Raise your hand if you have ever sustained an injury from working out.
It’s an unfortunate reality that many of us who are consistently involved with fitness pursuits have or will develop some sort of injury at some point. These are the inevitable kinks in the armour that can result from time under the bar and logging mileage.
Obviously, we all want to avoid injuries, whether it be a small bout of tendinitis, a muscle strain, or a degenerative joint. These are the all-too-common ailments that pull us away from doing what we love. When these situations happen, you have two choices: learn from it or be stubborn. This is why I’m going to give you my top injury reduction strategies for athletes to help you while training for your fitness and athletic goals.
“…you have two choices: learn from it or be stubborn.”
I’ve been in a similar scenario having injured my shoulder weight training. This was some something that developed gradually and got worse over time – it eventually required surgery and extensive physical therapy. Ironically, this was one of the better things that happened to me as a strength enthusiast. It forced me to adapt my training and to broaden my perspectives on exercise selection, warming up, having realistic expectations, and valuing recovery.
Here is a shocker for most, unless you are competing in a particular sport or event, no one must do any specific exercise. For example, if the flat bench press only seems to bother your joints and not stress your chest, where is the benefit in continuing with that? There are multiple options that may feel better for you such as different grip widths, varying bench angles, dumbbells, kettlebells, cables, machines, and callisthenic variations. Stress is stress, and a barbell bench press is just one tool in a large toolbox. By freeing yourself from any one exercise, you may begin to realize the potential in finding exercises that feel best for you.
WHAT IF I’M ALREADY INJURED?
Being injured can also make you address certain issues you have been neglecting or train areas you haven’t considered.
Here are the strategies that I use with my clients:
- Unable to Train Heavy? Opportunity to focus on muscular endurance or hypertrophy methods
- Can’t Perform Traditional Compound Lifts? Opportunity to address neglected areas like grip, forearms, core, and calves
- Can’t Overhead Press? Opportunity to address upper body mobility
- Unable to Strength Train? Opportunity to develop conditioning and work capacity
There are countless options here, but the common theme is to train what is trainable. Use the situation to your advantage. Identifying a gap or weakness in your training, and building it up, is never going to be detrimental. In the long run you will ultimately be stronger for it.
HOW CAN I REDUCE INJURIES ALL TOGETHER?
There are a few strategies that I have learned to reduce injuries, both in my career and personal experience. One simple lesson is this – injuries make us quickly realize the value in the simple step of warming up. I am still astonished at the amount of people that shortchange their warmups in training. When you’re 15 years old it can be hard to be sold on the merits of performing a warmup instead of just jumping right into training, but it may come back to bite you later on. When you’re 25, you might still be able to get by with little attention paid to preparing for your workouts, however, when you get into later decades you might begin to regret not taking that time to prepare.
Obviously, there are many ways to warm up, and that goes beyond the scope of this article, but I’ll explain some major facets. The key is to do something that best prepares you for what you plan on training. A preparatory phase of a training session is an opportunity to deliver nutrition and fluidity to joints, groove movement patterns that you’ll use in the session, and provide an opportunity to check into how you are actually feeling that day. For example, maybe you find that, during a lower body warm up, your Achilles Tendon is feeling tender. This may be a signal to avoid any high impact activities like plyometrics in your session that day. This is a much better scenario than going into the session cold and perhaps realizing this in a more extreme way.
“…the benefits of this preparation compound on itself”
Over the course of weeks, months, and years, the benefits of this preparation compound on itself. The hip mobility drills that I consistently perform in my warmups as part of my deadlift sessions each week have a compounding effect over the course of 52 weeks. After that amount of repetition, I’m more confident that I’ll feel and move well when I deadlift and this translates into safer, more productive and more motivated workouts. It may be hard to be sold on the benefits now, but you need to consider how you want to feel, and perform, in the future. Like most of us, we want to continue training and making progress as long as we can so ask yourself, how do you want to look and feel when you are 30, 40, 50, 60, or 70? Thinking about that now will ensure that you reduce the chance of injury over the long-term and truly continue progressing into the future.
WHAT IF I’M ON A STRICT PROGRAM?
It’s also important to acknowledge other lifestyle stresses that might impact your physical performance in a training sessions. Perhaps you are dealing with excessive work or relationship stress, or you’ve been suffering from poor sleep patterns lately and haven’t been able to get into a consistent nutrition and supplementation plan – PERFECT Sports products can definitely help you out with that one. These factors can leave you hints as to how you may need to adjust a particular session. Attempting to go for a squat personal best probably isn’t a great idea after 3 hours of sleep and doing a high intensity interval training workout is probably going to feel pretty sloppy if you’ve missed breakfast or lunch. It is perfectly fine, and suggested, to dial down training session volume or intensity, or adjust an exercise when you need to, based on the realities of your life. A vehicle without oil can function, but it sure does break down faster – your body is similar.
The self-awareness to adjust a plan is an important skill. Often people get wrapped into the mentality that that they are married to a certain program. For example, if your training plan says you need to perform 8 reps on dumbbell chest presses, but your shoulder doesn’t feel normal on rep 4 and 5, what do you do? It is not uncommon for people to push through in these scenarios – no pain no gain right? Wrong. Or maybe your knee has been feeling overly sore the past few weeks, but you continue to front squat because it is part of the program you’re following – consistency right? Wrong. It takes training maturity to know when to stop if something does not feel right or normal. I would rather hold off a rep today and be able to train tomorrow than to push through and end up being sidelined for a week, a month, or worse. It’s not very complicated to hold back when something doesn’t feel right, but you can’t take it back when the damage is done.
Yes, it is important to train hard. But you can’t train at all if you’re constantly banged up. If you do end up injured, use it as an opportunity. Pay attention to how certain exercises feel for you and have the confidence to adjust workouts to best suit your situation. Value the warmup- for better training sessions now and for your future self. Injuries may not be preventable, but if you’re in this game for the long haul it’s important to remember that an ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure.
Bradford Cooke is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and Certified Exercise Physiologist. Bradford is a graduate of the Kinesiology and Physical Education program at Wilfrid Laurier University. He has over a decade of experience in the fitness industry with a primary focus on tactical personnel in military and policing. A lifelong strength enthusiast, Bradford has also competed in natural bodybuilding and arm-wrestling.