I’ve never let go of this thought since I entered the physical fitness/strength and conditionining arena, although when you’re working with healthy athletes and able bodied working professionals, it can be easy to forget why we are truly doing any gym work at all.
It’s very easy to lose sight of what matters most.
All of the magazines scream “performance!” or “burn fat!”, but we need to remember that every workout should be treated as a small dose of injury prevention medication.
And you could argue that increasing one’s ability to perform is also contributing to injury prevention, except in instances where training risks outweigh training rewards.
I watched a friend tear a ligament during a bar league hockey game last night. You could, argue that ligamentous injuries of the knee are freak accidents. They commonly do happen on impact, while twisting and turning, etc… but it is also important to remember that there simple (and safe) measures each of us can take to aid in preventing such an injury.
By taking such measures, are we 100% guaranteed to be safeguarded against blowing out a knee if we train diligently?
Absolutely not. There are very few guarantees in life outside of death and taxes.
Working to build a high functioning and resilient body that is capable of expressing adequate levels of strength, power, stability, mobility and resilience to cardiovascular fatigue (in a progressive and scaled way) also carries the benefit of injury prevention.
I’ve seen enough athletics to know that un-trained/de-conditioned bodies are more susceptible to injury during competition. I’ve seen it, I have heard physicians, athletic trainers and physical therapists talk about it. There is a lingering danger to compete or perform any other type of strenuous work in a de-conditioned state.
The guy that blew out his knee last night is an attorney with a wife a kids. He has a professional career that he needs to wake up and get to every morning along with numerous life duties around the house. All of that is now affected dramatically by his knee injury.
Lately, I have found that I am waaaaaaay more mindful about what truly matters in life, and in this case, what truly matters while we engage in our daily “workout”.
Whatever motivates you to keep training hard yet smart, hold on to that. But lets be more mindful that training should be a lifelong process that effectively contributes to preserving our ability to move without pain and restriction. When you’re young, it is far easier to view training as a vehicle to a lean body that performs well. When you’re young, you also think about hurting yourself far less then you do when you age.
But as we age, and you can ask anyone who is between say 40-50 years of age, a workout is mostly an effort to offset the challenges of life. Your priorities change. Sure, you can increase your peformance at any age, but squatting 500lbs or running a sub-10sec 100 meter sprint is pretty low on the totem pole. So is victory at Sunday night bar league hockey at the expense of torn ligaments in a knee.
Six pack abs and dunking basketballs are small peanuts in the grand scheme of things. Especially when we compare it to reducing the likelihood that you blow out a knee while playing pick up hockey with your buddies, where clearly nothing is on the line if you win or lose (despite all of us wanting to win of course). Or maybe preserving your ability to walk in the later stages of life.
I used to see a lot of world famous strength coaches preach about the first golden rule of successful programming: “first, do no harm”. I know that they were talking about their personal duties to each of their athletes/clients, but maybe we should all keep this in the back of our minds while we pursue personal fitness.
Wondering what to do? Here are a few things to consider… (in no particular order)…
1) Slow down.
We rush fitness. It is the trend right now. A lot of programs take a pure run and gun approach, completely neglecting or generalizing baseline starting points. Big name companies tug on our heart strings by promising rapid weight loss, etc. Next time you engage in a warm-up, slow every movement down and reference #2.
Rushing through exercises has never done anything for anyone. Slow down, do it right.
2) Do it right.
Technique is everything. We train muscles to turn on when we need them to, joints to have adequate mobility to prevent other joints from moving when they shouldn’t all while improving our static and dynamic posture. Does it really matter what you squat technique looks like? Yes it does. Does you body alignment matter that much during a plank? Yes it does. Slow down, do it right. Repetition is going to reward one day when you least expect it.
Technique is everything, get detailed and hold yourself accountable to exercise smarter.
3) Assess Risk vs. Reward.
Does the amount of risk involved in your completing the workout challenge, program or individual exercise outweigh the reward? If so, consider taking a different approach. If something hurts while you do it, don’t do it. Avoid that exercise and figure out why you’re hurting. Pain is your body trying to tell you something valuable, whether you choose to listen is completely up to you.
Are you rolling the dice on a certain exercise or protocol? Is it worth injuring yourself over?
4) Justify your actions.
If you can’t justify why you are doing something during a workout, consider not doing it. If you don’t understand because you simply haven’t taken the time to read up on why a movement is beneficial to improving your current situation, get your ass in front of computer screen and read up. Stop going through the motions just because you read that Peyton Manning does it, or because Shaun T. preaches it in his exercise DVDs. Be mindful of each and every decision and action you take during a workout. Justify everything. You should be able to say to yourself, “I am doing _____________ because it will do ____________ for my body, and my life”.
You should have a reason behind every rep, set, and exercise. If not, why are you doing it?
5) Define Your Goals
You’ll struggle to arrive at your goals if you first don’t define them. Goal setting has been beaten to a pulp over the years, but it also seems to have fallen on deaf ears. What do you want to happen as the result of your training efforts? Do you want fat loss to relieve inflammation and pressure on joints? Do you want strength to better handle decelerating forces in athletics? Are your shoulders unstable? Are you extremely stiff and need to improve flexibility? Start asking yourself these questions. It will help you compile a list of what needs to take place in order to achieve these goals.
Goal planning is powerful, so is following through on those goals.
Lastly, don’t let this post turn you into a hypochondriac. Get out and explore you body’s ability to move through space.
It’s not rocket science. Learn a little bit and build out from there. Everyone starts as a beginner. Every workout brings you closer to your ideal self.
Life is meant to be explored with movement.
When the ability to move is taken from you, you’ll never appreciate how precious of a gift it really was.
Cheers to preventing unwanted injuries!