You love training. You love it more when you've trained hard and hit the goals you set for yourself.
However training consistently (in fact doing anything consistently) is perhaps the single most important factor behind the long-lasting and sustainable changes you want to achieve.
“Success is an outcome of conscious choices pursued consistently and tirelessly.” ― Vishwas Chavan
Unfortunately, life has a way of hindering you when you're on a roll. Distractions are everywhere and as has it, what can go wrong, will go wrong. The rat race, family, weddings, partying...something will always come up when your training is on point. But....by far the most trying time for any athlete is an injury.
You know what I mean when I say injury. Because the moment when you get that injury, your first thought is usually "I wonder how long this is going to take to heal?" or some other colourful variation of those words. Most of us persist through little niggles and aches, we're accustomed to them. But what we're talking about here is genuine tears, sprains, pulls, breaks of your soft tissues, ligaments, joints and bones. With the exception of accidents, most injuries are preventable.
The good news folks is that there is a lot you can do to limit the chance of injury. It really is down to how much you look after your body and plan your workouts. By making a few adjustments and incorporating pre-habilitative practices before and after working out, you can strengthen your muscles and joints preparing them for the work you're going to put them through. In fact, you may even begin to notice an improvement in performance and recovery with these tactics.
1. Stop stretching before workouts
You get to the gym, get changed and hit the floor. You've got a little routine that you do every time and it begins with stretching.
Stop right there. Don't...!!!!
Whilst stretching is good and an intrinsic part of training, doing it from being absolutely cold can be problematic. Some studies have shown that starting off static stretching from cold before training can adversely impact strength and performance. A wiser approach employs some form of dynamic stretching.
Dynamic stretching involves very light variable movements with a wide range of motion all aimed at exciting your nervous system, raising core temperature and loosening off your muscles and joints. So a typical dynamic warm up would be 3-5 minutes of alternating:
Running on the spot>High knees>Jumping jacks>Partial air squat> Squat jumps
15 seconds each. Repeat 3 times. If you've done it right, your heart rate should be elevated and you should have a light sweat going. Warming up in this way will be better for you as it is a signal to your brain that you're about to exercise.
2. Do a specific warm-up
Now it's time to get to work. But that means that whatever you do next should be mimic the exercise you expect to do at full effort.
Let's use the squat as an example. When you've completed your dynamic sequence...it would mean getting down into a comfortable/full depth squat gradually. Focus on movement in the squat, gradually sitting into it further and further as your mobility permits. Then once you have done sufficient reps to make this comfortable, get under the bar and complete some light sets. The aim of this graduated approach is to increase blood flow to the muscles that will demand the most oxygen before you get to the heavier work.
This is a method of priming the body and the mind. The weaker muscle fibres are at greater risk of damage so engaging them before adding load and encouraging movement is necessary to reduce the risk of injury.
3. Stretch it out
On to stretching, but stretching at the right time makes all the difference. After an intense workout, its advisable to take a stroll, just to let the nervous system neutralise. As you get your breath back, locking into static stretches focusing on the muscle groups you just trained is recommended. The muscles are already warm and supple, and the stretch will be natural and more beneficial.
Whichever muscle you stretch, sit into it, relax your body, let go of the tension and hold for 1 minute or so. Stretching at this time will promote recovery and improve your flexibility. Focus on your breathing and think happy thoughts. With each breath, sit a little deeper into your stretch.
4. Roll it out
Foam rollers should definitely be part of your kit. The purpose of rolling is to massage the muscles. It is a restorative process that encourages blood flow (and thus recovery) whilst keeping tendons, muscles and surrounding fascia elastic and supple.
They're cost effective, easy to store and can be done watching the TV. As its scientifically known, myofascial release can loosen those niggling knots and tight muscles and you're are in control of the amount of pressure you apply. The more you use them, the less painful it becomes because over time the muscles are becoming more flexible.
5. Gradual Progression
We're encouraged by results and the addictive nature of exercise can make it difficult to know when to pull back. As such we may just end up doing one too many days in a row, and that can be one day too many. An ideal approach, especially when learning a new movement like an Olympic lift, is better done to perfect the technique before loading with weight. A better approach would be to temper your initial efforts and then gradually progress, session by session, week by week.
6. Rest between workouts
Far too often we think we're on a roll, improving, lifting more, running farther and faster. But if your body is feeling achy and knotted, listen to it. It's nature's way of saying...let me rest. There is no concrete rule to rest between workouts but training every day is a sure-fire way of risking injury. Give yourself a good 48 hours between your sessions, especially if you're doing a strenuous activity.
And......sleep. Sleep, or shall we say good quality sleep is paramount to good health and if you're not averaging 8 hours a night, you're doing a great disservice to your progression. A lack of sleep can compromise the capacity of the central nervous system to properly engage your muscles during intense activity, making injury a near certainty. What's more, a known scientific fact is that muscles grow whilst we sleep, so the better quality sleep you have, the better your recovery will be.
I hope you this advice resonates with you, I'd love to hear about any and all techniques you use too so leave me a comment!