How to stay injury free: prevention strategies

September 19, 2016

Preventing injuries is extremely important for people getting into exercise as well as those who have been doing it for years. We must always remember that two things impact your susceptibility to injury: the type of activity you perform and your body's ability to support good form while performing it.


Spotlight: Lower-back pain

Set 1: At the bottom of the Inchworm movement (i.e., push-up position), lower yourself fully to the ground and perform Superman. Back into push-up position and inch your way back up. Do as many as you can for 60 seconds while keeping good form.

  1. Inchworms
  2. Supermans

Set 2: Count to 3 on the down phase of the glute bridge and count to 6 on the up phase - make your movement slow and controlled for maximum benefit. Do 12 bridges. Hold each side of the bird-dog for 30 seconds. All you need is once per side.

  1. Glute Bridge
  2. Bird-Dog

Stretching: Hold each side for 30 seconds. Remember to breath deep.

  1. Leg Crossover Stretch

New exercisers working with a trainer or on your own should make sure to focus on progressing from simple movements to more difficult exercises. Consider the pushup. While one of the most basic and widely used exercises, depending on your muscular capacity it may be extremely difficult for you to perform. The pushup recruits muscles in your back to lower your body, muscles in your chest to push you up, and stabilization muscles in your core to keep you from falling over. If you haven't used these muscles in a year, you probably won't be able to do a full pushup with good form. Instead, work your way up to a full pushup by isolating the muscles involved and working those individually with relatively low resistance.

Current exercisers, focus on the use it or lose it principle. That is, your muscles begin to degenerate after two weeks of inactivity.The longer the spell of inactivity, the less muscle fibers your body will have available for recruitment to perform the exercise. There is also the principle of specificity, so if you only ever work your arms, your legs by comparison will be weaker. I recommend incorporating a full body workout at least once per week. If you train different muscle groups on alternating days, (e.g., Arms on Monday's, Legs on Tuesday's, Chest on Wednesday's, etc) I still recommend the full body routine at least once. The key is getting your entire body moving fluidly.

Another consideration to help stave off injuries is to keep your exercises simple and straightforward. Daily, new ways to exercise are being presented in the media. This is great in general terms, it brings awareness about fitness to more people. Be aware though, some of the exercise movements and methodologies can result in injuries if proper form isn't used or you are using too high a weight load. If you're trying something new, first practice the movement without any resistance (weight, exercise bands, TRX, etc) so you get the mechanics down. Make sure you understand the target muscles and any muscles that counteract or help in stabilization. Finally, add moderate amounts of resistance in small increments until you find the right weight.

Knowing your limitations is important. For example, if you experience low back problems, avoid exercises that place stress on your back. With some modification, even these exercises can be performed without sacrificing safety. A barbell squat is going to require muscles in your lower back along with your legs and core. However, a bodyweight squat can still target those muscles while placing much less stress on your back. Same is true with an isometric squat hold against a wall.

If you're coming off of an injury and are using a brace or strap for additional support, you may be sabotaging your recovery. These aids often limit range of motion for the particular body part, and thereby effectively limit the work placed on the smaller stabilizing muscles. Take an ankle brace that stops all lateral movement. Eventually, if all your training takes place with that brace you won't have strong lateral stabilizers. The moment you exercise without that brace is the moment your injury returns.

Some trainers and coaches with an old school mentality talk about toughness and fighting through pain. There is a difference between the discomfort experienced while exerting yourself and actual pain. Every body is different so ultimately you have to be the one who evaluates your tolerance for discomfort and pain. The football team complaining about running sprints is usually met with the fight through it attitude, which can be an effective motivational tool. However, if you ever feel actual pain, stop the exercise immediately. Whatever the potential benefit of that exercise, it is not worth it if there is a chance that it will cause even a short-term injury. With experience you will better discern discomfort and pain.

To summarize, my five injury prevention tips are:

  1. Progress from simple exercises to more difficult ones and start with light resistance, working your way higher
  2. Perform exercises that have simple movements with good mechanics
  3. Know your limitations, taking past and current injuries into consideration
  4. Do not rely exclusively on braces and other aids as long-term fixes, slowly progress from an injured state to a healthy one by using 1 & 2 above
  5. Feel pain, stop immediately!

In good health,

Francesco

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