As I sit here nursing a freshly pulled muscle, I am reminded of a lesson that I often re-learn this time of year. By far, the best way to heal from an injury is to never get hurt in the first place! Yes, some injuries are inevitable if you are a hard training athlete or fitness enthusiast trying to push through to the next level. But there are times when you can be more susceptible to getting hurt and things you can do to minimize the likelihood of a new injury. Before you find yourself lying on the gym floor with some overly friendly stranger offering to help you massage out you’re freshly pulled groin, make yourself aware of ways to minimize your injury odds.
While we all know the importance of warming up properly, what is easy to forget is that “properly” can have a different meaning at certain times. During the winter months, your body may simply take longer and more preparatory attention to become functionally ready. What served as an effective warm up after you came into the gym from a 90-100 degree environment may not be as sufficient coming in from 40-50 degrees! You may need to spend more time allowing your body to reach the desired level of readiness than you normally would.
Generally you should be doing a general overall warmup, followed by a more specific warmup involving the movements and/or areas you are working on. In fact, each time you move on to a different exercise or body part, you should include some specific warmup movements and/or sets for that area or exercise. Exercise is about motion and movement, so while static stretching may have it’s time and place, your body will become more functional and prepared via warming up in motion. Your general warmup may need to be a bit longer in the colder months than when your body starts off warmer. Your specific warmup needs to be very intuitive and patiently approached. It needs to work through the full range of motion and various planes of movement that you will employ. Just because something worked last week doesn’t mean you should do the exact same thing or amount this week. Listen to your body to make sure that’s it’s ready. Do that extra set or those extra movements if you’re just not feeling ready yet.
At times we have a tendency to rush things. We want to get into the gym and hit it! The pre-workout kicks in, our favorite bench, rack, or machine opens up, and we have things to do and places to go. We’ve been rushing around all day and it’s very easy to extend the hurried pace of life into our training. But it’s important that we slow down and become very deliberate in terms of making sure our body and system is completely ready, especially if we plan to really push to the max.
Of course knowing all this and putting it into practice every single time can be a challenge. Life has a habit of getting in the way and making us blink momentarily. It’s up to us to manage our entire training approach and lifestyle to emphasize warming up to the level and degree that we should. Just as what worked in summer months may not work in winter months, what worked in your teens and 20’s may not be enough in your 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s. You have to be constantly aware of what your body is doing and how it is feeling. You may start with a plan, but just because it’s correct on paper doesn’t mean that it’s the right answer in the gym. You still have to evaluate how you feel and listen to what your body is telling you. It’s always better to do a bit more warming up than you actually need to than to not do enough. It’s always better to prevent an injury than to recover from one.
Finally, make sure your body is nutritionally prepared. If you are chronically undernourished it can not only effect your energy and recovery, but the lack of proper training energy, or not being fully recovered can indirectly increase the potential for injury. In addition, always make sure you are properly hydrated. This is an easy one to miss during the winter months when you won’t “feel” as thirsty. But you’re body still needs to have a proper fluid level and being dehydrated can not only effect performance but also invite injury. It’s good to drink regularly while you are training to help maintain your hydration as well. If you are sweating a lot from training the resulting fluid loss can make you more susceptible to muscle pulls and cramps.
Injuries may never be 100 percent avoidable. But by staying in tune with your body you can take a big step in keeping them at bay. Give extra attention to warming up properly during those time of the year, or those points in your training where your “normal” warmup is not quite sufficient. Slow down the rush of the world once you enter the gym and be present, deliberate, and focused in your actions. Put your healthy and wellness on par with your goals and enthusiasm. Give yourself the best injury treatment in the world, prevention!
Photo: Terry Goodlad Model: Lexi Berriman