Prevent injuries by understanding body mechanics

SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany -- If you have physical fitness test coming up, there are some critical things you should know in order to maximize the effectiveness of your workouts and prevent injuries.

Always begin workouts with dynamic stretching consisting of arm and leg movements such as arm circles or marching in place. This allows for a gradual increase in blood flow to prepare for the workout.

Don't use long stationary or static stretches on cold muscles as doing so can cause injuries. Save static stretching for the end of the workout. By then, the muscles will have adequate blood flow to allow them to lengthen.

The hold time when stretching is also important for preventing injury. Stretches should be held between 30 to 60 seconds.

As you begin any upper body lifting workout, consider a two-to-one principle. That means working the back muscles -- smaller muscles than the front -- twice as much as the chest muscles. If not, you begin to generate shoulder imbalances that can lead to injuries like shoulder impingement or a rotator cuff-tear.

When buying a pair of running shoes, don't immediately buy the one with the best reviews. You need to be sure the shoe is designed for the type of foot you have. There are three types of feet: high arch, low arch and normal arch.

For a high-arch foot, you need a shoe that's cushioned. A cushioned shoe allows the foot to sink into the shoe, decreasing the arch.

For a low arch or "flat foot," you need a motion-control shoe. This shoe is thicker on the inner side of the rubber sole, which adds support to the inside of the foot, allowing the arch to increase.

The last foot type is a normal arch and requires a stability shoe. This shoe is adequately cushioned with support for the inside feet.

To find what foot you have, try the wet test. Simply wet the bottom of your foot and briefly step on a paper towel. The image left on the papertowel represents one of the three types of feet.

If you run in minimalist shoes or toe shoes, start gradually and increase your distance slowly. When running in these shoes, ensure you land softly on the ball of your foot and not on your heel because this can lead to injuries.

When it comes to core exercises, many people think they are working their core if they just do sit-ups or back hyperextensions. There is more to the core than just this. You should think of your core as a plane tire opposed to a car tire.

A car tire is only reinforced around the circumference and can more easily blow out. A plane tire is bias-belted and reinforced all the way around. This is how you want to strengthen all the muscles of your core to include your abs, back extensors, obliques, hip, groin and buttock musculature. When performing core exercises, ensure your pelvis and back are in a neutral, not slouched, position and that your abs are engaged by pulling your belly button into your spine.

Remember not to hold your breath. Working on core exercises will not only improve your sit-ups, but also your pushups and run on the fitness test and will minimize and prevent lower back pain.

Many injuries are directly related to muscular and joint imbalances. So when prepping for your fitness test, ensure you stretch and strengthen all your major muscle groups on the front and back side of your body.