Injury Prevention 101

Every single person who is physically active wishes for one thing – to remain injury-free. Even if you’re not as physically active as you should be, you probably fear an oncoming injury if you start working out. Although you cannot prevent all injuries 100% of the time, there are certain steps you can take to prevent some of the most common injuries associated with fitness and physical activity. Many of the injuries seen by doctors, physical therapists, and orthopedists could have been prevented if prevention was a priority.

Just like you should incorporate recovery into your training program, you should also incorporate injury prevention. Being injury-free means not only living without pain. It also means performing to the best of your ability, staying healthy, and keeping up your fitness level. However, injury prevention is just as much about education as it is about actually doing it.

Here’s everything you need to know about staying injury-free and tips for building a strong injury-prevention program into your training program or physical activity.

1. It’s All About Mobility

It’s the new buzzword in the fitness and sports communities, but it’s far from being a fad. Mobility is based on biomechanics and actual exercise science. Simply put, mobility is the ability to move your entire body freely and normally. It means having an optimal range of motion, moving functionally and efficiently with little to no restrictions or difficulty. Not being able to move freely means putting additional stress on your muscles, tendons, and joints. This additional stress can lead to tears, strains, and worse injuries.

The inability to move freely and without pain means that you most likely have a muscle imbalance or weakness. Muscle imbalances and weaknesses are two of the most common causes of sports-related injuries. Targeting those imbalances can help protect you against injuries.

2. Are You Breathing Properly?

Believe it or not, breathing improperly can lead to a whole host of health problems including setting yourself up for a possible injury. When you don’t breathe fully or properly you’re more likely to fatigue quickly. Fatigue makes it easier to make a mistake, make a misstep, or move improperly. These things are catalysts for pain and injury as you start to lose control over muscle movement.

However, through proper breathing, you’re giving your muscles the necessary oxygen to take on the stress of exercise. Furthermore, you’re utilizing and stabilizing your core each time you breathe. In turn, this stabilizes your movement and muscles for exercise. Breathing properly highly depends on each exercise. However, you should focus on expanding your lungs to their greatest capacity to perform better and more efficiently.

3. The Importance Of Warming Up – And Cooling Down

A proper warm-up and cool-down should never be underestimated when it comes to injury prevention. The benefits of warming up don’t just include injury prevention. It also primes your muscles and body for stress, which in turn contributes to better performance. Researchers have found that warming up significantly improved athletic performance. When you warm up properly, your muscles can contract and relax faster and more efficiently. This means increasing how much strength and control you exercise during your workouts, which helps prevent catalysts for injuries.

A proper cool-down, or workout recovery, is also an important part of injury prevention. There are both short-term and long-term recoveries that should not be skipped. When you work out, your body goes through stress. Without a recovery, your body is not able to recuperate from that stress. This leads to overtraining, which is one of the most common causes of injuries. When you include recovery in your training program, it’s important to take into account both rest and active recovery, as well as the cool-down phase of the workout. Post-workout, you should be gradually decreasing intensity to give your body time to adjust.

4. Pay Attention To Your Form

Like mobility, proper movement – everything from posture to alignment during exercise – can impact your risk for injury. Furthermore, proper form and movement can also mean the difference between highly efficient performance and working unnecessarily hard. The scientific term for proper movement is biomechanics, which is the study of and application of proper positioning, technique, posture, and alignment. Proper form and technique are used to have everything to do with performance. However, physical therapists and athletic trainers have been at the forefront of applying biomechanics and proper form to injury prevention.

“Form plays a big role in any exercise,” says Jason Kopp, a certified athletic trainer of 5 years. “If you’re doing any exercise incorrectly, you can injure yourself. You need to train your body to move correctly.”

When you move correctly, you’re able to engage the muscles correctly and efficiently. This means greater control and support for the stress you’re putting on your body during exercise. Without the proper support, injury can be a result.

5. Do Specific, Targeted Exercises

Muscle imbalance and weakness are two of the leading causes of sports injuries. Weakness causes muscle imbalance, which occurs when one muscle is stronger than another opposing muscle. For example, a muscle imbalance occurs when your right side is stronger than your left or is tighter than your left. Muscle imbalance can lead to serious injury if not treated. Specific exercises that target your muscle imbalance are the only way to fix it and prevent injuries from occurring.

It’s often difficult to determine if you have true muscle imbalance or if it’s simply weakness. However, physical therapists are trained and educated in the finding and diagnosis of muscle imbalances. Not only will they find the root cause, but they will give you the right exercises to correct it before you become injured.

6. Train Smarter, Not Harder

We hear it time and time again – no pain, no gain. However, instead of listening to that mantra, try saying a different one that is more effective in training properly: train smarter, not harder. Soreness and stiffness are a normal part of working out, but pain doesn’t necessarily mean any gain. It could mean that you’re training improperly, heading for injury, or even overtraining. Training smarter, not harder means finding your training balance. It means setting up a smart training plan that takes into account your goals, the stage of life you’re in, your current fitness level, and your weaknesses and strengths. It also means giving yourself adequate time to recover and listening to your body.

Training harder doesn’t necessarily mean performing better. On the contrary, it could mean setting yourself up for injury. Knowing your limits and training effectively are the best ways to ensure you stay injury-free.