Have you seen the exercise videos of people that push themselves a little too hard or have horrible form? Those videos make me cringe. Some big dude on a bench with what looks like way too much weight getting all pumped up to do a max rep and he lifts it off and then it promptly drops to his chest and people run in to lift the weight off him. I’ve seen one where a guy does a barbell squat with a lot of weight finishes the rep and then passes out and falls forward into a weight stack (face first). Awful stuff.
For me, it’s a bit less dramatic. I’ll play one extra game of racquetball, do one extra rep, or finish off a set to 12 and have lost form at rep 10. Not as dramatic but sure to cause me an injury, nonetheless. If you’re tired of the little nagging injuries and painful mornings after a trip to the gym, this post will help you solve those problems and prevent injuries.
Lifting weights is a great way to get into shape if you do it right. The problem with going to the gym is all the ways we can do it wrong. This post will highlight 5 key areas for preventing injury when lifting weights. Without implementing these methods you are opening yourself to potential injury. These key areas will serve as reminders to keep your workouts safe and injury free. Let’s begin with focusing your attention on your core during exercise.
Stabilize Your Core
Safe exercise movement and preventing injury begin with the core. If we don’t have a stable and strong core our likelihood of injury will greatly increase. The core serves as our foundation for movement, it’s the platform from which every exercise we perform begins.
The core consists of the muscles of your trunk, the muscles around your spine, and the hip muscles (glutes). The baseline of our core is our trunk. Many people don’t know how to engage their core from the start, so I will explain to you how.
Start by getting onto your hands and knees on the floor. Now allow your belly to drop down and relax your back, let your belly hang below you. Next suck your belly up toward your spine and briefly hold it there. Finally, actively find the middle of these two locations and pull (not flex) your belly button toward your spine. Go ahead and try what I just described.
Now you know how to stabilize your trunk and activate your core. The key is pulling your belly toward your spine and not flexing your abs. The more often you do this, the more natural and second nature it will become. Activating your core is great will you stand and talk with someone or while you sit at your desk at work. I was able to resolve low back problems using this method! We must begin at the core in order to have a proper foundation to work with. Next, we can move to breathing patterns during repetitions.
Learn How to Breathe Properly
Do you know how you are supposed to breathe during exercise? Breathing properly is vital to proper exercise form and the reintroduction of oxygen into your body and removal of carbon dioxide. The simplest way to explain proper exercise breathing is to exhale during the positive or exertion part of the exercise i.e. the phase where the muscle is shortening and to inhale during the easier negative or muscle lengthening phase of the movement.
Once you master this inhale-exhale pattern of breathing you can then use belly breathing to improve oxygen uptake. Belly breathing allows you to get deeper and higher quality breaths during your workout.
Start by using the core stability technique described above. Then breathe in by pulling air in using your belly not your chest, it’s strange at first but enhances your ability to meet your oxygen needs during exercise. Helping you exercise longer, stay stabilized, and keep better form.
Maintain Good Form
6 ways to ensure good form.
- Engage your core.
- Maintain proper spine alignment by keeping your spine aligned or “stacked” and stand or sit with great posture.
- Use the correct inhale and exhale pattern while you exercise.
- Don’t hold your breath.
- Use the right amount of weight for the exercise.
- Warm-up and stretch properly.
Stretch (At The Right Times)
There is a lot debate in the exercise community about when to stretch. Do you stretch before a workout or after? Should you stretch during your workout? I don’t really pick a side, I choose all of the above.
I recommend doing a warm-up and then light stretching before a workout. The warm-up prevents over stretching, allows the muscle to literally warm-up before you ask it to stretch beyond its normal length, and creates better joint and muscle mobility for your workout.
In addition to stretching before a workout, I support stretching during a workout if you find your muscles getting tight. The stretching can increase blood flow to the muscles you are stretching, and allows for better nutrient replenishment during your workout allowing you to maintain proper form.
Finally, I strongly recommend stretching at the end of your workout. Stretching at the end of a workout provides physical and psychological benefits. As mentioned before, the stretching is beneficial for blood flow and nutrient replenishment to the muscles. This replenishment will aid in muscle recovery, increase muscle size and strength, and prevent some post workout soreness. Stretching can also benefit you psychologically. After an intense workout, you can reset your mind to a pre-exercise state, calming your psyche and preparing you for what’s next.
Next time you workout, remember these 5 areas, not only will they help prevent injury, but they will improve the quality of your workout as well. Core stability, proper breathing, good form, and stretching will give you safe and injury free workouts every time.