To those of you like myself, who can’t seem to go a couple of months or even weeks without injury, this article on injury prevention will be of interest to you. I am going to detail the key points to include in your specific programme to reduce the likelihood of injury whilst lifting and or playing sport. It isn’t enough simply to blame bad luck that you get injured even though you warm up and occasionally stretch, even though those who jump straight in to heavy, bad form bench, squats and deadlifts always seem fine- it’s time to better condition yourself for activity!
The two main pillars, key to any lifting plan, are strength and mobility. In my opinion these will help with developing superior conditioning for lifting, daily life and sports/hobbies to help prevent aches, pains, strains, sprains, niggles or ruptures and aid progression over time. Look at any of the World’s strongest men, or top athletes, and their relative flexibility and mobility will be top quality. They are strong enough to cope with extreme stressors on muscles and joints, and mobile enough to deal with mechanically weak angles they may get forced in to where normal people may get a strain or sprain. Obviously athletes have specific strength and conditioning work to deal with collisions, decelerations and directional changes, but for the normal active person practicing and improving the below will be great for injury prevention.
This is important to allow you to bail safely from certain exercises, to allow for good posture to be assumed and maintained, and for proper technique and full range of motion to be achieved in relation to lifting and (especially weight bearing) sports/hobbies. This will also help when getting tackled in contact sports, in order to help avoid knee and ankle injuries somewhat.
Please see two simple stretching routines below. Complete them daily if you are very inflexible, and every other day if you have reasonable flexibility. Stretching after training or a hot shower/bath is ideal.
Upper body stretching routine.
Lower body stretching routine.
These two forms of rehabilitation work may also interest you!
Active Release Therapy.
Some of you will simply have very poor flexibility, and thus have to work harder than most to improve and then maintain your suppleness. Don’t get downtrodden though, as with improved flexibility comes more range of motion, less inhibition of contractions and more potential muscle growth over time (arguably).
Rear Chain Strength:
Lots of premiership football teams have recently moved to performing 2-3 exercises focusing on the backside of the body for every 1 exercise that concentrates on the front side. This has reduced the amount of strains and sprains, hamstring, back and knee injuries their players were commonly picking up, reportedly.
Focusing on hamstring and glute strength, the erector spinae group and muscles in the upper back that allow retraction of the scapular and shoulders will help keep the body in line, and help thwart injury from imbalances between the front and back of the body. When the body slips out of good posture and/or places tension through the wrong, smaller muscle groups, the likelihood on injury increases- so improve your rear chain strength to reduce said risk during explosive activity! Work with good posture and powerful, efficient full body movements.
The key to a strong core, a big squat, deadlift and standing military press is building biggest muscle in the body- the gluteus maximus. This helps stabalise the body’s centre of gravity, and helps maintain a healthy posture. Improving the strength of the postural muscles reduces the likelihood of injury in the latter stages of team sports (where decelerations increase in frequency) and taxing compound exercise sets and or gym sessions.
A weak core and misfiring or lazy glutes are one of the main reasons crossfit injures so many poorly conditioned trainers, in my opinion. Placing an emphasis on specific strength and conditioning, flexibility and improving general fitness (and ability to recover) before taking on any challenging WODs is something we strongly advise.
Shoulder and Hip Mobility:
Hip mobility is a key inhibitor of proper squat and deadlift form. Tight hips can also cause back issues and knee injuries through a poorly functioning hip gait. If you release the hips, the glutes will be able to fire more efficiently, the back will be in a safer position and you will be able to exert more force- thus shift more weight on the big lifts safely.
The same is true for shoulders, which are extremely immobile in a large majority of lifters who frequently train upper body. Less restricted shoulders will also allow a healthier plane of motion to be achieved on certain exercises such as upright rows and incline bench press- reducing injuries commonly caused by shoulder impingement or forcing the shoulder past its current range of motion.
Working through stretching the traps and abdominals will also help increase shoulder mobility, potentially reducing back pain, tension headaches, poor posture and aiding full contraction of the back and full range of motion for the chest and shoulders.
Focus on Controlling the Weight:
We at LDNMuscle perhaps place too much emphasis on lifting tempo, but for the majority of lifters performing ‘dive-bomb’ style squats where you bounce out of ‘the hole’ (bottom of the rep) is simply not advisable, and nor is a powerlifter style arched bench and bounce off the sternum. To increase the speed of the negative, we would suggest that your first improve the three aforementioned points to up your conditioning and only then proceed with caution- get to know your body like a seasoned lifter does. The top powerlifters and strongmen know their limitations!
For example I recently trialled fast eccentrics on squats, and immediately regretted it. I strained my groin and hamstring. I wasn’t in good enough condition for that straight off the bat, and will never prioritise a few kilograms or 1 rep max over safety- but that is just my lifting theory in general. Ultimately, you must be in control of the weight at all times- respect the damage the weights can do, especially on exercises like bench, squats and OHP where you could get stuck beneath the bar!
Aim for a consistent speed on your negative muscle contractions, always giving yourself enough time to allow each rep to be of the highest quality. Be careful on the big compounds and overhead exercises, and always opt for a more controlled eccentric on exercises you are not confident on, or working through muscles and joints you are wary of/prone to injuring.
Excluding the obvious, such as not going too heavy or using incorrect technique and/or training on a pre-existing injury, the four sub-headings detailed above would be good points to improve in order to help reduce your (or your client’s) chance of injury whilst training. Reducing injury will increase the efficiency of your progression towards any athletic or activity based goal, and the likelihood of injuries or muscle imbalances in the future. If you have a chronic injury this article may be of interest to you.