Injury Proof Your Workout

Whether you are a weekend warrior or an elite athlete, there is nothing worse than injuring yourself right when you’re starting to feel at your best. Hello, unwanted setbacks and time away from your favourite workouts. While some common injuries are out of our control, many could be avoided if we took the time out to condition our body properly.

How many times have you jumped into your workout without a proper warm-up? Gone from office chair to grass hill and then straight back to sitting at your desk without a cool down or stretch? Or do you lift in the gym, refuel with a protein shake and then grab a fast-food feast that you eat on the couch in front of the TV? If you can relate to any of these scenarios, then you’re vulnerable to injuries.

Whether you’re an elite athlete, fitness fanatic or a weekend warrior, following the five training tools below will help you bulletproof your body and reduce your time on the sidelines.

1. Take time for prehab

Not to be confused with rehab, which helps an athlete recover after injury, prehab focuses on decreasing an athlete’s risk of injury. It does this by combating muscle imbalances, improper movement patterns and ingrained poor habits. See, our bodies adapt to repetitive movements and positions we put ourselves in and whether this is during our hard training session or while we sit motionless at our desk, the end result is tightness is some muscle groups, weakness in others and altered stability and mobilisation.

Muscle imbalances can alter normal functions in the body, changing both the way joints are loaded and the mechanics of our movements. Seeing the body is one kinetic chain, compensatory movement patterns can occur, causing dysfunction throughout our entire body. It’s muscle imbalances and altered movement patterns that increases injury risk.

Injury risk can be reduced by identifying and focusing on the areas that lack mobility and stability, in particularly the shoulders, core and hips. The fascia is a thin layer of connective tissue that wraps around all the internal parts of the body from head to toe and fuses it all together. It binds some structures together and allows others to slide smoothly over each other. The tissue provides internal structure and has nerves that make it super sensitive.

Healthy fascia is smooth, slippery and flexible, but when stressed with factors such as either trauma, repetitive movements or an inactive lifestyle, it tightens up and becomes sticky. Tight fascia can limit mobility and cause painful knots to develop. Part of prehab looks at using self-massage to release the myosfascia – the fascia around muscles. Foam rollers, massage sticks or firm massage balls are used to self-massage your muscles to help relieve certain areas of pain. Including 10 minutes of this before a workout can help improve range of motion.

Adding in corrective exercises and an assortment of mobility-focused movements for the feet, ankle, hips, thoracic spine, chest and shoulders alongside myofascial release provides a dynamic warm-up that prepares your body for activity. Mini-band exercises such as mini-band lateral walks prep the muscles for more challenging work, while other exercises such as weighted hamstring curls help you build strength and stability in specific areas.

2. Include Movement-Based Training

Once you have looked at mobility and stability, muscle activation and strength and condition of specific areas, it’s time to shift your focus to movement-based training which focuses on a full body workout. This style of strength training looks at training movements not individual muscles and focuses on the five primary movement patterns of the body which are:

  1. Bend and lift movements (squats)
  2. Single-leg movements (lunges)
  3. Pushing movements (push-ups)
  4. Pulling movements (rows)
  5. Rotational movements (woodchops)

If you are looking for a progressively challenging program that uses the foundational movement patterns and follows a progression of exercises, take a look at ACE’s workout here.

3. Maximise your food choices

Whatever you do, train hard, but recover harder, and food plays the key role here. Focus on food is usually concentrated to what is consumed before a workout, when more emphasis needs to be given to what is consumed post-training. This is the vital time that initiates the process to get your body ready for your next training session. Failing to provide adequate fuel post-training can lead to poor recovery and increase the likelihood of injury and illness.

When you finish your workout, be sure to follow the 4 rules of recovery:

  1. Repair your muscles with protein
  2. Refuel your body and brain with carbohydrates
  3. Rehydrate with fluids and electrolytes
  4. Reinforce your immune system with antioxidants from plant-based foods and healthy fats

Make sure you spread your protein intake evenly out throughout day and include enough carbohydrates to match your training load, while also consuming your carbohydrates around your training sessions. Add plenty of plant-based foods like fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, wholegrains and legumes to your meals to ensure you’re getting enough nutrients and antioxidants to assist with reducing inflammation caused by exercise. Omega-3 fats found in oily fish like salmon are also good for keeping inflammation at bay.

4. Sleep Well

Sleep is the time for your body and brain to rest, recharge and repair. It’s not just about getting enough hours of sleep, the quality of your sleep is also important. During your deep sleep, growth hormone is released and its job is to stimulate muscle growth and repair. Deep sleep then is a vital time for your body to repair and restore itself following a hard training session. Inadequate sleep can have a detrimental effect on muscle growth and repair, meaning all those gains you’re trying to achieve on the training track are lost.

Sleep is also an important time for you to develop new skills. After you have practiced a new skill in your training, your brain continues to learn in the absence of the physical practice and this happens during sleep. Research shows that quality sleep on the first night following training is critical and the sleep-dependent motor sequence learning depends on quality sleep within the first 24 hours after training.

Getting a good night sleep will also help you consolidate memory, improve judgment, promote learning and concentration, speed up reaction time and sharpen problem solving and accuracy. Just one night’s sleep deprivation can affect verbal working memory, storytelling, mathematics ability and delay your ability to recall. Whether you’re at work or playing sport, these changes in executive functioning will be seen in your performance.  

5. Listen to your body

While discomfort is one thing, pain is another, and despite the common catchphrase “No Pain No Gain”, pain is something you should absolutely listen to. Pain is there to warn you and often, by the time we actually listen, it’s too late. Pay attention to feelings of stiffness, soreness and tightness. These feelings are completely normal, and are likely to ease during a warm-up, however if they worsen during your workout or you experience sharp pain or severe tightness, it might be an indication it’s time to back off. If you’re experiencing pain at rest, this is also a good indication something isn’t right and it might be time to back off your training or see a professional.