The 4 Best Tips to Avoid Injury at the Gym
If I were ever asked to choose my favorite topic related to both physiotherapy and sports, this would definitely be it!
How many times have you done a bench press and finished it feeling a pinch in your shoulder? How many times have you done a set of squats and went off nagging about knee pain or lower back pain? How many times have you had everyone at the gym stare at you as you lifted the heaviest weight during a deadlift but underneath that your back was screeching?
If you answered yes to any of the above questions, you can check my previous blog to know what to do on the spot, and then come back to learn how to prevent this in the future.
Sports injuries have become very common recently. I always have people asking me about pain the minute they know I’m a physical therapist. And let me tell you that my first question is almost always: do you work out?
Don’t get me wrong, exercise is literally your only medicine. However, exercise should be practiced properly. You’ve definitely heard this 10 times per day and this is your 11th for today. Maintaining proper form while doing your squats, bench presses, overhead presses or any other exercise is crucial. You see every joint in our body was built to function in accordance with muscles and ligaments. So every joint functions according to specific criterion.
Let's breakdown the bench press
Let’s take the bench press for example. The role of this exercise is to build your chest muscles. So lying on the bench, carry the bar straight on top of your chest, now bend your elbows to bring the bar down to your chest. Once you can feel that your elbows are almost at the same level of your shoulders, you stop moving any further down. Now again move the bar away from your chest towards the ceiling as if you’re pushing something off of your chest. If you followed all these steps, then you have successfully completed a bench press.
So, how does injury happen while you’re at the gym?
Injury while doing the bench press happens if you go below shoulder level. In this position, when your elbows go down too much you’re actually creating extra tension in the shoulder. I won’t go into the boring details but let me just say that you are physically torturing your shoulder joint.
Every joint is made to sustain some good amount of pressure, but put it out of its comfort zone and BOOM, it could fail you sooner than you’d imagine. So when you exaggerate a move, like bringing the bar all the way down to your chest and making your elbows go down too much, you are actually exceeding the normal and safe range of motion.
And that my friends is a big NO. Once you perform a move in a wrong way you are also no longer targeting the right muscles. So if you’re goal is to exercise your chest muscles, now you are actually exercising them at 50% and the other 50% of your effort has gone somewhere else (no one ever knows where).
Okay, so now I’m too scared to lift weights
Exactly what this post is not about. The purpose of all of this is to help you avoid injuries while exercising that way you could go on with that marvelous routine forever. Injuries can really change your life and force you to take a step back from exercise for some time depending on how bad the injury actually is.
The exercise injury prevention process
Before getting to the part where we actually perform a certain move, let’s cover a very important phase of a workout, you guessed it: the WARM-UP. In Science for Sport, they discuss four points that happen because of a warm up:
- Mental readiness – we’ve all asked ourselves at one point before a workout: what am I even doing here? But right after your first moves, motivation kicks in and then BEAST MODE ON. All that is thanks to what our mind perceives as a “warm-up” and the schematization of the moves in our brain
- Physical readiness – This is through your warm-up can be any repetitive move that warms up your body and brings up your heart rate in preparation for your workout i.e.: jog, jump rope, fast walk or any other routine suggested by your trainer. This wakes your muscles up and let's them know that they will be supporting us during this workout.
- Injury prevention – well that’s pretty much what my 800+ words are all about. Simple formula: warmed up muscles + safety procedures = injury prevention. Stretching plays a major role in this formula, but that will be elaborated in a different blog post
- Performance enhancement – as you warm up your muscles 2 main things are occurring, tight muscles are loosening up a little so they are more flexible during your exercises and second, blood flow increases in the muscle, transporting more oxygen which means better performance
Here are the 4 best tips you should do to avoid injury at the gym:
- Warm up well and keep in mind the 4 points above
- Have proper form and adequate range of motion
- Use just the right weights for your body
- Ask a trainer if you’re doing it right - You can always ask the trainer for extra details concerning any move if you have doubts; ask them to check your form. Never perform a move with weights if you’re not sure you’re doing it properly.
Now you’re ready to kick start your workout.
Take home message
Even if you’re in a hurry and planning a short exercise period, do not skip your warm-up. It is crucial to get maximum benefits from your training sessions and reduce the risks of injury.
You can also check this post which I find quite interesting: 13 things you should know before you pick up a barbell to get some extra tips. Number 11 is my favorite, BREATHING is very important during exercise but I’ll be covering that subject in a future post, so stay tuned and have a safe workout.
IFPA certified Fitness Personal Trainer