If you’ve ever been laid up with a bum shoulder or sidelined with a strained hamstring, you know there are probably things you could have (and should have) done differently to prevent those injuries. Yes, it’s important to lift with vigor and to do your cardio with conviction, but it is nearly impossible to do those things when your tendons and muscle bellies are constantly on the mend. Here are five ways to make your body (virtually) injury-proof.
1. Train Before You Train
Static stretching cold muscles before you work out, as is the custom for those who bother to stretch at all, can actually diminish the amount of force you can produce and does little to decrease your risk of injury. Instead, try dynamic stretching, which increases core temperature, boosts blood flow to muscles and better preps your body for the work ahead. Use a progressively more difficult and more active set of movements in sequence, with each activity lasting 20 to 30 seconds. For example: slow jog, high-knee jog, walking lunge, jumping jacks, dumbbell shadowboxing. This brief total-body workout should put you into a light sweat, priming your muscles for greater intensity.
2. Use A Specific Warm-Up
Sure, you could go into your first set of heavy military presses after dynamic stretching, but it’s probably not a good idea. Even though your core temp is raised, you can diminish injury risk by giving your target muscles a bit more attention. In the case of shoulder day, you may instead want to do two to three light sets of military presses with higher reps (15 to 20), not to failure, to draw additional fluid to the area you’re training. This increased blood flow ensures that the target muscles and their surrounding connective tissue are adequately prepped.
3. Use The Right Weight
Some bodybuilding websites or YouTube channels may lead you to believe that hoisting barbells and dumbbells with reckless abandon is cool, but training like that will send most humans to urgent care. To stay safe, select weight loads that allow you to safely perform reps within the target rep range.
4. Roll It Out
Foam rollers aren’t some gimmicky, here-today-gone-tomorrow fitness fad. Used properly, these simple implements, which vary in size and density, can help break up painful scar tissue that accumulates from years of training and helps muscles relax. The result is a freer range of motion on nearly everything else. Try five to 10 minutes of foam rolling on major muscle groups like back, glutes, quads and hamstrings immediately after workouts — and before stretching (see No. 5) — giving particularly tender areas extra attention with 20 to 30 seconds of additional rolling.
5. Now Stretch
Once you’ve gotten through the highly beneficial, if painful, task of foam rolling, it’s time to spend 10 minutes stretching the muscles you worked. Static stretching, in which you hold a stretch for 20 to 30 seconds, can help shuttle waste products from muscles, speed recovery and increase range of motion. It’s postworkout that your muscles are most pliable, so taking advantage with a few minutes of dedicated stretching can help increase range of motion in the long run. Static stretching also helps muscles stay long and supple, reducing the risk of developing muscular imbalances, something that becomes even more important with age or after prolonged training.