Injury Prevention and Management in the Gym
Injuring Yourself in the Gym Happens!
Not much is more discouraging than injuring yourself when you are just starting an exercise program. And, unfortunately, it happens all too often.
Frequently, these injuries can be classified as acute, which means that though the pain will likely be intense, and you might scream and cry, the time it takes for you to recover will be short—examples might be: stubbing your toe or burning your hand or even spraining your arm. Pain, inflammation, redness, and swelling will likely occur. But it will be short-term and localized, and, as your dad might say, you’ll get over it (my dad would tell me to rub some dirt in it).
Unfortunately, there are cases when an acute injury goes on to create chronic pain. Chronic pain is the kind of discomfort that many people are slow to address because it isn’t understood to be “urgent” or immediately life-threatening. Chronic pain often means low-level, nagging discomfort that seems to stick around forever, perhaps to the point where you can’t remember a time when you weren’t experiencing pain. Sound familiar?
In my interactions with clients, cases of chronic pain are much more common than cases of acute pain. And what may surprise you is that frequently, my clients’ chronic pain—such as persistent low-back or shoulder discomfort—is brought about, directly or indirectly, by their sedentary lifestyles.
How so, you might ask? If an inactive, poorly conditioned person with tons of muscular imbalances and weaknesses and who has very little understanding of proper form suddenly starts an intense, unstructured workout program—well, you probably know where I’m going with this. It isn’t good.
So, if you’re considering a new workout program—or even if you’re an experienced athlete or bodybuilder—do not fear: injury is not a foregone conclusion.
Ways You Can Prevent Injury in The Gym
Here are some ways that you can prevent injury in the gym, so that you can remain pain-free and committed to your fitness goals! All of the suggestions listed below fall under a personal trainer’s scope of practice. So, if you really want to eliminate the guesswork and the anxiety of modifying your own workout program, consider enlisting an experienced and knowledgeable personal trainer.
I’m not going to lie, I have struggled with this in the past. When I am feeling motivated to work out, I want to go hard and fast; my goal becomes my primary focus and I want to reach it right away. And then I very quickly burn-out or injure myself, and I’m again reminded that no goal is worth compromising your health–no exception! It doesn’t matter if it’s weight loss, or muscle gain, or a marathon, or a 300 pound bench-press. In fact, isn’t the primary reason for exercise to improve your longevity? So, as tempting as it might be to rush out of the gates fast and hard, your body will thank you in the long run for taking it slow. Aim pretty low in weight for the first couple times you perform an exercise. Try for 10-15 reps–the last couple reps should be a struggle, but you should not be on the verge of complete failure and/or injury. You can check out the link here for Infofit’s recommendations for building a beginner’s workout!
Know your weaknesses.
If you’ve remained relatively sedentary for most of your life, chances are you don’t really know all of your own body’s weaknesses and imbalances. This can be quite alarming–and demotivating–for older people especially, who, after years or even decades of relative inactivity, go into the gym to find that their body just doesn’t work the way that it used to. So, what can you do to check for these issues? I would highly recommend checking in with your doctor, and on top of that, scheduling a health assessment with a fitness professional. Many gyms offer health assessments with their memberships, and 100% of all legitimate personal trainers will require a health assessment before your first session. Typically, it is during this time that your personal trainer will take your blood pressure and heart rate, evaluate your posture, your movement and range of motion, your baseline cardiovascular and strength capacity, and your flexibility. This may seem excessive, but you should expect your personal trainer to be conscientious and thorough with your health.
Watch your form while exercising
This one might be difficult to do if you are unfamiliar with body mechanics and anatomy and you don’t know what good form looks like. If a personal trainer isn’t in the cards for you, I would recommend watching some of our Infofit videos and/or reading some of our articles describing basic form corrections that you can use to protect your joints and your spine.
You don’t have to do every exercise.
I will be the first to admit that there are some exercises that I currently avoid–or do in only very small amounts–in order to remain pain and injury-free: cycling is one of them. Deadlifts are another. Because of my own chronic weaknesses and imbalances (yes, personal trainers have them too!), doing either of these exercises to excess isn’t worth the pain and restrictions that frequently result. That being said, part of being a personal trainer is knowing how to substitute for these exercises, and how to build strength and progress until I can do these exercises without negative consequences. Again, a proficient personal trainer can help you to identify which exercises you might be better off avoiding–at least for now–and which ones might serve as a sufficient substitute!
So, say that you do start exercising and you do happen to injure yourself, back off–even if that injury is mild. If your shoulder is sore, don’t go back into the gym the next day and perform the exact same chest flye that caused the initial injury. Besides, after working out a particular body part, you should be giving it a rest for at least a day or two. This doesn’t have to mean that you just completely stop all physical activity. If your arms are sore, do some squats! Go for a walk! And remember RICE: Rest, Ice, Compress, and Elevate, so that your acute injury doesn’t turn into chronic pain! If pain persists and/or it gets in the way of your daily activities of living, I urge you to check in with a healthcare professional.
You can also check out this Infofit article that can help you to differentiate the muscle soreness you might feel post-workout–referred to as DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) and something more serious, like a strain or tear.
Educate yourself! Injury is absolutely preventable. By practicing patience, correcting your form, respecting your limits, and recovering intelligently, you can avoid injury, increase your fitness, and, most importantly, enjoy an active lifestyle.
Wishing you all the best on your journey to optimum health!
Written by Theresa Faulder, Master’s in English, Certified Personal Trainer, and Infofit fitness blog writer