Although injury is common in an active life, there are steps you can take to prevent injury. And you should. Injuries take us down, often forcing us to remain sedentary or less active than normal, which sets us back in our fitness goals. They occur from bad form, improper coaching, over-exertion, and improper warm-up techniques. Don’t let yourself fall victim to a set-back. Set yourself up for success and longevity.

Causes of Injury

The Wrong Gear: Properly fitting shoes are everything. Invest in a good pair. Go to a store where you can be consulted on proper fit for your activity and goals. You need a trail running shoe to go trail running. You need a lightweight shoe for long-distance running. Don’t set yourself up for injury before you even start your workout by putting on the wrong shoe.

Bad Form: Ever seen an improper push-up? Yup, it’s ugly. Using improper form while lifting heavy weights is especially dangerous. Remember to always keep your core tight and your back straight. If you’re new to machines, weights, and bodyweight exercises, consider using a personal trainer until you feel confident in going it alone.

Improper Coaching: That said, improper coaching can be very detrimental. Before jumping into a fitness regime with someone, make sure you vet your trainer. Check their accreditation. Make sure they are NCCA certified and inquire about their experience. Ask for several references and talk to those people. Most importantly, talk to the trainer. Tell them about your goals, your fears, your weaknesses. Be specific about what you are hoping to accomplish and ask whether the trainer can help you achieve those goals.

Over-Exertion: More isn’t necessarily better. If you workout too often or for too long in one session, you will over extend your muscles. Working out creates muscle tears. When you rest, those muscle fibers are rebuilt, which creates muscle definition. Not only are you susceptible to injury when working out too often, you rob your body of that precious time to define and sculpt through muscle repair.

Improper Warm-Up Techniques: Stop, stop, stop stretching before working out. First of all, stretching can cause your muscles to contract and tighten instead of relax. This is the opposite of what you want for a workout. Second of all, stretching isn’t warming up. Warming up includes lower intensity activities that mimic your upcoming workout. This will increase your blood flow and heart rate, supplying you with fuel for your workout. Remember this: warm-up before, stretch after.

Bodyweight Exercises to Prevent Injury

The Superman or Back Raises: This exercise will really help strengthen the muscles that support you in weight lifting. Lie down on your stomach with your legs straight and your arms above your head. Slowly lift your chest off the floor or mat using your lower-back muscles and hold for 10 to 20 seconds, then lower. Complete 1 sets of 12 to 15 reps.

Straight Leg Deadlift: This exercise targets your back muscles and hamstrings. Place a barbell in front of your feet. Bend at the waist and grasp the barbell with an overhand grip. Keeping your back as straight as possible, slowly return to the standing position and lower again. Complete 1 sets of 8 to 10 reps.

Crunches on the ball: Ab crunches on a ball strengthen your entire core, which is vital to support your back. Lie on the ball with the small of your back over its center. Keep your hands near your ears and elbows out wide during the whole movement. Slowly raise your upper body as high as you can, hold for 10 seconds, and return to the starting position. Complete 1 sets of 15 to 20 reps.

Leg Extensions: This exercise will strengthen the outer quadriceps, which helps to support the knees. Only do this exercise for injury prevention. If you have pre-existing issues with your knees, this exercise could aggravate your symptoms. Sit upright in the leg-extension machine and use your quads to slowly extend your legs. Complete 1 sets of 8 to 10 reps.

Squats: Squats are essential for injury prevention because they develop balance and lower-body strength vital to good form. Stand with your legs shoulder-width a part. Keeping your back straight, lower your butt as if you are sitting on a chair. Go as low as you can without letting your knees go past your toes, and return to standing. Complete 3 sets of 10-12 reps.

Shoulder Presses: Protecting your shoulders is hugely important, because they are prone to injury. Grasp a pair of dumbbells or a barbell so they rest on top of your shoulders. Then, ensuring that you are keeping your spine in line, press the weights over your head, extending your arms. Be careful not to overextend, as this can increase your chance of injury. Once at the top, slowly move the weights down to the top of your shoulders again. Perform 1 set of 10 to 12 reps.

Other Ways to Prevent Injury

Warm Up: Always warm up before exercise. For example, 3-10 minutes of slow walking or jogging, easy cycling, or light weights helps to increase blood flow to the major muscle groups and increase your metabolic rate to prepare your body for a higher intensity activity.

Cool Down: After exercising, cool down. Decrease the intensity of your exercise and continue to move for 5 more minutes, then do slow, static stretches for 5-10 minutes. Cooling down helps your body adjust by allowing a proper decrease in heart rate and blood pressure, prevents blood from pooling in your legs, and promotes removal of lactic acid to aid in decreasing muscular soreness, common after a moderate to high-intensity workout.

Hydrate: Drink plenty of water before, during, and after exercise. Don’t wait until you are thirsty.

Wear Proper Clothing: Shoes should fit well and should be designed for the activity you are involved in. Wear socks made with cotton or wool to prevent blisters. Wear shirts on hot days to protect the skin. Women should wear sports bras when exercising strenuously. Wear helmets for sports such as rollerskating and biking. Wear safety glass for sports such as raquetball and squash. Wear clothes designed for the activity.

Eat for Fitness: Eat regularly and stay well-hydrated (6 8-oz glasses of water daily). Maintain ideal body weight. Avoid saturated fat and cholesterol, and too much sugar and refined foods. Eat foods with adequate starch and fiber. Eat a variety of foods daily from the major food groups (i.e. fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy products, and lean protein sources).

Ice & Heat: Ice and heat are two very useful tools for anyone who does a lot of physical activity. Not only is ice good to use as soon as you experience some pain, but it is also useful during the recovery process. Heat is a great option too and should be used to enhance blood flow to the injured area later on.  You can also use heat for muscle aches. For any injury that causes a part of your body to swell, ice is your best bet.

Cross Training:
 Cross training is something everyone should consider in their workout program. It will add variety to your workout and it will also ensure that all the muscles in the body are being worked and that you are not overworking one particular muscle group. Try performing an alternate activity a couple of days a week to incorporate this into your routine.

Regular Massages: Massages are really beneficial for someone who is experiencing muscle pain. Sometimes stretching will not help heal deep muscle pain and a deep tissue massage is necessary. Try to have a massage once a month to keep your muscles feeling fresh and to prevent any soreness from starting in the first place.

Rest: If you feel a great deal of pain in one of your major joints, the best thing to do is to rest it immediately. It is better to back off the exercise and relax your muscles than to try and push through the pain, which will only make it worse. If you do not rest right away, it will take longer to return to your regular routine than if you simply took some time off and rested at the first sign of injury.


Additional Resources:

Real Simple’s 5 Injury Prevention Exercises
Web MD’s Workout Injuries: Prevention & Treatment
Spark People’s 4 Reasons to Stop Stretching Before Exercising
Mark’s Daily Apple’s Bodyweight Exercises & Injury Prevention