Exercise. It’s a love hate relationship. We all know the value of it, the importance of it. Many of us love it, and utilise it as a way of achieving a meaningful goal.
Some of us use it to keep fit and strong, some of us utilise it to build a better body. Whichever way we engage in exercise, we know how valuable it is to our lives, however gruelling it may be at times.
Naturally, with all types of exercise there is also risk. Whether you are doing circuit training, high intensity interval training or weight training, there’s a natural desire to want to train hard, but safely.
Fortunately, weight training has been shown to be safer than most other sports.
In a meta-analysis (a study of multiple other studies) of 20 research papers published by Sports Medicine, it concluded that weight training is one of the safest forms is sport you can engage in.
The analysis found that on average weight trainers may get up to one injury for every one thousand hours of training. This means that if you trained for an hour a day every weekday of the year you may go over three years without any type of injury whatsoever.
Nonetheless, the risk is still present. And one injury is worse than no injury at all.
Research by the American Journal of Sports Medicine shows the most common weight training-related injuries are the lower back, shoulders and the knees.
You may have even experienced an injury in one of these areas before following an intensive training class.
So what can we actively do to reduce the chance of injury whilst pursuing your fitness and health goals?
1. Fix mechanical impairments
One way to prevent an injury is by realising your mechanical impairments and taking the time to fix them.
What do I mean by mechanical impairments? To take an extreme example (solely for the purpose of illustration) imagine you have one leg 5cm shorter than the other that has developed from compensatory changes in the hips from exercise. Every time you squat, deadlift, run, jump, or lunge you will have extremely unbalanced forces going through your lower body, which is likely to cause some type of strain, muscle pull, or in this case probably something more severe.
Dr John Rusin explains how many mechanical issues such as poor posture, lead to the common injuries of the lower back, shoulder, knees and also the neck/upper back.
He compiled research from multiple studies and concluded the following:
Shoulder injuries are more likely with excessive repetitions and over reliance on use of machinery (the latter of which I strongly agree with!)
When flexing or extending the lower back (such as in a deadlift) under heavy loads, you are more likely to have lower back strain. The importance of keeping a neutral (straight) spine is therefore essential as it reduces the pressure on the back compared to a curved lower spine.
Knee injuries are most likely when the knees ‘cave’ in during an exercise, such as the squat. Corrective measures must take place to ensure this doesn’t occur.
Poor posture is the result of upper back and neck injuries. Again, corrective exercises are needed.
In the article linked above by Dr John Rusin he demonstrated (through a video) how to use safe, simple and effective exercises to eliminate these mechanical issues.
2. Abandon all forms of ego-lifting
Ego lifting refers to lifting weights heavier than you can safely lift, for the purpose of showing others how strong you are.
It’s easy to fall into this trap, because as exercise enthusiasts, we are also naturally competitive. And we want to show others we aren’t weak – but how competitive can you be if you’re injured?
Injuries are often the result of straining a muscle. There’s no better way to strain a muscle then to lift more than you know you should be lifting.
Instead of thinking about competing with others, think of yourself as a team member. Everyone else in your boot camp are other team members of yours, and you are trying to collectively improve and achieve your goals.
In addition, it’s worth remembering no one likes an egotistical person. Part of the sheer joy of exercising is the commoreadory you feel with other like-minded people.
Ego lifting will cause a barrier between you and others, and there’s no joy in being isolated – how fun is it really if you can deadlift 600lbs, but no one cares.
3. Repair your body through proper sleep
Half of injury prevention is sensible lifting practice, the other half is what you do outside the gym. Most importantly, you must allow the body to repair itself through proper sleep.
Research published in the Journal of Pediatric Orthopaedics studied the injury records of 160 student athletes and found that those who slept for less than 8 hours were 1.7 times more likely to have an injury than those who slept for over 8 hours.
This is consistent with a study completed back in 2011 which shows that fatigue-induced injuries were the result of sleeping less than 6 hours (the night before the injury occured).
The reason sleep is so important is because during sleep our body undergoes multiple physiological processes including the body and the brain, which translates to overall better athletic performance and safety.
For example, during sleep our bodies release growth hormone and undergoes muscle protein synthesis. This helps develop skeletal muscle and allows the muscles to adapt and repair.
Sleep is also crucial for memory consolidation and motor learning. This means that sleep helps the deep learning of an athletic skill, which means the next time you engage in the activity you’ll unconsciously be more skilled in completing the movements required, thereby reducing risk of injury.
At Tavistock Clinic we offer physiotherapy in Crawley and more often than not I will spend as much time talking with clients about the importance of sleep on risk prevention as I will about all other points mentioned in this article.
Sleep is the mechanism by which a human body rejuvenates itself. Without proper sleep, muscles cannot repair and rebuild, and if you then train hard the next day on an already exhausted body, you’re asking for trouble.
4. Be obsessive about proper form
Imagine for a second trying to complete a barbell squat, with both your feet pointing as far inwards as you can.
Do you think you may injure something in your knee, ankle, hip or even lower back?
It’s still a squat, but it’s terrible form.
At Specialist Performance Personal Training you are fortunate that you are guided and supervised by excellent and qualified coaches.
It’s important you allow your coach to monitor and advise you on your form, to prevent an unnecessary injury.
The human anatomy has evolved to function in very specific planes of axes. Understanding how to safely lift, push and pull weighted objects is vital to prevent putting undue stress into muscles and joints.
Never be afraid to ask if you are completing an exercise correctly.
A special note to younger weightlifters (under the age of 18): research from the British Journal of Sports Medicine shows us that you are most likely to injury yourself when weight lifting.
The simple reason is because within this age group you are most likely to undergo a growth spurt, and heavy resistance training whilst your body undergoes such significant changes may present a challenge for your body.
If you are within this age group, there are some specific instructions that you would be wise to read before starting your resistance training programme. I highly recommend you read this study conducted by the British Journal of Sports Medicine, specifically the paragraph entitled ‘Prevention of resistance training injuries’ for specific advice on this topic.
An honorary mention should also go to the ‘goes without saying’ principles of injury prevention, which includes (for the purpose of jogging your memory); warm up and stretch before exercising, include resistance training in your exercise programme (even if your main sport is not weight-lifting based), try to not get injured in the first place (as previous injuries are predictors of further injuries) and always follow the principle of progressive overload.
I sincerely hope this article has opened up your eyes to not only how preventable injuries can be, but also what practical steps you can take to ensure you are at the lowest risk possible for getting an injury.
This is a guest post by Kulraj Singh
Kulraj Singh is the Founder of Tavistock Clinic in Crawley, specialising in physiotherapy treatment for sports injuries. You can contact him directly via email at firstname.lastname@example.org