There are few things more frustrating than training hard and seeing great results, only to wind up experiencing an injury. In some cases, injuries come on slowly. You see the warning signs but decide to push anyway, a decision you’ll come to regret. In other cases, injuries can happen suddenly – slightly incorrect technique on a lift; an accident; or simply being careless in the gym.
While you can’t prevent all injuries, you can, at least to some degree, prevent overuse injuries and those due to poor form. Let’s take a closer look at a few of the most common gym injuries and what you can do to prevent them.
Low Back Pain
Low back pain is one of the most common workout problems that people often face, and is one that can often be avoided with proper care.
The first step in preventing low back pain is building strong abdominal muscles. The more core support you have, the less likely you are to strain the muscles in the lower back. A strong core also helps keep your spinal column in proper alignment, which will help to ensure that you aren’t putting extra strain on the vertebrae in the lower back.
A common cause of low back pain is shoulder pressing with an arch in the lower back. As soon as you arch your spine, you are taking it out of proper alignment. Add in the fact that you’re pressing weight overhead and loading it onto your spine, and you have a recipe for disaster. When you keep your abs tight, this shifts your hips into position, giving you the support you need, and making it impossible to arch your lower back.
The second step is actually thinking of keeping your core tight. While having a strong core is definitely essential, so is making sure that you are actively engaging it. This is particularly important for compound lifts such as squats, deadlifts, shoulder press, and rows.
Anyone who has ever dealt with sore knees knows how much it can impact your daily life. Every step you take, you feel the sharp or nagging pain that makes it nearly impossible to do any lower body work – or even cardiovascular training for that matter.
There’s a three-fold approach to saving your knees.
First, use proper footwear. It’s easy to forget that the cushioning in your gym shoes does wear out, even if the shoe itself still looks pristine. Keep track of the miles you’re logging and change your shoes at least once a year – more often for those spending a lot of time doing higher impact cardio work. Look for shoes that have the proper arch support for your feet. This may require shopping at a specialized store to ensure you find the perfect fit.
Second, watch how your knee tracks in any exercise in which you bend the knees significantly. Squats, lunges, leg press, split squats – all of these are movements that can stress your knee joint. If the knee is moving over the toes, this is going to lead to great tension on the ligaments and tendons. Over time, pain can start to take over and limit your training schedule.
Finally, knee injuries are often a result of overuse, so simply training smarter is a good way to avoid them. Don’t increase the weight, reps, and volume all at once in your training regime, and pay close attention to how your body feels. At the first sign of knee pain, back off and give yourself a few days of rest. Also remember that a lot of common cardio activities put stress on the knee joint, so be sure to take a break from these if you’re trying to prevent a problem before it starts.
The shoulder is a joint that is highly susceptible to injury due to the fact that it moves in so many different directions. While joints like our knees and elbows are hinge joints, the shoulder is a ball and socket joint, meaning it moves on a 360 degree plane of motion. We also use the shoulder joint for almost everything we do in day to day life, so it’s easy for it to get overworked.
Shoulder tendonitis is a very common injury, so keeping the shoulder healthy is vital. This is done by avoiding too much direct shoulder work (overhead pressing for instance) and making sure your rotator cuff muscles are strong.
Few people ever think to work the rotator cuff muscles because they aren’t a muscle that you can actually see. Therefore, why work them? However, they help keep your shoulder in proper alignment and are important for preventing those injuries from occurring. For these reasons, internal and external rotations should be part of any sound workout program.
Elbow tendonitis is another common injury that you can avoid. This injury is very common in those who do a lot of triceps and biceps work, as well as those who shoulder press often.
Elbow tendonitis is often the result of two things: poor form and overtraining. Make sure that you take enough recovery time between triceps training sessions (remember – your triceps will be activated in both your chest and shoulder sessions, too). Also, when you perform triceps exercises, make sure to execute them in a slow and controlled motion, and keep the elbows pointing in the proper position, in line with the shoulders.
Following these tips will place less stress on the tendons. Really think of capturing that mind muscle connection as you do triceps exercises. The better your mind muscle connection is, the easier time you’ll have working the muscle without having to pile on the weight – which is a big advantage for smaller muscle groups.
Any time you can use less weight in an exercise and still see progress is generally a good thing as far as injury prevention goes.
Keep these points in mind and start applying them to your own workout program. Injury prevention is something that you should be mindful of when you’re developing your training plan as well as during your training sessions themselves. Dealing with an injury is one thing that is certain to stop progress dead in its tracks.