The first rule of effective training is to not hurt yourself. If you’re injured, you’ll be forced to have time out of the gym. Your results will stagnate and people usually become frustrated.
Fitness is a long game, and you want to ensure you stay in the game for a long time. Great bodies are built by consistently putting in the work over months and years. Staying healthy is an important part of that.
In this post, we will look at several things you should and shouldn’t do, to make sure you stay healthy and can continue to train for a long time to come.
The best part is, most of these strategies will benefit your training in the short term too. Leading to better results, increased strength gains and athleticism; as well as staying injury free.
I know I am not the first person to tell you that you should warm up before working out. You’ve heard it a million times before. However, it is still the most overlooked part of training for many people.
A proper warm up is probably the single most important thing you can do to protect your body from injury. If you think you don’t have time to complete a warm up, you don’t have time to train at all. If you’re really pushed, you are better off doing a good warm up and cutting the actual workout shorter. Simply keep rest periods short and make the warm up intense.
A warm up should be specific to what you are going to do. Jogging on a treadmill is a pointless warm up for the bench press. A better warmup would be some mobility work for the shoulders, then some bodyweight pull ups and press ups.
This will target the muscles you are going to be using, and get blood flowing to the right part of the body.
After this, do some of the exercise you are going to do – bench press, in this case – with a lighter weight. Practise the movement to get your ‘groove’. The purpose of the warm up is not only to get the muscles working, but also to wake the nervous system up and practise the technique you are going to use. This is especially important if you’re doing a heavy workout.
Hydration is probably not something you would normally associate with injury prevention, but it is actually very important.
If you think of water as lubricant for your joints, you can see how being dehydrated can leave you open to the risk of injury.
In combination with a good warm up, proper hydration will help get the joints moving, blood flowing and have you prepared to workout.
Don’t do maxes all the time
We all like to know how strong we are and test how much we can lift. It’s often an important bench mark and, let’s face it, it’s fun.
However, lifting your max is not an effective way of training. It is a test of your strength, but does not especially develop strength. You should be training at sub-maximal weights and using increasing volume to achieve strength increase.
Testing your max is opening yourself up for potential injury, meanwhile, working at sub-max weights is safer and will build more muscle tissue, further protecting you from injury in the future.
I’m not saying you can never max, but it should be used as a test perhaps ever 3-4 months. Not a weekly challenge. There’s no point testing your max all the time, you will be taking time and energy that could be used developing strength.
Keeping the body mobile is an important part of injury prevention. We are most susceptible to injury when we are stiff, lack range of motion and cannot control our body.
The purpose of mobility work is to increase both our range of motion, and our control. This means we always have some range of motion spare if we need it. We are in most danger of injury at the very extreme of our motion. The more we have to work with, the safer we will be.
Mobility work might seem boring, but it is the platform that we must build our bodies, to ensure a long and healthy training life. It’s the equivalent of eating your vegetables. Sure, you’d prefer to eat cake, but you know that veggies are what your health is built on. A diet of solely cake will quickly end badly.
You want to be focusing on using perfect technique at all times. This means you are always in control of your body.
There is more to an effective training session than just moving weights from A to B. Think of every exercise as a skill that you are practising and perfecting.
Sometimes we are better off easing back, using less weight or doing less reps, to maintain good technique. Forcing our body to go beyond where we have control and can maintain good technique is asking for an injury to happen.
Using perfect technique will lead to better strength gains anyway, so cheating is not only opening you up to injury potential, but also short changing your results. There is absolutely a time to push the boat and try to lift new weights, but 99% of the time, focus on using perfect technique first, and worry about the weight second.
Get the most out of a weight before going up
The most obvious way of progressing is to add more weight to the bar, right?
For a while, this works. When you begin training, you get stronger very quickly and can consistently add more weight. However, that doesn’t last forever and you soon come to the point where progress slows down.
At this point, you want to focus on milking as much out of a weight as possible. By this I mean making it harder for yourself. Using slower tempo, less momentum, pausing and adding reps are all ways to make the same weight harder.
Progressing like this might not look as impressive on paper, but it is safer and more effective in the long term. Mastering a lighter weight will do more for your progress than jumping to a weight that you cannot perform with perfect technique.