Nobody wants injuries. Whether you are an athlete, a weight lifter, a runner or someone trying to get fit, injuries suck. The good news is you can do a lot to prevent them. See how many of these points you can check off. Are you being safe in the gym?
1. Warm Up
I’ve said it before and I will say it again, you need to warm up. I am going to start sounding like a broken record, mainly in the hope that if you read some of this stuff enough times, the importance may sink in. Even if you feel like you can jump straight into it, one day you won’t, and when that day comes, it will be painful. A good warm up will
- Increase Muscle Temperature by increasing muscle blood flow
- Increase nerve stimulation, sensitivity and speed
- Gets your muscles prepared to perform forceful contraction
- Stir up synovial fluid in your joints, making you less susceptible to long term joint injury
- Increase joint range of motion
- Increase your performance ability
- Get you more focussed
Every single one of these points will lead to less chance of injury, and a greater performance. Two things that are extremely desirable.
The best kind of warm up you can do to get you into the most ready state is a dynamic warm up. Check out this example of a warm up for people with very little time. Cut the static stretching out, it does exactly what you don’t want. It relaxes your muscles and decreases nerve stimulation. Not what you want.
2. Cool Down
Regardless of your form of exercise a cool down should take place. Cool downs reduce injury by helping you recover faster and more efficiently. If you have been participating in some intense exercise involving running or something more aerobic, you should be doing a fairly active cool down. A light walk, and a stretch is enough to prevent blood pooling in your muscles, help reduce soreness, relax, and prevent fatigue.
If you have done a weight training session, a stretch is generally good enough. Same principles, relax the muscles that have been constantly producing force for the last hour or so. You may not see how this directly affects your risk of injury, but it does. If you have tight, fatigued and overused muscles the next time you go to workout you aren’t going to be in an optimal state and will be predisposing yourself to an injury. Cooling down is easy and doesn’t need to take long. It’s the first step in recovery, do it.
Stretching is an important part of recovery Pic: hey mr glen
I told you, I’m a broken record that won’t stop, ever. You need to recover to prevent injuries occurring. A fatigued body won’t perform optimally, won’t get you the gains you want and will put you at a higher risk of short and long term injuries. Check out this article for more detailed recovery methods, but here is a small list you can do by yourself to get you started.
- Stretch after every workout- relax those sore muscles
- Foam Roll Regularly- Roll out your kinks. Gets deeper than stretching and can provide you with an easy affordable way to get a deep myofascial release. Check out the Aeromat Foam Roller.
- Eat Well- A hard workout means your body is fatigued in more ways than one. If you don’t get some good food into you, you probably won’t be regenerating and building. This is an easy way to stay fatigued.
- Get on your tennis ball- It will hurt, but it will help. Trigger points are areas of tightness in your muscles. They can lead to a decreased range of motion, and if they aren’t fixed, can predispose you to injuries via bad biomechanics and extra strain through that muscle. Rolling around on a tennis ball and targeting your sore points is a great way to get rid of those nasty spots cheaply and effectively. Look out for a more detailed post on this.
- Sleep- The easiest, and most underrated means of recovery. When you sleep you produce hormones that rebuild your body. Get into bed and get good nights sleep.
Another key point in relation to recovery is giving yourself adequate time between workouts. If you do a full body workout, give yourself at least a day. The enzymes that work on your muscle to help you adapt won’t get a chance to peak and work if you do two sessions in a row. The same deal with splits, don’t work the same body part two days in a row. At the least, you won’t get the gains you want, no time for adaptation, at the worst, you’ll end up with an overuse injury in that body part.
4. Technique Is The Key
Correct technique when lifting not only makes sure you get the most out of every set, but also will prevent some pretty nasty injuries. There are many technique issues on show when you glance around a gym but here are some common problems.
- Rounded Back- During any lift, you want good posture. A tight core, straight back, not too much hyper extension will prevent you from adding extra stress to your lower back. This gets enough during the day, concentrate on your posture during all your lifts. Yes, even your bicep curls.
- Lifting Too Fast- Sometimes fast is OK. In fact sometimes you are aiming for it. Olympic Lifts for example. Speed is the goal. A little bit of bouncing is OK every now and then, but generally if you are lifting with too much pace, you are going to sacrifice posture and control. Especially if you are starting out, do things slowly, take your lifts through their correct range of motion with control.
- Behind The Neck- Again, this isn’t going to kill you, but doing lat pull and military presses from in front of your neck is a better idea. Less stress on the shoulder joint. The shoulder is at one of its most vulnerable points when it is in extreme external rotation, which is where it is if you are doing lifts from behind your neck.
5. Joint Mobility
This point is a spin off from technique. Bad joint mobility will lead to bad biomechanics. Bad biomechanics leads to over compensation and stress through areas you don’t want it. Unwanted stress leads to injuries. Some quick examples
- If you don’t have hip mobility, your squat will suffer. You will likely load the knees more and predispose yourself
- If you have horrible ankle mobility, same deal. Stress goes through the knees. Not where you want it.
Get sufficient mobility through your joints, and take the stress away from other ones. Stretch after training and warm up using movements that take you through the full range of motion. A good mobility warm up will give you short and long term range of motion. Some good and easy to perform examples for building mobility are
There are many more but incorporating some of these into your warm up will get you moving and mobile for a session.
6. Get A Spotter
I don’t care how big you are, how strong you are or how much pride you have. If you are going to lift a load that you might fail in, get a spotter. It is a simple solution to what could prove to be a very painful problem. It is essential to have a spotter when you are going to max out on these exercises
- Bench Press- You do not want to get stuck under a bar.
Preferably find a spotter who knows what he’s doing…not like this guy
- Squat – If you don’t have a good squat rack with safety bars in them, it is 100% necessary for you to have a spotter. During a back squat you have got no where to go if you fail.
Other exercises often can require a spotter, if you feel a bit insecure about the lift and if you are new to a lift and want to get cues during the exercise it is a good idea to seek a decent spotter to give you a hand and maybe even some advice.
7. Balance Your Training
Chest…Biceps…Quads…. Chest…Biceps…Quads. They are the cool muscles. I know. I love nothing more than seeing my quads get bigger, stronger and leaner. I don’t like doing hamstring exercises, but if I don’t do them, I will look fairly ridiculous, and my knees begin to hurt.
We’ll look at the chest/ back combo for an example, as I find it to be the most common problem regarding imbalances. Besides the fact that if you don’t train your back, your chest is going to look like crap…you are putting yourself at serious risk of injury.
- You train your bench more than you train your upper back.
- Your shoulder will round out.
- You’ll get pain across your upper back, as it is constantly on stretch.
- You will predispose yourself to many kinds of shoulder injuries.
- The more rounded your shoulders become, the less space you have in your shoulder socket.
- The less space you have, the more likely chance of things getting impinged, inflamed and painful.
That’s only one example. You need to balance your training. The sexy muscles won’t look sexy if their counterparts aren’t there, and you can’t train an injured muscle.
8. Don’t Do What You Do Everyday
Pic: Carsten Knoch
I have covered this before, but I find it increasingly evident that people don’t get told this enough. If you sit down everyday for work, don’t sit in the gym. Your hip flexors are tight enough. Stand up, avoid the bike, do some hip flexor stretches, and work your glutes more. Same deal, if you sit at a computer all day, no matter how well you sit, there is some element of rounded shoulders when using the mouse. Don’t overdo the chest work, stretch out your pecs, and work your upper back.
Don’t exacerbate what is already happening every single day. The gym is only a small part of your daily routine, but make it different.
9. Move Weights Carefully
Does this sounds familiar? ‘Cos I see it all the time. A guy walks up to the dead lift, gets in a perfect starting position, squeezes his glutes, has a strong back, pulls through the bar, keeps it close to him, and basically executes the ultimate dead lift. 2 minutes later, he’s unloading the 25kg plates, bends over, with worse posture than my 95 year old great grandma with severe kyphosis and makes me cringe while watching him put the weights back. WHAT THE?! You put so much effort into weight lifting with good posture, don’t put yourself at risk afterwards.
Note: I don’t have a 95 year old great grandma with severe kyphosis. My grandmas all have/had good posture.
10. Don’t Stretch Directly Before Weights
Don’t do it. It’s not good. Yes I covered it in the warm- up point, and yes I am saying it again. Why? Because when I walk into a gym, there are still guys doing quad stretches before they try to squat 200kgs. Read this article on Flexibility vs. Mobility.
11. Get Strong Glutes And Core
This is a bit more of a general point, but a strong trunk will prevent a lot of injuries. If you aren’t capable of holding 100kgs on your back when you squat, even if physically you can move that load, you are going to have issues. Strengthen your trunk area; lower back, abs and glutes. These hold you together when you lift. They transfer force more efficiently. They protect joints that are otherwise under a lot of stress. Some good exercises to begin with:
- Glute lifts
12. Listen To Your Body
This is a tough concept to understand for quite a lot of people. Keep in mind a few of these points.
- Fatigue- If you are tired and your body is knackered, really buggered, maybe you should consider subbing in a recovery session. No need to skip it all together, but deloading on the weights a little, or doing some long slow aerobic work such as swimming will do wonders for you. The next session you are bound to feel a lot better, and in the long run, not only will you get better gains from working out harder, you will be preventing the onset of chronic (long term) injuries, and the risk of acute (short term) ones.
- Pain- If it hurts. Stop it. Again, I have said this before. But if you have pain you aren’t going to help the situation. You are likely to make your potential injury actually occur, or worsen what is already there.
Listen to your body, but don’t use it as an excuse. There is always something else you can do.
13. Peer pressure, Pride, And Other Dumb Stuff
This is an element of injury prevention that is often missed, but I see some potentially dangerous stuff going on. I will use myself as an example to start. There is nothing more amusing for me than when a big puffed up guy is in the gym, jumps on the lat pull (for example) and proceeds to rip out some reps. Then I come along, jump on, and perform the same amount of reps, with the same amount of weight. I’m not massive, just strong; he’s massive…not so strong. I enjoy this, he doesn’t. It’s not good, for either of us. My stupid pride could result in me getting injured whilst trying to show up some big guy. One day I am going to try to do too much and deck myself. I’m a chick and I have this issue. Competitiveness with your mates in the gym is great for motivation, having a training partner to push you along is awesome…without a doubt. It’s pretty much the reason I play sport, I love to win. I also hate to lose. There are a lot of people out there with the same nature as me, be careful, don’t bring it into the gym…it’s not a competition.
Similar situations happen all the time. If there is a big guy in the gym, prancing around, doing bicep curls with huge back extension to help his guns along…don’t copy him. It’s not intelligent. You keep doing your weights, you will get strong, you will be more efficient and eventually you will also look better. Be smart, leave your pride at the door.
Be Smart, Be Safe.
* Check out some more injury prevention and treatment posts:
- Pinched Nerve in Shoulder
- Bulging Disc Treatment
- Knee Ligament Damage
- Upper Back Muscle Pain
- Piriformis Test