Let me be honest here to start. Some injuries are not preventable. They are a product of freak circumstance, bad luck or a sneak attack.
Most injuries are 100% preventable.
Common injuries are a product of tightness, lack of mobility and under-recovery.
These are all things that you can easily prevent and fix by doing a tiny bit of work every day. Remaining healthy will allow you to hit the gym more consistently, which will greatly increase your chances of reaching your goal and maintaining a high level of fitness.
The concept of “recovery” is a little strange. Most people think it means just taking a day off and sitting on the couch. While this has many benefits, recovery should be an ongoing process.
The following strategies should be implemented throughout the week. There is no specific time to do them, they just need to be done. They will not only help your muscles recover and grow between workouts, they will help prevent injuries to vulnerable joints and connective tissue.
Myofascial Release or Self Myofascial Release is just a fancy way of saying “get a massage” or “use a foam roller.”
Exercise creates micro-traumas in your muscle fibers, and the fascia surrounding them. Recovering from these micro-traumas is how muscles grow, your body produces more tissue to strengthen the area in order to prevent the same micro-traumas from happening. That being said, the quicker you can heal these micro-traumas, the quicker you recover.
If you’ve ever gotten a massage, or even rubbed your own shoulder you know the immediate benefits of myofascial release. It feels good, releases endorphins and helps relieve muscular stress. Sustained pressure will find and relieve any knots, tears or traumas in the muscle and restore blood-flow and mobility,
There are a few ways you can do this without spending money on a massage therapist, but if that is within your budget I HIGHLY recommend making it a part of your weekly routine.
If you trying to hit a “general” area like your thigh, or upper back you should use a foam roller. The foam roller is large enough to cover entire muscle groups and can be used as a recovery or a priming tool. Find whichever muscle group is in need of attention and roll it out for 45-90 seconds. I recommend foam rolling prior to your workout, to iron out any kinks that might prevent you from performing at your highest level. This whole process should take no more than 2 minutes.
Using a foam roller is a great way to start your recovery and find trigger points and knots, but sometimes you need a little something…harder.
If you are trying to hit a very specific spot then you need to use a lacrosse ball. The lacrosse ball is small enough to fit between joints and muscle groups to find knots, traumas, and tears in small but painful places.
The small surface area of the lacrosse ball allows you to hit smaller muscle groups like your pectorals, deltoids and all those fun, small muscles surrounding your hip that are impossible to reach with a foam roller.
The best way to use a lacrosse ball for your upper body is to place it between the muscle and a wall. You can then make small movements to move the ball around the intended area, or simply lean into the wall and allow it to dig into the tight muscle. There is really no wrong way to do this, as long as you are comfortably applying the pressure.
For your lower body, you use it just like you would a foam roller. Place it on the ground and put the intended area on top of it.
Lacrosse Balling should be done as often as needed, before your workout and a few hours after and even throughout the day.
Taking a recovery day is not an excuse to sit on the couch. In fact, the less you move the less you will recover. To induce recovery you need to move in a non-impactful way. The easiest way to do this is to go for a walk.
It doesn’t hurt like some other suggestions, and it can be a fun, meditative experience if you have the right mindset.
Walking induces bloodflow that brings much needed nutrients to your sore muscles and joints. This active muscle pump will also help clear cellular waste and fluid buildup.
It also reinforces proper alignment of your shoulders, hips and spine which has a carryover effect to nearly everything you do in the gym.
People hate hearing this, but full body cold immersion is GREAT for you. It’s not comfortable, and it kind of sucks at first but the benefits are worth it.
Here is a complete rundown of the benefits of cold showers.
Cold showers improve circulation and boost your immune system. A cold shower will greatly reduce inflamation by constricting the blood vessels. This also forces your muscles to flush out whatever lactic acid they are holding. Lactic acid build up is one of the reasons you feel sore, so flushing this from your system will leave you feeling fresh and ready to go.
Once you leave the cold shower and your body warms back up fresh oxygen floods into the muscle to help kick-start the repair process.
Mobility and flexibility are not interchangeable terms. Mobility is how a joint moves. Flexibility is the length of a specific muscle. They are not the same thing, but they can impact each other.
Specifically, inflexibility can lead to a lack of mobility, as the tight muscle will cause a joint to be imbalanced.
Stretching is best done after a workout when the muscles are pumped full of blood. This is when they are most responsive stretching, and more likely to retain the benefits.
That being said, you should stretch as often as you want or need. There is no downside to properly stretching a muscle, as long as you are not stretching it to the point of pain. The only caveat is that you should never stretch a "cold" muscle, one that is not warmed up. That will greatly increase the chances of injury. Always stretch after some light activity, even if it's just walking around the block or mowing the lawn.
Here are the specific stretches and movements you should prioritize if you have upper back problems.
Here's how to fix your lower back problems.
Every day you are putting pressure on your spine. Whether you are holding a 250lb loaded barbell on your shoulders or walking to the office with a bag in your hand you are compressing the vertebrae in your spine.
Decompressing the spine is an overlooked but important act that greatly reduces the chance of injury. It’s an easy thing to do that provides quick, lasting relief.
The easiest way to do this is to simply hang from a pull-up bar. Have your hands shoulder width apart, with your palms facing forward. Passively hang for 30-second increments, or as long as you can. Don’t pull your shoulder blades down, just let them drift up naturally. There should be no tension in your body besides your forearms from gripping.
Hanging will allow gravity to pull your hips down, creating an elongated spine and allowing your vertebrae to slide back into their natural alignment.
Hanging from a pull-up bar also benefits your shoulders. By creating space in your shoulder capsule you allow ligaments and muscles to slide back to their natural position, fixing any impingements created by bad posture or overuse.
Passive hanging is one of my favorite methods to “release” my spine and prime my shoulders for long term health. If you find it too difficult to hang for more than a few seconds you can use a box or chair under your knees to take a significant amount of weight off your wrists, or hang a heavy resistance band from the bar and place one or two knees in it for the same effect.
If you do not have access to either of these things in your gym you can use any free standing pole to create a similar effect. Walk up to the pole (like the basketball net in your driveway) and grab it at about waist height. Push your hips back and keep your back straight until you are hinged and looking at the ground. Lean back and feel the stretch in your lats and shoulders. Hold for a minute and switch.
There are very few things that are more discouraging than an injury. Especially when you are in the zone and have been able to hit the gym on a consistent basis. Injuries take a toll mentally, and you need to do everything in your power to prevent them.
Not every injury is preventable, but most are. Retaining the requisite physical attributes for a healthy gym career is just a matter of discipline and consistency.
Developing new these new habits will allow you to increase your intensity during your workouts without fear of injury. Take 10 minutes every day and prioritize whichever habits apply to you, and make them a part of your daily routine.