Injury prevention when lifting weights is critical to seeing progress without interruptions to your gains. The last thing any serious lifter wants is to be sidelined for 6 weeks with an injury. It is even more important to start injury prevention early in a lifting career so that you do not become discouraged when lifting is painful, or you just cannot progress. But how do you prevent injury while simultaneously pushing yourself towards your limits?
The first and perhaps most impactful step to take is to maintain a healthy lifestyle outside of the gym. Proper hydration, protein intake, and sufficient sleep are vital to recovery after a heavy workout. Workouts are designed to create microtears in the muscle tissues, which in turn heal back stronger. If you do not provide the proper fuel and rest time for these microtears to heal properly, you put yourself at risk for a major tear or strain. Outside of proper nutrition and sleep, which may be difficult for some individuals, how can you decrease your risk of injury?
Talk with your trainer. No seriously, talk with your trainer. Get some constructive criticism. You may believe that you know exactly what angles you need to be hitting, if you are getting low enough, if you are positioned properly, etc. They might see something that you miss. They can help you take videos and discuss form throughout the lift. They can give you their personal favorite exercise to aid in building strength that will support your major lifts. Almost every gym employs individuals for this exact reason. In this day and age you can read about and watch every professional teacher talk about proper form and lifting technique, but there is no replacement for serious one-on-one consulting and feedback. Seriously, utilize this resource!
Now the tedious stuff. Form, technique, endurance, warmups/cooldowns, dynamic stretching before lifts, static stretching between lifts, maintaining proper supportive muscle strength such as the core and rotator cuff, and maintaining a healthy posture. These things can be no fun. In fact, they can be downright annoying to work towards. This is especially true if you are a weekend warrior or can only sneak in a half hour a day between work and getting back to your kids. However, they are more important than the major lifts. When you are working all day, you need to maintain core strength and proper posture to minimize the fatiguing effects that the work day places on your posture and muscles. If you have poor posture at work, it translates into poor posture while lifting, which in turn leads to an increased risk of injury. A 2015 study examined the relationship between posture and incidence of rotator cuff injuries in over 500 patients. According to the Journal of Shoulder and Elbow Surgery, “Prevalence of rotator cuff tears was 2.9% with ideal alignment, 65.8% with kyphotic-lordotic posture, 54.3% with flat-back posture, and 48.9% with sway-back posture. Logistic regression analysis identified increased age, abnormal posture, and past pain as factors associated with rotator cuff tears.” Many lifters tend to work the “mirror-muscles” and end up with an anterior imbalance. Improve your posterior-chain muscles and improve your posture! Your body will thank you!
“I don’t have all day; how do I know what I should be focusing on?” That is the million-dollar question. What should people be focusing on if they have a limited amount of time? The simple answer is focus on something that you find enjoyable and will see benefit out of. If you enjoy upper body exercises, throw rotator cuff rehabilitative exercises into the mix to protect those shoulders. If you love deadlifts and squats, make sure your core can keep up with your legs and back. If you are a runner, stretch, foam-roll, and perform ankle mobilization and rehabilitation exercises to decrease your risk of plantar fasciitis. The long answer is a bit more difficult. Start with what your work out goals are, and discuss them and your current health with the appropriate health care provider. Looking to lose weight? Discuss an appropriate diet and workout regimen with a dietician, personal trainer, or your primary care physician. Looking to improve your posture? Talk with your local posture expert, whether that is a chiropractor, orthopedic, etc. Come up with a game plan surrounding your personal deficiencies (we all have them, mine is weak rhomboids and overactive pec major), and tackle it in a safe and effective manner. Once you have a game plan, start slow and start with the full intention of creating proper form that will last no matter how heavy you lift. Reevaluate your plan and your current health with your resources on occasion. Always remember that this path to fitness is for your personal benefit, and talking with others about where you are at and where you want to get to can only benefit you.
Joshua Marty D.C. is a chiropractor at Marty Chiropractic & Wellness in Lakeville, MN with an emphasis on sports performance and injury prevention.