Injuries happen. Whether in the gym, out for a run, playing with our children, or doing routine chores like yard work, daily life can take a toll on our bodies.
So we ask: how can we avoid injuries and when injured, what are the best ways to recover and resume training? Must we really stop everything because we injured our ankle or shoulder? The short answer is no. But we’ll get to that.
The best path to avoiding injuries is through careful preparation. What do we mean by that? First, when we prepare to work out we need to make sure our bodies are warm and limber. A proper warm-up should take at least 15 minutes and cause you to break a sweat. Warm-ups are designed to get your blood flowing, get you limber, and most importantly ready to move and perform the workout. If you aren’t breathing hard and haven’t broken a sweat, my friend, you aren’t warm and ready.
Just as important as the warm-up is the cool-down. We all have experienced the desire to just peace out and hop in our cars after a particularly brutal work out. But properly cooling down and stretching after a workout will save you in decreased soreness and pain the next day. Stretch those muscles out and take advantage of a foam roller to prevent tightness.
We can’t emphasize enough how important dynamic stretching is in general and not just when we are preparing for a workout. If you’re working eight-hour days at a desk, waiting for a long plane ride, or sitting in an hour-plus commute, you should take every possible opportunity to stretch and loosen those muscles up. Stretch while waiting in line, in the airport, or at breaks in your office. Yes, people may give you a funny look, but the results will be paid in less pain and stiffness and increased mobility and recovery. Don’t worry about what others think when it comes to taking care of your body.
Proper sleep and nutrition also aid our ability to recover more quickly. Make sure you are getting ample restful sleep. It also can help to avoid eating inflammation-inducing processed foods and to seek out foods that decrease inflammation.
The goal with all of these tips is to give our bodies the best environment to prevent injury and the quickest path to recovery.
Shed that fear
No matter your preferred workout style, don’t be afraid of the free weights section in your gym. So many people new to weightlifting look at the weights, bars, and racks skeptically. They’re concerned they’ll get hurt. But on the contrary, weightlifting with proper form in a controlled setting is one of the safest ways to work out and build muscle. It’s the muscles in our body that protect our skeleton, our joints and tendons from damage whether you’re running after a toddler, raking, or lifting a heavy bag of groceries.
Lifting weights gives you the one place where you can work out with complete control. You control how much weight you put on the bar. You control how you are going to lift it. And you can work slowly mastering proper form as each weight gets easier. That’s not something you can do when picking up a wiggling child or a large couch with a friend on the other end who isn’t doing their part. PIVOT.
Lifting weights with proper form trains your body to be able to handle what life throws at you. Need to get that massive sack of dog food into your trunk? Our brains and bodies remember our training: we instinctively flatten our backs, engage our core, and drive through our legs. Lifting weights prepares us to perform many of the functional tasks we will need over our lives.
Soreness vs. Injury
One main thing we need to understand is the difference between soreness and an actual injury. At the beginning of our fitness path we are certainly sore a lot and soreness definitely hurts. Soreness is often described as a constant, nagging pain that can be accompanied by stiffness. An injury, however, is more often a sharp, shooting pain. There can be swelling, numbing, tingling, and an actual inability to move whatever might be injured.
How we treat our muscles determines how long we will be sore and the best remedy for soreness is movement. We know that lactic acid built up in our muscles as a result of our workout is responsible for the soreness. We will be sore longer if we leave it there, do nothing and relax. We need to push the lactic acid out and get those muscles functioning by either getting back in the gym or taking part in active recovery.
At the same time, if we are indeed injured, we need to see trusted medical professionals to diagnose the problem. Injuries are horrible, but they are not the end of the world. If a medical professional gives you definitive statements, such as “you should stop running” or “you shouldn’t lift anything over 20 lbs, ever.” Question those statements. Really, you will never run again in your life? You will never again lift your child? It just doesn’t seem realistic and there may be a slow, therapeutic recovery path for you to regain pain-free function and mobility. Be your own advocate and seek other advice. Don’t accept that ‘never’ is just your lot in life.
Participate in intensive recovery
Recovery from an injury can take weeks and even months. Those of us who have been injured know that recovery is hard, important, and intensive work. If you have been working out on your own there’s understandable confusion about what you can do to work out, recover, and not further injure yourself.
This is where great programming and coaching comes in. For example, if you’re a TTSL member your coaches will be able to help you with safe substitutes and modifications to keep you working.
Don’t make your entire body pay just because of one injury. You may have broken your ankle, but your arms still work. You can look at this time of recovery as an opportunity to work on other areas of your body, gaining extra mobility and strength.
Seek out educated professionals
Working out and functioning at a high level requires specialists that understand your goals and what you want to do with your body. This may include:
- A primary care doctor who looks at you as an individual and an athlete;
- A chiropractor who can help keep your body aligned. Injury often is caused or exacerbated by misalignment and poor form;
- A sports masseuse who can help you work out problems with your body’s soft tissue;
- An acupuncturist;
- A physical therapist who understands that your goal isn’t just to stand up and walk through your house, but to run, to lift heavy, or jump high.
In all of this we want you to listen to your body and take injury prevention and recovery as seriously as you take your workouts.