Time away from the gym can be one of the most painful, tedious, and tiresome experiences an athlete, or any individual for that matter, may ever have to go through. Injuries can come in all shapes and sizes, severities, etc. These should not be taken lightly, as if not tended to sooner rather than later they can get worse, heal improperly, and ultimately cause far worse problems than if they were taken care of in the first place.
However, if we can prevent injuries from ever occurring in the first place, one can be more active and ultimately achieve their goals without having to overcome any major roadblocks along the way. In this article, we will discuss some important tips and actions that can be done to help prevent injuries all together.
Strengthen Weak Muscles
One of the main goals for a lot of individuals who enter the gym is to increase their strength. This could be in conjunction with wanting to lose weight, improve sports performance, or just be active. There are a lot of benefits to lifting weights or beginning a weight training regimen. The truth of the matter is that the vast majority of the population suffers from postural and muscular imbalances that can be extremely uncomfortable and can progressively worsen and cause major problems in the future.
This comes as our lifestyles get very repetitive – for example, wake up, get dressed, drive to work, sit at computer desk for 8 hours, drive home, sit and eat, sit on the toilet, watch TV, go to bed… and repeat. As you see, it’s a lot of sitting and inactivity. Even for the people that do make it a point to go to the gym or walk a little extra in the day, the average time for this is most likely 45-60 min. Some people reading this may think, “wow only 45-60 min”, when the reality is yes… only 45-60 min. These muscle imbalances can cause the severe problems in the gym because overactive muscles will be working to hard, and just like overworking at your job leaves you exhausted, so to can your muscles.
On the flipside, underactive muscles are simply just not strong enough yet to keep our bodies in a proper body alignment when exercising. One misstep during an exercise or cardio session can cause an injury just the same as doing an everyday household activity. The last thing you want to have happen is to throw your back out while deadlifting or have the same thing occur when you pick up a box of the ground or your child out of their car seat.
These muscle imbalances are easy to target, if you know what to look for. I am a health and fitness professional with a rehabilitative background, so I can pick up on these fairly quickly. I am open to providing some sort of interactive postural analysis, just shoot me an email and I can explain. So the take home with this section is to identify what areas of your body are weaker, and formulate your training around building up the strength in these weaker areas.
Stretching, Flexibility and Mobility Work
Stretching is probably one of the most overlooked aspects of training and injury prevention. Stretching is mainly beneficial for lengthening the muscles from their shortened positions, with the hopes of increasing range of motion. This is beneficial because we want to perform lifts and exercises with our muscles able to lengthen and shorter maximally. This can be done statically, which is holding a stretch for a set time with no movement (standing quad stretch, etc), dynamically, which is stretching done with movement usually more specific to the actual exercise about to be performed (bodyweight squatting, lunges, pushups, etc), or a combination of the two. Light cardiovascular work can also be done as a general warm up to get blood throughout the body and prime it for exercise.
Inadequate stretching can eventually lead to injury, which can take out of the gym, and further away from our fitness goals. If we cannot work in a full range of motion, the muscles potential to lengthen and shorten is nowhere to be found. Think of it as a tight branch. You can bend the branch as far as you can, increasing tension the more you bend it, but it will always have a snapping point. Think if that was you hamstring or quad… OUCH!
Stretching and foam rolling has also been shown to help improve recovery from exercise, so doing this after training is just as important as prior to training. Get to the gym a little earlier if you have to or do it at home, but make stretching a priority and important part of your training regimen.
A Specialized Workout Regimen
Having a properly written program is a very important piece to having measurable goals. Just going into the gym without purpose or having an overall goal, in my opinion, is setting one up to fail down the line. Always having a plan of some sort will ensure that you are progressing in a positive direction. There are a lot of cookie cutter programs out there that you can just search for online and do. This can be looked at in a few different ways. Good because it gives a program and something to shoot for. This can be counter productive because it has no specificity for the individual. If you tried to do a workout of, let’s say Kai Greene’s mass building program, and you go into it expecting to look like a bodybuilder in 12 weeks, you are setting yourself up for failure and injury in the process.
The lifts in a lot of those programs are very advanced and written very generically. Two to one, Kai Greene doesn’t lift like that specifically. Your program should be tailored to your overall goals, and it will be slightly different for every individual. Variables within the program will be different. This can be in relation to sets, reps, rest time, different emphasis on certain muscles, etc. The point is, don’t try to be anything or anyone other than yourself. We are our own entire person. This is where my occupation comes in.
As a certified health and fitness professional, I write and instruct workout regimens that are going to help the INDIVIDUAL get to THEIR goals. There is no cookie cutter plan. So, in order to be the most effective and provide the most safety, follow your own specialized program to reach your goals.
Proper Form… Not Perfect Form
I hear the term “perfect form” used quite frequently in the fitness industry. In my opinion, there is no such thing as “perfect” form… but there is proper form. The main reason for this is because, just like our workout regimens are never going to be identical, us as individuals are not identical either (unless identical twins!). Our body specifics are vastly different. Some people are short, tall, losing weight, gaining weight, big feet, small feet, etc. These specifics can alter how movements look depending on the individual.
Squatting, for instance, gets broken down and picked apart and you often hear “keep your form perfect”, etc. When I perform postural assessments on new clients, I instruct to turn the feet straight forward. This is for me to be able to identify certain overactive and underactive muscles and then tailor their training around correcting said imbalances. When we squat out on the gym floor or in the weight room, we may turn the feet out in order to clear the hips and complete the movement in a comfortable fashion.
No I’m not saying a severely rounded back or excessive forward leaning with weight on your back is right, because those can be very serious injuries waiting to happen. There are certain mechanics one should stick to when weight training but don’t be shocked if movements may look different per the individual. Proper form is key, it will never be PERFECT!
These tips are for you to work on preventing injuries whilst training or in the gym. Look out for part two which will explain how to look after yourself out of the gym, too!