Written by Mary D. Nadelen, MA, ATC
For any individual who is physically active, there is a possibility of sustaining an injury. While some injuries, such as an ankle sprain or fracture, are difficult to prevent, many other injuries are preventable. By following a few simple guidelines, injuries such as muscle strains, tendonitis and overuse injuries can be reduced.
Every workout must begin with a warm-up and end with a cool-down. A warm-up is necessary to prepare the body for exercise by increasing heart rate and blood flow to working muscles. The warm-up should start slow and easy and consist of a general cardiovascular exercise such as walking, jogging or biking. The goal is to break a sweat. After five to 10 minutes, the warm-up should focus on muscles and movements more specific to the exercise activity planned. Creating a smooth transition from the warm-up to a specific activity is a great way to prevent injuries. For example, a soccer player could pass, dribble and shoot a ball; a weightlifter could lift light weights before moving onto greater resistance.
Flexibility is absolutely a part of every good warm-up. Once the muscles are warm, they become more elastic and are ready to be stretched. Whether you choose to perform static stretches (by holding each position for 10-30 seconds) or perform dynamic stretches (by moving the body through a functional range of motion) flexibility prepares the muscles, tendons and joints for work by allowing them to move freely through a full active range of motion. The more prepared the body is, the less likely it is to get injured.
An area that often gets ignored is the cool-down after activity. Just as the warm-up prepares the body for work, the cool down brings it back to its normal state. Time spent performing five to 10 minutes of low-intensity cardiovascular activity followed by stretching immediately after the workout will decrease muscle soreness and aid in recovery, both helping to prepare the body for the next workout.
Once an exercise program is developed, there are a few things to remember. Start slow: people often jump right into a workout and do too much too fast, creating excessive muscle soreness and tightness. Proper progression is the key to preventing injuries. Slowly increase the amount of time of each workout, the intensity of the workout and the resistance of the weights. A 5-percent increase as the exercise becomes too easy is a safe progression. Exercise at a level that is appropriate for your age and your fitness level. A young athlete competing with older children may not be as physically strong, predisposing them to injury. The same can be true for a weekend warrior athlete who jumps into a game with athletes who have trained throughout the week. If equipment is involved in your exercise program, take the time to ensure you have the proper equipment, that it fits correctly and that it meets safety standards. Too often, old, faulty or improperly fitted equipment, such as footwear, mouth guards, helmets, goggles or shin pads, can cause injuries.
One of the best ways to prevent injury is to listen to the warning signs your body gives you. By ignoring little aches and pains in joints and muscles, a more serious injury could develop. Pain is the body’s way of telling you something is not right! The common expression “no pain, no gain” creates a large misconception. It is very possible to make cardiovascular and strength gains in your workout routine without causing pain. If your body is tired or too sore from the previous workout, take a day off, cross-train or work out at a much lower intensity. It is important to add variety to every exercise routine to prevent repetitive, overuse injuries. By switching from running to biking, aerobics to weight lifting, or swimming to spinning, muscles and joints that are worked repetitively during your normal routine will get a break while challenging other parts of the body.
Rest is a critical component to any good workout routine and time spent allowing the body to recover is a great way to prevent injuries. A rest day must occur at least one to two times per week. Even small breaks during a workout are sometimes required to get the most out of the workout and prevent injuries.
A healthy, well-balanced diet can aid in injury prevention as well. A poor diet can lead to muscle weakness, decreased muscle strength and endurance. Equally important is maintaining hydration throughout the day, during and after your workout. A body with adequate fuel (food and water) will stay sharp and keep moving at the intensity you desire.
Following the simple guidelines listed above will help keep you injury-free and focused on your workout goals.
View the full spring 2010 issue of the ACSM Fit Society® Page online.