I am new to the weight lifting scene. I have a background in running and so being in a gym is something I am not familiar with at all. It actually makes me pretty uncomfortable. Like anything you start doing, in the beginning it is awkward and you are not very good at. When I am at at the gym, I am lifting little 15lb dumbbells next to the guy who is lifting like 50+ while grunting.
I am sure they are laughing at my attempts and my bat wing arms. I totally feel lame…In reality they probably don’t care and are probably just happy that I am trying. I just have to get out of my own head sometimes.
Since this is new to me, I am learning and doing the trial and error of how far I can push myself. On the first day I did leg day and was sore for what seemed like an eternity. It was if my hamstrings were so mad at me. I know that you are supposed to be uncomfortable, however I wasn’t sure if I pushed myself too far.
This posed the question of what are some things that I can do to prevent injuries while strength training. With my history of running, I am aware of methods of injury prevention in that realm, but what I learned was that there is a very similar theme between the two sports. I then looked at other sports like cycling and swimming and what methods they use to prevent injuries. They have all different types of injuries that are common to that sport (based on what muscles groups they are working), however they all have the same general points of how to prevent injuries.
Here are the 6 ways you can prevent injuries no matter what form of exercise/sport you do:
1. Proper Form
In Thinner Leanner Stronger: The Simple Science Behind Building The Female Body, Michael Matthew lists improper form as the #2 method to preventing injuries for weight lifting. Proper form is there to help your body be the most efficient when under more pressure. If you have improper form, it can cause injury due to overcompensating muscles that are not the target muscle for your specific exercise. If you have muscles that are weak they will use other muscles to help them complete the task you have them doing. For cyclist, improper form on the bike can lead to lower back pain, neck pain, and more. So make sure you are executing proper form for your sport.
2. Proper Gear
Do you have good running shoes that help absorb the shock from the pavement? Are the weights on the barbell to heavy and put too much stress on your joints? Is your bike set at the correct height on your seat so you can efficiently pedal? Are you wearing a helmet? Do your ice skates fit properly if you are a hockey player to avoid an ankle sprain? And if you swim….well I guess you really don’t need anything other than goggles. Gear is there to protect you. If it isn’t the right gear/fit, then that makes you more susceptible to injuries.
3. Training Too Much
A lot of us think that if we do more then we will improve faster right? That might be the case. However, if you are working to the point where your body is not able to catch up with the damage you have done to your muscles, you are digging yourself deep into the over training hole. Road Bike Rider and Runners World both say that over training could lead to negative effects such as decrease in performance, getting sick more often, disturbance to sleep, injuries, increased irritability, and apathy. Adjust your training plan to add more rest and recovery if you feel like you have symptoms of over training. If you need a lot of rest, do not stress out about it. You will make leaps and bounds more improvement if you properly rest and recovery versus not allowing yourself enough recovery.
Delavier’s book Stretching Anatomy states that “Repetitive athletic movements can reduce your range of motion by tightening the muscles and tendons.” So when you frequently use a muscle group, the muscles are getting tighter and shorter. When you stretch your are maintaining their flexibility and motion. Delavier also mentions how stretching helps accelerate the process of developing muscles tone. “Using the muscle’s strength in passive resistance, stretching accelerates the speed at which the proteins that make up the muscle fibers are synthesized. Your body gains muscle tone, strength, and resilience this way.” Yoga is a great example of this of being able to stretch but also tone your muscles at the same time.
I know we all love stretching (that was a sarcastic comment), but it is such an important part of injury prevention that most people do not take seriously. You can stretch before your work out as long as your muscles are warmed up but definitely after you complete your work out.
5. Cross Training
Cross training is important because it helps prevent overuse injuries. In your specific sport, you have primary muscles groups that you use daily. Cross training helps give other muscles groups attention that it normally wouldn’t get. Cross training is also a great way to get in active recovery or maintain fitness while you are injured.
We do not emphasize rest enough as a society. It is such an important part of your training plan, yet we underestimate the power of it. Michael Matthew’s Thinner Leaner Stronger: The Simple Science of Building the Ultimate Female Body says “If you don’t allow your body to fully recover from a workout before you subject the same muscles to overload again, it doesn’t matter how strictly you follow your diet or this training protocol—eventually you will struggle to make progress, and you will feel physically worse and worse over time.” I am pretty sure everyone’s goal in their work outs in to make progress, and that definitely does not sound like progress to me. Make sure you give yourself off days or plenty of rest in between work outs.
If you have an injury that gets worse or persist, see your doctor and get a medical professional involved.