by Benjamin M Wicks MS, MATm, CKS, CSNS, RTS, CPT
For any athlete or gym warrior, Injuries can be either nonexistent or the story of their life. Many of you who do suffer from injuries may be envious of the ones who rarely become injured. However, as many of us in the business of injury prevention and recovery we have seen quite a few general factors which can aid in prevention along with others which can directly be the cause of your problems.
Set Realistic Goals
In our modern society we have become conditioned to receive anything we desire almost instantaneously. For example, the other day I ordered an item from Amazon around 10am, I received the item by 4pm that same day. We are so conditioned for this immediate result that we forget that biological changes don’t occur nearly as fast as we would like. If it took 200 million years for our species to get to this point and 4.6 billion years from the first single cell organism to begin. Don’t expect your weight loss or strength goals to be as fast as you would like. My best advice would be when setting out a desired end goal, focus 100% in the process and journey, not the destination. Usually, when we see small changes in our physique we get excited, which is usually the precursor to training harder and pushing the boundaries, this usually leads to becoming over trained, run down and potentially coming down with a cold or worse, an injury.
Micro-progression is a strategy used by some of the smartest athletes and trainers. When it comes to exercise, we are walking a tightrope between not providing enough stimulus for the muscular system and jumping into shark infested waters. Micro-progression is the approach which decides on taking safe baby steps over a period of time rather than jumping to the second floor while skipping three steps on the way. For example, if my goal was to begin training for a 5K race and I haven’t ran for many years. I would decide to walk for 20 minutes followed by a 4 minute jog the first day. I would then asses how my body felt the next day, I would be looking for anything abnormal past the normal delayed onset muscle soreness. If the self-diagnostic went well the following day, day 3, I would attempt the same routine but finish my jog at 6 minutes and so forth I would repeat until I can progressively increase my step sizes. People who forego the micro-progression philosophy usually wind up pushing the edge of the envelope until the toothpaste is out of the tube. Oops. A small stimulus is a good thing, too much is not, remember after a training session you should feel good, like you have trained. Not like you have been hit by a train.
Make the exercise conform to YOUR body
I’m sure many of you have been to a group fitness class or seen a youtube video on some self-proclaimed “exercise guru”. Probably with zero formal education in biomechanics, but they have a great portfolio of glistening tanned photos on Instagram, right? STAY AWAY FROM THIS. When someone is prescribing an exercise for a large swath of the population with zero consideration for the plethora of parameters of why ‘said movement’ could be contraindicated for you, they run the risk of forcing your joints into a position of vulnerability. If you have seen once person complete an exercise a certain way, that doesn’t necessarily mean can or even should. Don’t blindly follow traditional methods. Instead try to custom fit your exercise for you. For example, one of many. The human body from one person to the next is vastly different. In regards to bone structure. You can have two people who are 5’10’ tall, yet one person has a femur which is 2 inches longer the other person. Why is this important? When your body goes into a squat your center of balance needs to perfect or you fall over. Imagine now if you are in the bottom of a squat with a longer femur than the next person. You will either have to drive your knees over or even past your toes or flex more at the hips allowing your spine to be more forward than the next person. This is perfectly normal and is required for the body to maintain its center of balance, unfortunately, trainers and exercise gurus have put in place certain general rules like, “don’t let you knees go over your toes”, or “keep your feet shoulder width apart.” this is unfortunately bad advice if you are a person who has a joint structure which does not allow for certain ranges of motion. More on this topic in a future post.
Respect your own body’s specific range of motion.
Whenever we step foot into a gym we are somewhat controlled in what exercises we do due to what is considered mainstream normal range of motion and what is not. The best way to prepare for how much range of motion you should go into during an exercise is first compare how much active motion you have unloaded. For example, if my exercise is a dumbbell chest press I will first lay down on the bench without any weight in my hands and observer how much active motion I have that day in a press motion. It’s similar to the diagnostic mentioned earlier. I will be looking for any restrictions or limits of motion. If I notice my elbows can only move backwards to a certain range, I definitely know now NOT to go past that active range when loading up with dumbbells. If you are using doing a barbell press first press a wooden dowel or similar just like you would in a loaded press. How far does the bar come back to your chest comfortably? Wherever is comfortable is your new setting for THAT DAY, which can change from day to day. Your joints are only safe in a position you can actively control with the muscles. In exercise, your body is like a car going downhill on a twisting mountain road. It uses the steering wheel and brakes (muscles and CNS) to safely navigate around the corners appropriately. It also has a backup plan which are the ligaments. These ligaments are similar to the guardrails on the mountain road. We have guardrails for a reason just like ligaments, however too much force into the rails and they break much like how a ligament tears.
Stay in control of your exercise, don’t let it control you
We can follow the rules of exercise but the execution is where the failures can happen. We see far too many times injuries occur because too much uncontrolled weight is being moved around in the gym. This is usually a result of the first sin committed, “A LACK OF PATIENCE”. More weight isn’t always appropriate. Remember if you are unable to be in full control every degree of motion during and exercise, the challenge is far too great. Lighten up the load and get back in control. This would be much like the car skidding around the corners on the mountain road. It doesn’t matter what your goal is, the range of motion that you explore, or the speeds that you execute, at all times you must stay in control. On average, gym users train at a speed of 18.104.22.168, meaning they move the weight up for one second (concentric) and down for one second (eccentric), often bouncing the weight or throwing it to achieve the set reps.
Our top tip to improve control? Slow it down! Try 22.214.171.124 or even 10.2.10.2. Reducing speed can have a massive impact on your physique and performance. It also reduces the risk of exceeding your range of motion and muscle thresholds. More on controlling and manipulating forces in a future post.