We help our clientele reach their goals in the gym and in the mirror. We are experts of training and nutrition plans, not injury rehabilitation plans. However, as personal trainers we have good knowledge of human anatomy and how the body is supposed to move. With this knowledge I use simple strategies to avoid injury in my own training and my client’s training. What people need to realise is that there is a certain amount of risk involved in all exercise. My job as a personal trainer is to weigh up the risk to benefit ratio of an exercise and then decide if I want to use it with my client. Exercises with a high risk but low benefit we generally avoid, exercises with a high benefit and low risk we use a lot. Knowing which movements fit the risk to benefit ratio are the responsibility of the personal trainer. Having a basic level of anatomical knowledge is vital to avoiding injury in your training. Don’t worry to avoid injury you don’t have to memorise large sections of Grey’s Anatomy. Here are some simple rules to train by that will hopefully keep you injury free and training consistently.
Rule 1) Do a warm up specific to your work sets
It’s very common to see people in a commercial gym jump on a treadmill or bicycle to warm up for weight training or even worse they jump straight into their work set without any form of a warm up. Your warm up should be specific to what you are training that session. So if your first exercise is a bench press you should warm up with a bench press to lubricate the joints involved and stimulate blood flow to the working muscles. There are a number of different warm up protocols you can use but a good one to start with is this:
10 reps empty Olympic bar
5 reps 50-60% of your work weight
5 reps 70-80% of your work weight
Rule 2) Drop the ego, lower the weight
A large ego is probably one of the main causes of injury in the gym. Picking loads too heavy for your level leads to improper form. Using bad technique under high forces is a recipe for injury. Correct loading of exercises takes a lot of gym experience to master. However, if you have trained for a decent amount of time you should know roughly what you can lift for a given number of reps. Keeping a record of the weights you are lifting is a good way to do this. Part of the problem is that people do not know what correct form is supposed to look like. Making sure you know the correct form of an exercise before you do it is essential to getting the most out of the movement and avoiding injury.
Rule 3) Train your knees through a full range of motion
The knee joint is susceptible to serious injury. There are 9 muscles involved in the movement of your knee. Making sure all of these are strong and functioning optimally is vital to keeping your knees healthy. The only way to do this is to train your knee through a full range of motion using a variety of different exercises that incorporate other parts of the lower body kinetic chain. A full range of motion for the knee means your hamstring touching your calf, not a squat with a 900 knee angle. I am always amazed at the popularity of running for fat loss. Running is a high impact exercise that is difficult to control. If your lower body is completely balanced and strong at all joints go for it. If not, then running will more than likely lead to some kind of soft tissue injury or joint problem. What people need to bear in mind is that there are much more effective, controllable and safer ways to reduce your body fat.
Rule 4) Soft tissue work
If you weight train for a long period of time scar tissue and adhesions will build up in your muscles. Chronically shortened muscles interfere with the biomechanics of your body and restrict range of motion. Soft tissue manipulation helps to release tension and breaks up any knots and myofascia dysfunctions caused by long term scar tissue. Massage also promotes healing via improved lymph flow and blood circulation. Getting regular soft tissue work will help remove the build up of scar tissue and allow you to keep training intensely. There are a number of soft tissue methods available to the trainee. Thai massage, sports massage, Chinese medical massage and active release technique are some of the most common and I recommend trying them all.
Rule 5) Balance out your body
The mirror muscles, or the muscle we can see in front on, usually receive the most work in the gym. Constantly training one set of muscles and neglecting others can lead to serious muscular imbalances. Muscular imbalances are ticking time bombs waiting to explode. These imbalances will not only lead to acute injury but also major injury. For example, if you always train your biceps via a certain curl variation the chances are this will lead to some kind of repeated strain injury and tendonitis. Using a variety of different exercises is important to avoid this kind of injury and will help keep your body balanced out. There are a number of ratios of strength proposed for opposing muscle groups depending on which school of thought you belong to. However, if you want to keep it simple just train the major muscle groups with the same amount of volume. Therefore, if you train 3 sets of a quad dominant exercise also perform 3 sets of a posterior chain focused exercise.