We all know that sinking feeling, you set a clear goal to exercise more regularly and are working hard at getting your butt to the gym, and then out of nowhere, injury strikes. You become de-motivated, feel beaten by the injury and worry that if you continue to exercise you will make things worse.
Injury is a natural part of the training process, if you are pushing yourself to achieve your goals or to become faster and stronger, it can be all to easy to push a bit too far and cause injury and sometimes our body just is unable to sustain the work.
Knowing when to continue training and when to rest is key; if you have significant swelling and pain which is not starting to resolve within a few days and becomes progressively worse with training, seeking a review with a medical professional is advisable.
What can I do to keep my fitness levels up with an injury?
It is important to not let an injury stop you training but it may mean you need to take a short period of rest and then alter how you normally workout. See it as a chance to grow and identify new areas to work on, and focus on your weaknesses… this will make you a stronger, better athlete. For example if you have a lower limb injury, focussing on core stability and upper body strength is key, whilst the opposite is true with an upper limb injury.
It is very easy to go to the gym and feel pressurised into lifting heavier weights than you are able to or pushing yourself way past your limit in a class competing with others, or lose form in order to complete more repetitions. However, loss of technique and incorrect form results in a high number of injuries.
If you are restricted from impact based exercise with an injury you can still maintain cardiovascular fitness by training on non-impact based machines such as the bike, cross-trainer, or rower or deep water running.
To see significant muscle hypertrophy (increase in size) it takes six weeks but with an injury just a week of unloading results in significant muscle wasting. Therefore, it is vital that once you are ready to re-load an injured area, that you start with lower load and the correct technique so you can build slowly back up to the weight you were using.
How to avoid injury
Whilst machines in the gym make you feel like you can push more weight, they can fix your body in positions that are not natural and can cause injury. For example using a shoulder press machine, the handles fix you with your shoulders positioned slightly turned in, which can cause impingement of the rotator cuff tendons in the shoulder, leading to pain. To avoid injury, free weight exercises allow your body to adapt and move freely through the movement.
Practice a good warm-up
So many people often overlook warming up and it’s actually really important for preventing injury. Warming up doesn’t have to take ages, the idea is to get your muscles moving and increase blood flow to the areas you want to put under strain. When warming up, don’t think long, static stretches, you should aim for gentle movement like 5 minutes on the cross trainer or a mini yoga flow to get your heart pumping. Give your muscles some prep time and they’ll thank you for it.
Like warming up, stretching is often something that people skip, especially with the increasingly busy lives we lead. BUT, allowing your muscles to cool down and lengthen after a heavy workout is vital at keeping injuries at bay. Spend 5-10 minutes after your session stretching out the areas you worked. Unlike the advice above, you’ll want these stretches to be long and static. Use this time to breath deeply and listen to a chill-out playlist.
If you want to take injury prevention to the next level, invest the money you’d normally spend on a mani/pedi into regular sports massages or physio sessions. There’s nothing like seeking the eyes of a professional to help care for your body. Sports massage is incredible at releasing deep stiffness and tight muslces that could lead to bad form during your workouts. They can also work on any areas of known weakness to help keep everything ticking over. Physiotherapists are great at treating those little twinges that may not be hindering you now, but could potentially turn nasty if left untreated. They really look into how your body moves and can help release impingements and get your range of movement working optimally.