When you’re working hard to get yourself in shape there’s nothing more frustrating than having to take days or weeks off because of an injury. The consequences of a serious injury could be even worse – so what can you do to reduce the risks? It’s not actually as complicated as you might think. What really matters is understanding the equipment you’re using and understanding your body. With the right approach, you can make injury much less common and recover from it more quickly.
Strains and sprains
The most common injuries when working out are strained and sprained muscles. Most often, these occur because of an inadequate warm-up (cold, stiff muscles are much more vulnerable) or because a single exercise has been carried on for too long. To prevent them, massage your limbs before you start and begin with stretching exercises. Vary your exercise routine between sessions and within individual sessions.
Rotator cuff injuries
Rotator cuff injuries are the most common form of shoulder problem found in people who work out regularly, and they become more common with age. They’re caused by repetitive overhead movements and activities where the shoulders move extensively, like swimming or playing basketball. To reduce the risk, avoid slouching at all times so that the joint doesn’t get compressed. Stick to lighter weights if you want to do repetitive overhead lifts.
Knee injuries often develop slowly. They’re particularly common in runners and weightlifters and can cause a scraping sensation when the kneecap moves or a generalized aching around it. To reduce the risk, make sure you have good posture as you run or lift. Avoid taking on too much in one session with weights – several shorter or less strenuous sessions will be just as effective. Wear suitable shoes and consider running on a soft surface. Work on building up your hips and quads.
Damaging your pectoral muscles can be particularly painful and difficult to fix because of the frequency with which the muscles are used in day to day life. It’s a common injury in weightlifters who are taking on more than they should. Remember that day to day weightlifting is not a competition and the gym is not a place where serious athletes show off. If your hands are shaking, switch to lighter weights.
The wrist is a complex, vulnerable joint and there are many ways in which it can be injured. One of the best things you can do to reduce the risk is actually to work on your shoulder flexibility, as this will improve your capacity to take weight through larger muscles rather than through your wrists – whether that’s a barbell or your own bodyweight when doing push-ups. Work on wrist rotation exercises and try using a Theraband to improve your wrist extension.
Shin splints are usually caused by running or jumping for prolonged periods. Suitable shoes, proper warm-ups and switching to running on a soft surface reduce the risk. If you’re not actually racing, take breaks when your shins start to ache and massage them until they feel warm and flexible before you start running again. If pain persists when jumping, switch to a different activity.
Reducing your overall risk
There are several things you can do to reduce your overall injury risk when working out:
- Warm up properly for at least ten minutes before you begin, with massage and gentle stretching.
- Wear the right clothes – make sure you see options appropriate to your sport and, for general use, choose good sneakers and a compression shirt.
- Stay hydrated – this will improve your circulation and make your muscles less vulnerable to strain, as well as improving your general health.
- Maintain good form – make sure your body is properly positioned for each exercise and that you also maintain proper posture in daily life.
- Don’t push too hard – over time you will learn the difference between good and bad pain. When you feel the latter, stop!
Recovering from injury
No matter how careful you are, you will inevitably be injured sometimes. When it happens, take recommended rest periods seriously, unless you want to be incapacitated for much longer overall. When it’s time to return to working out, wear compression clothing to support the injured area and build up extra slowly.
Taking precautions like this may seem irritating but once you get used to them, you’ll hardly notice them anymore. You’ll spend less time having to rest up and have a lot more time free to enjoy your sport or the invigorating experience of working out.