Workout Injuries: How do you prevent them in the Gym
I’m sure if you’ve landed here, it’s only because you want to know the right way to exercise the right way without tearing your ligaments, ending up in super painful cramps or sustaining any workout injuries. Right?
So, today, I welcome, Marcus Jessen, a fantastic health & fitness blogger to talk about ways to prevent workout injuries in the gym (or even your home, if the gym isn’t your workout den!)
Are you afraid of getting injured in the gym?
No matter whether you are a beginner or an experienced gym-goer, workout injuries do happen to everyone & they suck.
While you shouldn’t let the fear of getting injured prevent you from going to the gym, you should keep in mind & see upon what you can do to minimize that risk.
In this post, I will present what I believe to be the best tips for avoiding workout injuries. While I will be focusing on weight training because that is what I do, but what I’m going to share, applies to most kinds of exercises.
I want to start off by giving a bit of perspective on gym injuries. A big part of life is to manage your risk & doing it well. You should make intelligent decisions balancing risk & reward, while also trying to reduce your risk & the exposure of risk.
But even with all that hard work, you will never be able to completely eliminate risk & that’s also how it goes with lifting weights in the gym or exercising in general.
I guess you could remain in the bed all of your life, but even that wouldn’t be risk-free since you can get bed sores. Besides, you might just die from boredom! 🙁
Another way of looking at it is that you probably put your health at a bigger risk by not going lifting weights or exercising.
How ‘Safe’ Is Weight Training?
Over my career of about 10 years of going to the gym, I have already got a few injuries under my belt.
Luckily for you, I am not the best example & I suspect not very representative. By the way, 4-5 years of that, I spent doing CrossFit, which is associated with a much higher risk of injury.
What might surprise you is that lifting weights in the gym has been shown to have a relatively small risk of injury.
According to one research review of a large number of studies done on injuries in different weight training sports (e.g. bodybuilding, powerlifting, strongman, Highland Games, and CrossFit), bodybuilding only had 0.24 – 1 workout injuries in average per 1000 hours trained.
Bodybuilding, in this case, is the closest you get to recreational weight training, & I think it is reasonable to use that number. Using those research findings & putting them into perspective, assuming you spend 3-4 hours lifting weights per week, you would get an injury every 4.8 – 6.4 years and that is using the highest value in the range of 0.24 – 1. To get the lowest, you can multiply those numbers by 4.
As a comparison, one research review of runners showed that recreational runners on average get 7.7 workout injuries every 1000 hours spent running.
The injury statistics on popular teams sports like basketball, soccer & football that I have been able to uncover all have very specific classifications not well suited for this comparison.
What I instead can do is rely on one of the conclusions in the research review:
Weight Training sports appear to have relatively low rates of injury compared with common team sports.
Obviously, comparing different statistics is associated with large inaccuracies. But, even with those considerations, it’s pretty clear that recreational weight training is relatively safe as compared to many other sports.
Personal Experience & Reflection
With that research out of the way, I wish to add a few, perhaps, more interesting (but less scientific) perspectives based on my own experience. And very often, it turns out that sharing stories about injuries is a hot topic when casually chit-chatting with others in the gym.
Distilling all my own experience & the stories of others, it’s quite clear to me that the main problem lies with our instinct to get distracted. Worse, sometimes we carelessly do things we’re not really sure of.
When you are handling heavy weights, there is a potential to do a lot of damage.
About Avoiding Workout Injuries
Based on my reflection above, my main advice would be:
Try as best as you can to focus while in the gym and avoid carelessly doing things you probably shouldn’t do.
It may sound too simple to you; but I feel it captures the essence well.
Hold on, I am not being insensitive towards people who got injured. And if at all I were, I would mostly be mocking myself because I have got injured more than a lot of people.
You could keep thew following aspects in mind to effectively prevent workout injuries in the gym or at your workout place:
1. No Sudden Large Increases
In general, you should be progressing (in terms of adding weight, reps, set, exercises) at a slow but steady pace. But please don’t go crazy & add a lot of weight as an increment.
Not only does adding too much increase the risk of injury (as it largely compromises your technique & muscle recruitment), but you will neither reap any faster gains out of it. Moreover, it will increase your recovery time. Basically, it is pointless unless you are trying to impress someone. 😉
Another way to put it is that every time you want to try out a new exercise or increase anything, you need to do it with moderation.
If you are just starting out, please start out slowly. Also, if you just came back to the gym after a break , you should start out a bit lighter, especially if the break was a long one.
Warming up to prevent injury is a no-brainer, and you could say that it is the same idea as #1. That’s because you basically ease yourself into a more intense exercise.
There are many ways to do warm-ups, but the main thing you want to achieve is a rise in body temperature, increased blood flow, & lubrication of the joints. Simply put, you want your muscles & joints to feel warm & not cold.
I like to do a few lighter sets of any compound exercise for that training session. For example, if I were to do weighted pull-ups & deadlifts, I would just do 2-3 much lighter sets of that before working sets.
I also find this as a great way to mentally prepare myself for the exercise, which I, otherwise, wouldn’t get if I were to do some aerobic warm-up.
3. Listen To Your Body
It might sound cliché, but it is very important and yet commonly ignored (I have done it myself).
I know it can be hard to figure out, especially because you need to push & sometimes exhaust yourself to grow stronger. I, however, think there’s some truth in “no pain, no gain”, but you should not push yourself to the point of actual pain, the excruciating one. If doing one movement or exercise hurts, then you probably shouldn’t do it at the given moment.
You also need to consider previous problems, limitations or body conditions, if you have any. Trust me, a lot of injuries can be smartly avoided by gauging your limitations well.
Also, if you’re in the better half of your life, you should probably not train like people in their mid-20’s.
Our body also needs plenty of time to rest & recover in between workout sessions. After all, it’s all a physiological process, that the recovery period makes you much more stronger for the next time.
You can expect some muscle soreness too. Nevertheless, extreme soreness or prolonged soreness of more than 48 hours could very well indicate that you’ve stressed your muscle/body way too much.
If you end up with achy knees or elbows from lifting weights, it could also tell you that you’ve probably not done something the right way. The best way to avoid that from becoming an injury is to give it good rest.
Having proper food & staying hydrated also helps a great deal here.
4. Learn Good Technique
It’s often controversial when it comes to what exactly constitutes good & proper ‘form’. The discussions can be long & boring, but I believe it can be summed up based on what you want to achieve.
Personally, I think the main purpose should be a safe execution & not necessarily a complete range of motion. Flexibility & length of limbs vary from person to person, and I don’t think it’s always useful to dictate a full range of motion.
Achieving good form takes effort & practice. And guess what, you should be getting plenty of practice already when you’re progressing slowly (tip #1) & warming up with lighter sets (tip # 2).
It is a good idea to have someone more knowledgeable than you to review your form from time to time. You can also record yourself doing the exercise with your smartphone & review yourself over a period of time.
For a big part of my training career, I avoided any regular stretching. I just didn’t feel that the time spent was useful as I felt no difference, whether I stretched or not. Now, I’ve been much wiser & stretching is quite a regular affair while doing Yoga.
Like many others, I would hold on to the fact that stretching has the potential to indirectly prevent injuries.
The thing is that most of us spend an awful lot of time in awkward positions on a daily basis. Most of our waking hours we sit down and focus on things in front of us like smartphones, computers and books.
With all those highly stimulating things, it is hard not to lean forward & hunch over. Over time this leads to muscular imbalances & poor posture. Some muscles become weak & overstretched while others become stiff. In the case of sitting down hunching over it is commonly the shoulders, neck, & hips that get in trouble.
A poor posture could negatively influence your technique & lead to increased wear & tear. Given enough time, this could cause an injury & that’s pretty much what happened to me in the past.
Workout Injuries: What if You Get them?
As I mentioned in the beginning, that workout injuries do happen, & that they can probably happen no matter how careful you’ve been with taking precautions.
And if you’re out of luck & get injured, the best way is to follow the so-called RICE method:
- Rest the injury (R)
- Ice the injury to reduce swelling and inflammation (I)
- Compress the injury (C)
- If possible elevate (E) the injured area to reduce swelling
Read more about the RICE method here.
Medication like Ibuprofen can help to ease the pain and easy to get since they don’t usually require a prescription.
Workout injuries take can take anywhere from several weeks & in more severe cases, several months to heal. Until your injury is healed you need to take care. 🙂 Don’t put strain on your injured area, but do try as best as you can to keep exercising. It can actually speed up the healing process.
If the injury doesn’t subside or gets worse, you might want to seek out a medical professional.
I personally find that recreational weight training is actually not that risky, relative to many other exercises. I would even go as far as arguing that from a risk-management perspective, there is a strong case for doing weight training instead of other things.
But no matter what kind of exercise you do, you should think about getting & staying in shape as a marathon & not a sprint (pun intended). It is also a continuous process or a journey & not a destination. So you better be in it for the long haul & be mindful about the risk of injury.
Marcus Jessen is a lawyer & a fitness & health blogger at Strengthery.com where he likes to write mostly about weight training, weight loss & other health-related topics. He prefers a balancing approach to health & fitness, where the amount of effort needs a corresponding gain in order to be worth it.