Working out can put a lot of strain on your body. Here are the top solutions to make your body injury proof no matter how hard you’re hitting the gym.
Injuries occur in all walks of life. Whether you’re a world-class athlete, a stay-at-home parent or you work an office job, an injury will find you one way or another in your lifetime. Some are severe, such as an ACL tear. These can require surgery and months of rehab. Others, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, can be minor at first. But, if not taken care of properly, they can become nagging and continually cause problems as it develops into a more severe issue.
When injuries occur, the general process is to go through some sort of rehab and get back to your normal everyday activities. How about preventing injuries, though? Instead of focusing on aches and pains, sprains and strains, as well as broken bones after the fact, more time should be spent on preventing injuries.
Warming up properly, getting sufficient rest and making healthy eating choices are among the best ways to protect your body from injuries and ailments. But, that’s only scratching the surface. Here’s the top 10 best ways to bullet proof your body from possible injuries.
#1 Warm Up Your Body To Start
The first step to preventing an injury is always warming up before training. Ever experience soreness in your lower back following a day sitting in your office chair? During this period of prolonged inactivity, the leg muscles shorten up placing extra pressure on the pelvic muscles. This leads to lower back pain. If you’ve felt this, you’re not alone. Over 80% of people will have lower back pain in their lifetime.
After you head to the gym from the office after a long workday, you don’t immediately jump into the meat of your workout. If you did that, the risk of injury would rise astronomically. Warming up is one of the fundamentals of exercising, but it is often overlooked. Properly warming up before a training session is essential to keep your body running like a well-oiled machine.
Are your shoulders and hips tight?
Try doing a dynamic warm-up for five minutes that consists of shoulder circles, hip circles, inchworms, bodyweight lunges with a twist and knees to the chest. This five-exercise warm-up circuit raises your body temperature, activates all of your muscles, increases the blood flow and oxygen to your muscles and loosens your body up.
#2 Plan And Set Smart Goals
Those who train SMART will achieve positive results. SMART is an acronym for setting goals and stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound. Take a look around the gym and you will find most are just aimlessly working out with no real purpose to their training.
Choosing to do a chest workout each day because it includes your favorite exercises while skipping out on the lower body is not a recipe for success. It can lead to a possible overuse injury and muscle imbalances. Setting a SMART goal such as, “I will perform five weight training exercises per muscle group once per week for four weeks” is a recipe for success. You can tailor your training, track your progress and achieve results. Train with a purpose. Train SMART.
#3 Form Is Key!
One of the most common faults in training is poor technique. That can lead to both acute and chronic injuries. Have you ever performed a deadlift and felt a pull in your lower back? The sudden pull of a muscle in your lumbar spine makes it hard to move. You can’t bend over, twist or do any of your day-to-day activities without using your lower back.
The deadlift is one of the best exercises you can do to boost full body strength, particularly in the posterior region. Without good technique on the deadlift – hinging at the hips, keeping your back straight and core tight and keeping the body in sync as you come to full extension – injuries will happen.
Perfect your technique whether you are lifting weights or running miles. Doing it correctly will boost your performance and save you time and lots of money.
#4 Switch Things Up Every So Often
Many gym-goers have exercise ADD, trying all the newest fad workouts they can find. They never achieve the results they want doing this. You should adhere to a program for four to six weeks, increasing the intensity each workout to ensure that you are safely and effectively progressing. After this four to six week period, your body will hit a plateau and it’s time to switch things up. Variety is a good thing when introduced the right way.
If your six-week program is heavy on squats, consider sprinkling some variety in. Squats are one of the best exercises you can perform as they hit multiple muscle groups. But, they take their toll on your body and can’t be done many times each week with the intensity that is required. If you are not 100% heading into your heavy squats, the risk of injury rises.
Take one day per week and do forward lunges, leg extensions and single-leg deadlifts. These three exercises all hit the lower half of the body and can help improve your squatting numbers.
Training for a distance run but you have pain in your ankles and feet from all the impact? Try cycling one day per week. Cycling is non-impact cardio. Aim to keep your heart rate around where it would be running and maintain that to get a good workout in.
#5 Be Sure You Cool Down!
The cool-down period following your workout is just as important as the pre-workout warm up. Being the final step, it is one that is often skipped. After a workout, have you ever felt sick to your stomach? Chances are you didn’t take part in a proper cool down. After a workout, your heart rate is elevated, body temperature is higher than normal and blood vessels are dilated.
Instead of immediately stopping your activity, do five minutes of walking followed by some stretching. This will gradually bring your heart rate down and prevent you from feeling sick or from potentially passing out.
When the muscles are still warm, doing static stretches for at least 30 seconds will help prevent cramping and stiffness. There’s no excuse not to do it. It takes less than 10 minutes.
#6 Loosen Up Your Muscles
To ensure that a vehicle functions properly, every 5,000 miles it’s advised that it undergoes a maintenance check. Oil changes, air filter replacements and rotating the tires are part of the routine. If your vehicle has regular maintenance, so should your body. Active people put a lot of wear and tear on their body and need regular tune-ups as well.
Massages are a good way to keep your body in sync, but they can be very costly. Try a foam roller. Is your upper back feeling tight or quads quite sore following a workout? Grab a foam roller and slowly roll back and forth over those muscles. Foam rolling is a form of massage that helps break down scar tissue and loosen up your muscles.
After a workout, think of your muscles as a big ball of yarn. The objective is to roll it out so each strand of yarn is flat and parallel. Foam rolling is a great tool to add to your warm-up and cool-down routines. Unraveling that ball of yarn (or muscle) helps boost circulation to those muscles, decreases your chance of injury and cuts down on recovery time.
#7 Stay Sharp! Don’t Forget To Relax And Stretch
Practice relaxation, meditation, and stretching. Those three words describe yoga very well. To keep your body going at a high level and thwart off injury, yoga should be a part of your training plan.
Running too much and the hip flexors are extra tight? Back is creaky from sitting in your desk all day? Performing yoga boosts flexibility. It does so by opening up all the areas of tightness through prolonged poses. It also helps develop strength and sharpens your mind.
Try it for 10 minutes each day to start out before attending a 60-minute class. Yoga helps repair the muscles and tendons that undergo significant stress during training sessions. To keep your mind and body sharp, start doing yoga.
#8 Rest, Recover, and Repeat
Rest and recovery is important for anyone who exercises, whether you’re a runner, cyclist or weightlifter. When exercising, you are breaking down your muscles with each stride or rep. Not only is it critical to have regular rest days, but it is vital to get plenty of sleep. Without enough sleep, you won’t be able to fully recover from your training sessions and the risk of injury increases.
Feeling pain and swelling in your heel area?
How about pain in your shin that makes it hard to walk?
If you’ve ever felt either of these, you’re most likely experiencing an injury due to overuse. Pain and swelling in the heel area is consistent with Achilles tendinopathy. This is common among runners, walkers and hikers. Increasing your mileage too much, too soon can lead to that shin pain known as shin splints.
Plan on continuing to run through Achilles pain and swelling?
If you don’t take care of it and take the proper steps to treat that injury, it can lead to a potential Achilles tear, which is a severe injury. Rest, recover, rinse and repeat and you’ll be well protected from injury.
#9 Don’t Forget Nutrition
If you’re an athlete, eating whatever you want can sabotage your training efforts. Nutrition is an important piece to the puzzle when it comes to physical activity. Following training, you can do all the right things from cooling down to stretching to foam rolling. But, if you do not have optimal nutrition, it can hold you back.
After a workout session, to sufficiently recover, you must replenish your glycogen stores, rehydrate and get enough protein to aid in muscle recovery. Consume good carbs such as whole grains, fruits and sweet potatoes to restore your glycogen stores. Eat lean proteins such as chicken and fish to help with muscle recovery. Drink plenty of water to restore your fluids after sweating it out.
Don’t have the energy to finish a workout? Start by making your diet a priority. Training without optimal nutrition increases the risk of injury.
#10 Feel The Chill
One of the top ways to recover from training sessions is an ice bath. With the winter coming on, that doesn’t sound very enticing. Ice baths have many benefits for recovery though. After an intense workout, getting in an ice bath for 10 to 20 minutes helps repair the body. Muscles are inflamed following exercise so the ice helps to reduce the swelling.
How about lactic acid?
That burning sensation we feel during the workout needs to be flushed out as well. In an ice bath, or cold weather in general, the blood vessels get narrower. After getting out of the bath, the body begins to heat back up and the muscles grow warmer. What follows is oxygenated blood returns to the muscles to continue the recovery process. Is it uncomfortable? Very.
Does it keep your body primed?
There will always be injuries. That’s the price paid for being involved with any form of regular physical activity. But, by keeping your body in prime condition and using these 10 effective and proven methods, you can prevent most of those injuries.
Treat your body like a new car. If you had a new car, you’d use premium gas, the best motor oil, shine it with the best wax and keep the inside clean. Give your body the same attention to detail. In the process, you’ll bullet proof yourself from injury.
By Adam Clark, CPT