‘It isn’t hard to be good from time to time. It’s hard to be good every day.’ – Nick Bollettieri.
No matter your fitness level or experience, nobody is immune to injury. It is likely that you will experience injury at some point in your training (if you haven’t already), and for many of us, those injuries never leave us and will reoccur at the most inconvenient times. Unless you are wolverine and indestructible I cannot guarantee that following this advice will leave you injury free for the rest of your life. However, this article may provide you with the best possible chance of preventing injury.
Undergo A Fitness Test
The physical activity readiness questionnaire (PAR-Q) is a self-screening tool that can be used by anyone who is planning to start an exercise program. It is often used by fitness trainers or coaches to determine the safety or possible risk of exercising for an individual based upon their answers to specific health history questions.
It is important to remember that these questions still apply no matter how long you have been training. If circumstances change and you are receiving treatment or you become ill, you must review these questions and answer them honestly. Do not put yourself at risk.
It is almost impossible for you to establish a fitness regime that will benefit you, without first testing your current level of fitness. Fitness tests can be daunting, particularly if you are unhappy with your current level of fitness, but think how unhappy you will be if you start to see results and injure yourself.
Practice Good Technique
Unfortunately, it is common to see people lifting weights far too heavy for them and using terrible technique to attempt to manage the situation they have placed themselves in. I cannot count the number of times I have watched someone bicep curl a free weight by swinging it back too far and then hauling it up their body while leaning back (hello back pain). It is also a common sight to see people attempting to leg press a ridiculous amount by moving their knees to about 160⁰ before returning to 180⁰ and holding the weight there for a between set ‘rest’. That is a ridiculous amount of pressure to subject your knee joints to.
It is also important to practice good running technique on the treadmill. Shin splints and ankle sprains are very common injuries and once you have injured an ankle, it has an annoying habit of remaining unstable and injury prone for a long time.
If you are unsure of technique, ask the trainers in the gym to help you or ask them to demonstrate the proper technique. Trust me; it is far better to ask for help than to end up injured. Trainers in the gym are there to provide advice and help you make the best of your workout so don’t dismiss that service.
Recovery is a crucial part of any fitness regime. It has a major impact on your progression and performance in sport or at the gym. Unfortunately, in a bid to experience fitness gains faster, many of us will overtrain our muscles and not allow them the rest they require to function optimally. Excessive training of our muscle groups leads to tissue breakdown as opposed to building, which is certainly not the aim of all those hours of hard training.
The principle of overload is important to the progress of training regimes, but it is important to acknowledge there is a vast difference between overload and overtraining. If you apply the principle of overload to your workout, you must mirror this with adequate rest periods. Provided this is the case, you will notice gains in your performance. If you do not allow yourself enough rest in a bid to train as much as possible, the benefits of your training will be lost and your training is likely to suffer. While the prevention is to allow yourself the proper rest that training requires, should you overtrain to the point where training begins to suffer, you can still rectify the situation by resting for 1-2 weeks. The problem is that most people reach the point where their training gains diminish and think that they need to work twice as hard to see progress. This will only further impair your training and leave you extremely vulnerable to injury. Fatigue, lack of motivation, loss of appetite, abnormal changes in heart rate and irritability are all signs of overtraining.
Sometimes in order to make the most of your workout and avoid injury, less is more. You have to acknowledge that your body has limits and you cannot expect miracle progression overnight. Be patient and take care of your body. You will get the results you want.
If you expect your body to be ready for the next physical challenge then you need to provide your body with the nutritional components it requires for an effective recovery. Complex carbohydrates are necessary to restore depleted glycogen stores and high quality protein is essential to repair damaged muscle tissue.
Ever heard of the one-hour window? Research suggests there is a window of opportunity, which lasts up to one hour post-workout. Following a workout, muscles are damaged, depleted and biochemically primed for nutrient uptake. Ingesting carbohydrate and protein during this time frame can help replenish glycogen stores and shuttle protein into muscle for optimal repair and recovery.
Your diet needs to provide enough energy to accommodate for the fact you will burn calories during your workout. Though this seems very basic, many injuries occur due to a lack of nutrition. The worst mistake you can make is to not eat enough. Without sufficient energy, protein catabolism will occur (the body will begin to breakdown muscles to provide fuel) and this will compromise your body’s ability to repair damaged tissue. Microscopic damage occurs in the muscles every time you exercise, if this damage is not repaired, over time it will accumulate and may lead to injury.
Fatty acids like omega-3 are essential in creating cell membranes that provide resistance to damage during exercise. Some are also involved in the inflammation process, which means should you obtain an injury they will help reduce the swelling.
Calcium is fundamental to bone health. While you can obtain this from dairy products, it is much easier (and research suggests it is more effective) to use calcium supplements to maintain healthy bone density. This is particularly vital for endurance athletes who are at risk of lower body hard-tissue injuries.
There are many supplements available now to support health and prevent injury. Many athletes opt for calcium and magnesium combined supplementation post-training. The magnesium is known for promoting muscle flexibility and therefore reducing risk of injury. Chondroitin and glucosamine are also popular supplements for injury prevention. They are proven essential for joint health. You should also ensure that you obtain enough vitamin C in your diet. Regular vigorous exercise can actually lower your immune system leaving you vulnerable to illness and injury. Vitamin C is essential for maintaining a healthy immune system.
Changing up your workout not only reduces boredom it prevents the overtraining of certain muscle groups and ensures that your body remains functionally and aesthetically in proportion. Your weekly training regime should include cardio, resistance training, body weight exercises and stretching. This will encourage development in all aspects and leave you less prone to injury.
Dehydration is a common cause of problems during training. Make sure that you stay well hydrated by taking on fluid before, during and after your workout (preferably with electrolytes) to replace the fluid and electrolytes lost during training. Water supports metabolic function and nutrient transfer in the body and having plenty of water will improve recovery. We also lose essential electrolytes through sweat when we exercise so it is important replenish these. Electrolyte fuel sports drinks are perfect for this purpose. If you prefer water, sprinkle salt onto your post-workout meal to ensure you regain the sodium your body needs.
Warm-Up/ Cool Down
Please don’t think that I am suggesting that you extend your training session by 30 minutes to accommodate an elaborate warm-up and cool down routine. However, research suggests that a few minutes of cardio and some light stretching prior to your workout significantly reduces the risk of soft tissue injury. Similarly, a short cool down to reduce your heart rate is important before you exit the gym. If you complete a high-intensity workout and leave the gym straight away, you may find yourself feeling very dizzy and faint. Take the time to allow your body to adjust pre and post-workout to avoid injuries.
Wear Appropriate Attire
These days the gym seems to have turned into a bit of a fashion parade. The important thing is to wear comfortable clothing and appropriate footwear. If you are planning on pounding the treadmill, buy trainers which are comfortable and supportive to prevent skeletal injuries. It may seem obvious, but don’t tie your laces too tight either. It restricts blood flow and if you begin to feel a tingly sensation in your feet, you are definitely not doing your feet any good.
Know The Limits Of Your Body
‘Feeling the burn’ is one thing, feeling excruciating pain and carrying on is insanity. If you feel like you are doing more than you can handle, the likelihood is that you are. By all means, push yourself. Gradually increase the weight/intensity/ duration of your training but don’t put ridiculous strain on your body. It may cope at the time but the recovery process will be lengthy and it won’t be worth it in the long run.
Get Enough Sleep
If you do not regularly get enough sleep you risk limiting your motivation, energy levels and ability to recover from exercise.
Between 7-9 hours is recommended for adults but we are all unique and you may not fall into that time frame. Studies have shown that less than 5 hours is detrimental to health. There is no conclusive evidence to support the theory that too much sleep has a negative impact on us, so if you have the chance, sleeping in on the weekend could be just what you need!
Try to gage how much sleep you need depending on how you feel and how you perform. If you feel extremely fatigued during your training sessions, odds are that you are doing more harm than good!
Eat like a Nutritionist, Train like an Athlete, Win like a Champion and Sleep like a Baby!