It’s an unfortunate reality: if you regularly push yourself in the gym, chances are injuries may crop up now and then. There’s nothing more frustrating than making progress in your training only to be set back by an injury.
There are a number of different types of injuries, so before we jump into injury prevention, let’s briefly touch on these.
Sports Injuries or Overtraining-Related Injuries?
Injuries can come on acutely from sports, like a broken leg, or more gradually, like shin splints. Acute injuries are most common in high-impact sports, especially team sports like football.
Because these acute injuries tend to be more sport-specific, this article will focus on preventing overuse injuries that can arise with any type of training.
We all know that the best treatment is prevention. So what can you do to stop overuse injuries before they happen? Here are our top 5 tips for injury prevention.
1. Warm-Up and Cool Down
We’ve all heard of the importance of a warm-up and cool down, but the truth is that many people skimp on these important practices.
Heavy training without a proper warm-up is setting yourself up for injury. Warming up increases your circulation, muscle suppleness, and flexibility, preparing you for rigorous activity. It even improves your muscles’ reaction time, strength, and power, with improved muscle contraction and relaxation .
Plus, warm-ups get you mentally in the game and ready to perform. The more focused you are with attention to the mind-muscle connection, the more in tune with your body you’ll be. As a result, you are less likely to overtrain or make a mistake that leads to an acute sports injury.
That’s not just hearsay: this 2018 study found that “the psychological readiness for physical activity according to the type of warm-up was significantly higher in [the aerobic-stretch-warm-ups (ASW) group]”.
Cooldowns are just as important. It’s been said that active cooldowns are better than passive cooldowns for preventing injury. However, recent research does not support this . It still stands though that after intense physical exercise, gradually declining your activity intensity so your body can come back to its baseline is best. So don’t jump in the car right after you finish your last set!
What type of warm-up and cool-down is best?
The best type of warm-up and cool-down will vary depending on your particular sport.
However, low-impact, dynamic stretches are generally an excellent warm-up for most sports. Slow and mindful squats, lunges, spine mobility exercises, and balance work can be excellent warm-up exercises. Focus on gently engaging the muscle groups you will be working on during your training, increasing your heart rate, and core body temperature.
When it comes to warm-ups, static stretches are a thing of the past: static stretching can impair muscle performance [3, 4], and while it’s important to include in your routine, it’s best left for after your workout (more on that below).
For cooldowns, gentle walking, light yoga, and stretching are great ways to slow down your heart and transition your body back to baseline level.
This old standby is a pillar of exercise for a reason: stretching really does improve your training results and prevent injury .
While static stretching before your workout isn’t helpful, regular stretching after training improves your mobility and flexibility which makes you less prone to injury . Not only that, but it actually strengthens your muscles and helps you build mass! Here’s how:
During resistance training, your muscles endure microtears. Your muscles then work to repair themselves and in the process, become stronger. When you static stretch after a workout, you increase these muscle microtears, getting even more ‘bang for your buck’ out of your workout.
It’s certainly possible to stretch incorrectly or injure yourself in the process, so ensure you are using the correct techniques. We recommend consulting with a personal trainer, or alternatively, participating in yoga classes is a great way to enjoy guided stretching.
3. Listen to Your Body
It may sound cheesy, but if you pay attention, your body is constantly sending you signals.
It’s easy to go on autopilot mode during training. But when you’re not mindful, you risk both mistakes that can lead to acute injury and overuse injuries.
If you pay attention, you’ll notice small signals your body sending you about how it’s coping with training. A slight twinge of foot pain can be the beginnings of plantar fasciitis, or muscle tension in your lower legs can signal that more rest is needed to avoid shin splints.
It’s a balancing act: listening to your body doesn’t mean that you don’t push yourself. The fact is that our minds give out long before our bodies. During tough repetitions, your mind may tell you to stop, and learning how to differentiate between warning signals and your mind giving up is an important skill.
When your body is feeling sore, tired, and overworked, it’s a sign you are training too hard and need time for recovery, or perhaps an ice bath and massage.
So before, during, and post-training, notice how different parts of your body feel. What you’re on the lookout for is discomfort that may indicate your form needs adjusting, or perhaps your shoes are the wrong fit. Do you feel energetic and ready to work, or exhausted and in need of rest? And speaking of rest…
4. Rest and Recover
Remember how your muscle fibers tear during resistance training? Well, the only way they can recover is if they are given sufficient recovery time. If you train your already-fatigued muscles, you lose out on the muscle-building opportunity and can actually do more damage than good.
Training too hard without sufficient recovery time can lead to overuse injuries like shin splints and tendonitis. These injuries can take you out of the game for months, totally sabotaging the training you worked so hard for!
Rest doesn’t always mean a day without exercise- it can mean resting particular muscle groups. That’s why it’s common in strength training to work certain muscles on certain days; allowing other muscle groups time to recover between sessions is important.
Do make sure you have at least one rest day a week, however. You can still stay gently active on this day if you like, like walking or doing some low-intensity yoga.
There are also some great supplements that can help you recover from hard training like fish oil and CBD. Check out our blog post on cannabis and recovery for more information on how CBD can support your healing.
5. Use Proper Gear
While it may seem obvious, so many people are training in poor-fitting gear. Poor training equipment can set you up for acute injury but also overuse injuries. If your shoes are the wrong fit, for instance, over time your form will suffer and you will strain the wrong areas of your body.
Make sure you consult an expert in your sport to get outfitted with the right gear for you. Don’t just pick the flyest-looking shoes or assume that the best gear is the most expensive! The best equipment is what fits you correctly and sets you up for success.
We recommend going into a specialty store where you can trust that the staff is properly trained on fitting gear. Many stores offer biomechanical gait analysis and will conduct tests to ensure your shoes are the perfect fit.
While you may spend a little more on gear, it’s worth it for the dividends it pays in supporting your best performance and preventing injury.
Overuse injuries are incredibly frustrating and can take months to shake off. When it comes to training, more is not more. Train smarter, not harder!
Thoughtful preparation and continuous checking in with your body will help you prevent injury and keep training for years to come.
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