Today’s blog post is dedicated to an avid reader of my blog who wants to know how to minimize the risk of injury while working out without a trainer to supervise.
This is a great question to ask and I love it when my readers are keen to learn more on fitness and nutrition. For the remainder of this blog post, I will refer to exercise as physical activities that enhance your fitness – this does not include sports even though some sports do involve some exercise elements. I have blogged about the differences of sport and exercise already (Exercise V.S. ‘Exercise’), so I suggest you read that first before continuing on.
From my experience training others and training myself, the highest areas of injury occur in a couple places. 1) When the muscle is put under more force then it can handle – muscle strain (or colloquially, muscle pull); 2) when the tendons are put under more force than it can handle (sprain). These injuries can happen during a workout but can be significantly reduced when you follow proper exercise form. Here are the six (6) main ways you can mitigate risk to injury while exercising:
1. Proper breathing – this one seems simple enough, but far too many people hold their breaths while pushing very hard. It may seem very natural to hold your breath as you crank out one last rep to failure, but it is important that you keep breathing as naturally as possible to reduce the blood pressure in your thorax (mid-section). The last thing you want is to faint while doing a back squat and have the barbell crush you while you’re unconscious.
2. Head positioning – in almost all exercise positions, there will be a lot of pressure on the neck during the resistance training. To avoid neck strains, the head should be positioned straight, and tilted down slightly. This will help relieve most of the pressure but you need to be cognizant that you do not apply any additional pressure pressing your head against the back seat of a workout bench or a head rest especially when you are pushing very hard.
3. Speed of motion – Newton’s second law of motion states: force is equal to the mass of an object times the acceleration of that object.
F = m x a
Therefore, the greater the acceleration, the greater the force. When you move fast and explosive, more force will be generated. The faster you punch a punching bag, the more force will be delivered to the punching bag (and back on to you – Newton’s third law of motion). The faster you lift a weight, the more force you will be putting on that weight, and the more force will be put back on to you which usually results in your joints taking the brunt of that force. If you start to lift very heavy objects (heavy mass), very explosively (high acceleration), then the force will be multiplied. This is why slower movements are safer and why you should lift in a slow and controlled manner.
4. Safe range of motion – what constitutes a safe range of motion is different for every muscle group and varies from person to person. The general rule for range of motion is that you should not perform any exercises to the extreme endpoints of the movement. You want to get a good stretch in the eccentric end (elongation of the muscles being worked) of the movement but not too much that causes a lot of discomfort. You also don’t want to lock out your joints in either the concentric end (contracted position of the muscles being worked) or eccentric end as that causes more wear on the joint and relieves the tension on the muscles being worked. Again, the range of motion is very specific to the exercise and individual so it is best to have someone who knows what they are doing to supervise you in the beginning. Use common sense.
5. Ego – not to be sexist here, but guys, as a whole, do have more ego than women so this point is targeted more towards the testosterone-endowed segment of my readership. This seems like a foolish reason to risk injury but it is rooted in biology. Guys will extend themselves (no pun intended) when there are women present to give off a stronger, more physical presence then they normally would due to their genetic programming (a form of peacocking). This may result in them putting their muscles and joints at risk of injury due to the aforementioned points above in attempts to impress the opposite sex. I, personally have fallen victim to this one… not one of my proudest moments.
6. Choice of exercise – lastly, even if you practice with good form and attention to reduce the risk of injury, if the choice of exercise is poor, then there will be inevitable risk of injury. Exercises that have a lot of explosive movements, or change in movement direction, or the use of momentum, will have a high degree of acceleration. Exercises such as kettlebell swings, olympic lifts, tire flips, sledge hammer training are usually done with heavy mass and lots of acceleration. If you’re going to do them, then hopefully you understand the risks that are involved.
As always, if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to write a comment or email me directly.
I hope this helps you to continue training safely and effectively well into your old-age!