Physiotherapists and personal trainers cannot prevent injuries. It’s simply impossible to address the plethora of variables that cause injuries. When I say ‘prevent’ I mean a 100% guarantee that you won’t get injured.
If we can’t prevent injuries, what can we do? Reduce your risk of injury. Here are my five tips to avoid injury.
1) GET ASSESSED
A movement assessment is the first step in understanding how well your body moves. This gives us an opportunity to look for areas of improvement such as muscle weakness, joint stiffness, tight muscles, etc. Simply put, does your body have what it takes to train without getting injured.
If I were to give you corrective exercises without an assessment, the likelihood of you doing the right things is slim. With an assessment, we know exactly what exercises to do to help you the most.
Some of the big things I look for when assessing a client are:
- Do you have pain with certain movements?
- Do you have sufficient range of motion based on the style of training you perform?
- Do you have sufficient strength required by your style of training?
I can’t know any of that without an assessment.
Now, here’s the thing. The exercises I give you based on what is found during the assessment are what you do as part of your warm-up. I know a lot of the time people think that the exercises they’re given have to be done in place of their training session. Or that they need to train more just to fit in all of their corrective exercises.
Luckily that is not the case. Your warm-up is the best time to perform your corrective exercises.
2) WARM UP PROPERLY
Warm-ups are the best way to prepare your body for the upcoming training session. There are two things you should look to accomplish with each warm-up:
- Prime movements
- Increase heart rate and blood flow
But, there’s more to it than just those two things.
Warm-ups should also address the findings from your assessment the areas that need to be improved. When a warm-up is done properly it should look to address:
- Activate/strengthen weak muscles
- Increase joint mobility
- Increase muscle flexibility
- Prime movements specific to the session
- Increase heart rate and blood flow
I know that may seem like a lot to do, but with an efficient and specific program, it’s easily attainable. You’re already warming up, so it’s just a matter of making sure you’re doing the right things.
Now, I hate to break it to you, but the warm-up you’re doing as part of the class is not enough. The class warm-up is made for the general person, not someone dealing with a cranky shoulder or knee. That’s how it has to be, it’s impossible to cater each warm-up to each individual in the class. You need to do your own 10-15min warm-up each session.
Not sure what you should be doing as part of your warm-up? Get assessed. That’s the best way to ensure you’re doing the right exercises for yourself.
3) LEAVE YOUR EGO AT THE DOOR
Progress in the gym comes from making consistent small changes. We’re talking, about small changes. When you walk into the gym thinking every session will equate to a new PB, you’re increasing your risk of burnout and injury. Adding 10-20kg to the bar every session or every week may work for a little while until it doesn’t.
When we let our egos influence our choices, we start making poor decisions. This is one of the biggest issues I see in the gym. It doesn’t just have to be choosing a weight on the bar, it could even be Rx’ing a workout when you should have scaled. Or even training on a day you should be resting.
For many, it’s not asking for help when you need it the most. You know what I mean, that annoying shoulder pain you get after pullups, knee ache after wall balls, etc. Ignoring it and hoping it goes away only results in a worse problem 6-months later.
You may be thinking “why does it matter, I train because I enjoy it, not to be a CrossFit Games athlete?” I get it, maybe your goals aren’t necessarily performance-based. Regardless of the reason why you train, you certainly need to be able to do it for a long time.
The best way to ensure you’re able to train long-term is to avoid injuries at all costs. One of the best ways to do that is to make small consistent changes. It takes months to years for you to actually increase your strength or see positive changes to your performance, not days to weeks.
Remember this the next time your ego tells you to add more weight to the bar:
- Small, consistent changes create big change
- Don’t be afraid to scale the workout – you’re training because you enjoy it
- Technique and quality movement always trump quantity
- Even niggles need to be addressed, don’t be afraid to ask for help
4) LISTEN TO YOUR BODY
There is a big difference between a niggle and an injury. Niggles are often short-duration aches or pains and low intensity. They don’t usually hinder your performance of movement much. Injuries are long duration and much more severe in both intensity and impact on how you move/perform.
With such a big difference between the two, it’s quite easy to know whether you’ve got a niggle or an injury. Niggles seem like they’re not that big of a deal, probably something that doesn’t need to be addressed, right? It’ll go away on its own, soon, right?
That’s the problem. Niggles are usually something that doesn’t impact you much, to where you don’t really notice them that often. Maybe your shoulder only hurts after a certain movement in the gym. Your knee hurts only after doing a certain number of squats. So what’s the big deal?
It’s what’s happening behind the scenes that are of real concern. Even though the pain is minimal and you don’t think there is any real hindrance to your movement and performance, there is. Your body has an amazing ability to avoid pain and work around a problem without you even noticing it. It changes which muscles work, how much they contract, and how much they can move. This is how your body compensates.
To be honest, these compensations are usually the hardest thing to treat, not the niggle that started it all in the first place. Imagine you’ve been dealing with shoulder pain for just over a year now. I know that may seem like a ridiculously long time, but that’s usually the average duration of symptoms before someone does something about it. Your body has developed compensation patterns and has gotten really good at it because it’s been doing it for a while now.
So, how do you know when that niggle is something that needs to be addressed? If it’s a low-intensity pain that doesn’t obviously impact your performance, it’s probably not something to worry about, if it’s not a reoccurring issue. A low-intensity pain that is present while you’re training, preventing you from performing as you did previously or recurring, needs to be addressed.
You can always pick up on someone in the gym who is dealing with a niggle. They jump down off the rig after doing pullups and rub their shoulder or do arm circles. They grab their low back after deadlifts. Maybe they insist on wearing knee sleeves because their knees hurt without them. Those are all signs that the niggle is causing issues and needs to be addressed.
5) FOCUS ON YOUR RECOVERY
Training is stressful. Not in a way that you feel stressed out during or after, but how your body perceives exercise. Regardless of the type of training, frequency, intensity, or anything else, your body sees exercise as stress. In fact, stress is one of the main reasons why you get fitter and stronger. You stress the body to a point where it forces adaptation, so it comes back better than before.
Unless that is you’re not recovering well enough. Too much stress can have a negative impact. Muscles can tear, ligaments can tear and bones can break. Too much stress and not enough recovery is where niggles start, and injuries happen.
BEST WAYS TO RECOVER
The best way to manage the effects of stress is to focus on your recovery. Luckily, there are many ways you can do this:
- Active recovery such as walking
- Foam rolling and release work
- Stretching or yoga
Sleep and nutrition are perhaps the most important. Sleep is where true recovery occurs. Nutrition is where you get the fuel to train and recover. Outside of those, the one you should focus on the most is foam rolling.
The benefits of foam rolling arent just to increase joint mobility or muscle flexibility, but it can actually help your recovery as well! Foam rolling is great for:
- Decreasing postworkout soreness
- Warming-up before training
- Cooling down after training
- Improving how well you move
How do you know if you need to recover more? If you’re feeling like each session leaves you beat up and sore, you need to recover more. If you struggle to get out of bed in the morning or lack the energy to train hard, you need to recover more. If you’re constantly dealing with one ache or another, those niggles that just won’t go away, you need to focus more on your recovery.
So, there you have it: my top five tips to avoid injury. If you want to learn how you can improve your recovery, click the link below to book your session.