As a certified athletic trainer, I work with injured athletes all day. The most common question after an injury is: Why did I get injured? While sometimes it may just be back luck, other times there are much more telling signs than “just a bad day”. Whether you’re just starting out or are a seasoned pro let’s go over ways to avoid injury while working out. Look out for future posts on how to actually prevent specific injuries!
1. Start low and slow
Whether you’re just starting a fitness routine or are a regular in the gym it’s always best to start any new workout with a light weight and proper form. If you can, try to perform your exercises in front of a mirror. 1. It’s motivating and 2. It can keep you accountable on your form. If you’re back squatting and you start to see your knees buckling in or back arch–drop the weight immediately. I promise, it’s for your own good. Crank out a few sets of air squats or goblet squats. Ensure the movement is starting with your hips. Hinge back. Squat down. Keep your chest up. Knees out. Push back up with your heels. And repeat. Once you get comfortable and demonstrate good form, you can start to play with weight and speed.
2. Listen to your body
In a perfect world I would work out every day. My mind would love it. My body, however, is definitely not made for that. Not only do I need scheduled rest days, but there are times where I skip out on a planned workout because I’m still recovering from the last session. It’s okay to skip a day if your body needs it. You’ll only come back ready to go hard on the next one.
Let’s say, however, you said “eff it” and decided to workout anyway. What’s that–a twinge in your a hamstring? Zing in your back? Crunch in your shoulder? Stop. Put down the weight. Grab your keys. Get in the car. And go home.
I’ll let you in on a secret: testing out a injury never ends with “and then I was fine”. Your body gave you a sign–listen to it!
So many injuries, especially overuse injuries, can be managed or completely avoided if you keep your workload within your current threshold. Be smart. If you’ve reached the point of no return please see the appropriate healthcare professional. In the end, stay in tune with your body so you can perform your best each day.
3. Mix up the routine and add in accessory muscle exercises
To avoid an overuse injury mix in some accessory muscle exercises. Each joint has muscles that are considered primary movers and secondary movers. It’s important to balance the two to avoid injury because an overactive primary mover can result in an underactive secondary mover and vice versa. This will put stress on both groups and ultimately the shoulder joint will pay for it–think tendonitis, arthritis, and other structural injuries.
Let’s use For the shoulder try added in Y’s T’s and I’s at a relatively easy weight (think 2.5lbs-7.5lbs) for about 2-3 sets of 10-15 reps. Why the light weight? Your rotator cuff muscles decrease in activation the higher the weight you use. This has been proven in scientific literature with EMG studies. Stick to only heavy weights for the shoulders and you’re overuse your upper traps and biceps in no time. And you know what that leads to? Injury. No one looks cool doing these however they can save you from rotator cuff tendonitis, biceps tendonitis, labral tears, and overall help increase your shoulder stability.
4. Keep mental stress in check
As mentioned above, it’s imperative to listen to your body before jumping into a tough workout. It’s important too to mention mental stress. Mental stress directly impacts your muscle’s ability to recovery. Mental and physical stress both release cortisol. If you’re placing a high physical load on top of high mental stress your body takes twice as long to recover properly. Of course, working out can help keep stress at bay, but when you’re really going through it focus on light workouts to help clear your mind without spiking your cortisol levels.
There are times where I’m mentally burned out from work, struggling with relationships, or panicking over how long it’s going to take me to pay off my student loans. We all have those personal triggers in our life. When it feels like you’re drowning, opt for a meditation session, yoga flow, or a nice nature hike. Your body, and mind, will thank you.
5. Ask for help
Take the necessary precautions when you’re lifting and ask for a spotter. Don’t have a gym buddy? That’s okay! This is a great way to meet one. If you see yourself doing the same exercise as someone else, or if your gym has a personal trainer staff don’t be shy to ask for help. Personally, I need help every time I try to re-rack a pre-weighted barbell. I can always get it off by myself but there’s no chance I can lift 80lbs above my waist. Not today at least. You won’t see me trying to break my back to do it either. Grab someone close and guarantee you more often than not they will help–just be sure to return to favor!