As someone that still suffers chronic knee and back problems due to previous ailments from years ago, I’ve developed practices to reduce risk of injury and, when injured, to nurse my body back into fighting form. (In fact, I’m writing this article while recovering from a lower back injury with some pain-relieving gel, a fluffy pillow, and an evening of much-needed rest. Does the body good.)
Warm up before stretching. A warm-up will elevate the body temperature, heighten blood flow to muscles, and increase range of motion. And a warmed muscle will contract more forcefully and relax more quickly, reducing the risk of overstretching. Warmed muscles can also enhance speed and strength, so you really unleash the "workout warrior" within. Take about 3-5 minutes to shuffle or jog in place before stretching to reduce injury and increase performance.
Check your form. I admit, I’m a freak for form. My three workout guidelines are to hold the core in tight for stability, maintain proper posture with shoulders back and spine long, and utilize full range of motion with every movement. While these won’t guarantee injury prevention, they keep you focused on what your body is doing and how it’s moving through space so that you don’t zone out or do something funky. Scan your body periodically throughout your workout and make sure that form is on point. And when in doubt, ask the instructor for pointers.
Know your limitations. I’m all for healthy competition that pushes you past your perceived limitations, but be careful about biting off more than you can chew. Many aggressive, equipment-heavy classes can pose risks to the workout novice, especially when it comes to lifting big weights over one’s head in a competitive setting. Start slowly with lighter weights until you get comfortable with correct execution, and gradually build up. Remember, never sacrifice form to go faster or lift heavier.
Get hot and cold. Despite your thorough warm-up, excellent form, and workout mindfulness, you find yourself with a twinge or tweak. Don’t stress, it happens. My favorite remedies are heating pads to soothe dull pains; ice packs for swellings, sprains, or strains; or a topical analgesic cream (like IcyHot) for massaging away tightness (gotta love that cool tingling sensation). And if you’re really struggling, popping an ibuprofen to reduce inflammation and relieve pain can be a huge help. But, if after a few days it doesn’t improve or gets worse, consider seeing your doctor to get the scoop on what’s going on.
Rest it up. Sometimes the body just needs good healing rest. This means getting some sleep, minimizing movement, and just relaxing. Take a few days (or weeks) to heal properly, and don’t be too eager to jump back into your workouts. When my knee or back issues flare up, I take it as a cue to either make modifications during a workout or scale down on my physical activity altogether. I’ll indulge in yoga classes, massages, or extended foam-rolling sessions to aid in my recovery.
A few small adjustments to your workout can really work to minimize injury. And when injured, there are some measures you can take to ride out the recovery process so that you’re back to boot camp in no time at all. Here’s to being strong, positive, and injury-free as we close out 2016.