Whether you love being active or not, no one wants to end up with an injury.
Inactive people get injured more frequently than active people. Those who don’t exercise become deconditioned, and a wrong step, a movement outside normal range of motion, repetitive movements, or carrying too much weight can lead to muscle and joint dysfunction.
People who are out of shape and get surgery to fix muscle or joint issues usually are back in pain again in some way, shape, or form. The root of the problem – inactivity, excessive weight, repetitive movements – was not addressed.
Eventually most active people get injured too, but if they follow some basic rules, the injury can be minor (such as a strain, inflammation, or tendonitis). But most injuries can be prevented, and being in good condition is part of injury prevention.
After years of lifting weights I have certain “commandments” I follow automatically. But they are conscious actions. I know that an injury means not being in my happy place, and that’s definitely an incentive to do things right. So here are my own commandments… you may have different ones and if you do, please share!
Many a person – deconditioned and conditioned alike – have reached in the back seat of a car and ended up with a frozen or dislocated shoulder. True, a deconditioned person is more likely to end up injured; I have reached behind me and felt a twinge whereas someone who has muscle and joint dysfunction might end up with shoulder surgery. But reaching behind me awkwardly is still something I just will not do.
The transverse plane, which includes internal and external rotation of the limbs, head, and torso, is the plane in which most people are injured. Training in this plane of motion can help prevent injury (for example, multiplanar lunges and the medicine ball wood chop). Of course, you should train in all three planes of motion (sagittal, frontal, and transverse) to prevent injuries of all kinds. This means doing exercises that involve flexion and extension, side-to-side, and rotational movements, not just the same old thing every day.
Training in different planes notwithstanding, reaching behind you is not a motion you should do much. At all.
Thou Shalt Strengthen Weak Areas
If you have a weak muscle in your body, it will take the path of least resistance. This means that it will try not to work too much, while letting assistive muscles do the work. Do you think this is good for the primary muscle or the secondary muscles?
For example, if you have weak glutes, hamstrings, and/or core, when you squat down to pick something up (or lift the bar off the squat rack) your back is going to become the primary mover. What’s that going to do to your back? It might get strained and subsequently hurt. Or it might just become overused and hurt. It’s taking too much of the load because your primary movers are weak.
One of the weakest areas of my body is my forearms. I also have one elbow that sometimes bothers me at night and during bicep curls. Whether my forearm and elbow are related or not, a weak link in my body is not good. So I’ve decided to use a grip trainer to strengthen them. If you know you’re weak in a certain area, bring it up to speed. Muscle overcompensation is a major reason for injuries.
Thou Shalt Stretch Achy Places
Do I ignore aches, take Ibuprofen, or just hope it goes away? Hell no – I stretch it. I foam roll it. An ache is many times a signal that a muscle is too tight. Most people don’t know it, but flexibility and range of motion are key ingredients to a healthy body.
I bow down to the almighty foam roller. If I pull something slightly or feel achy in an area, I stretch it and/or foam roll several times a day. So many people sit all day and have tight hip flexors and back. Stretching or foam rolling these areas regularly will decrease your pain and tightness every time. True strains/sprains should be treated with ice, rest, and maybe a doctor’s visit, of course, but your garden-variety achy body can be cured by loosening tight muscles.
Thou Shalt Have a Rock-Solid Core
I’m not talking about a six pack here, but a strong and stable lower back, hips, glutes, and abdominal muscles. A shaky, weak core can lead to poor posture, lower back pain, and injuries. As I said on my Facebook page (where I share a crazy amount of information), lack of core strength and stability is the most common weakness I see in clients.
Make core strength and stability your top priority. A strong core can be what saves you from losing your balance and using the wrong muscles to brace yourself. A strong core is your foundation for a strong body.
Ways to strengthen your core include exercises like floor bridges and planks, standing exercises (such as standing cable row), exercises on stability balls (like the dumbbell chest press), and single-leg exercises (such as bicep curls on one leg).
Thou Shalt Use Impeccable Form
I have talked a lot about proper form during weight lifting, so I’ll just touch on it here. You can injure yourself by doing an exercise wrong once or by doing it wrong over and over. Either way, it’s preventable. Learn how to do exercises correctly and never sacrifice good form.
Those are my primary commandments, but there are many more, such as what I believe regarding nutrition. What are yours? Are you following them?