. Stretch all of your muscle groups on a daily basis. Stretch each muscle slowly to a count of 10 (until the point you “feel it”) as you extend it and then hold the stretch for 10-30 seconds. Make sure you breathe deeply during the stretch.

1). Chill out.

Speaking of breathing, the more relaxed you are when you complete any activity, the safer and more effective you will be. Periodically throughout the day, take time to do focused, deep breathing to keep yourself in a mellow state of mind.