When you drop a kettlebell on your foot or Mummy Kick the coffee table, there’s no mystery as to why you’re injured. It’s when there isn’t an obvious cause for getting injuries during exercise that you find yourself limping to the sideline scratching your head (and rubbing your achy muscles or tendons) in search of clues as to what went wrong.
Along the way, these five things could very well keep you from racking up injuries during exercise.
Ways to Keep From Getting Injuries During Exercise
1. Stay hydrated
Hypohydration is the egghead term for dehydration, which can lead to loss of focus and coordination. The less focus you have, the more prone you are to making avoidable mistakes and getting injuries during exercise.
“Dehydration produces a lower level of performance,” says Andy Hennebelle, NASM-CPT, CSCS, USAW, a strength and conditioning coach at the UFC Gym in Corona, California. “And you’re more than likely going to put yourself at a greater risk of injury because in most cases…the muscle doesn’t have the capacity to do its full range of motion.”
Symptoms of dehydration include headaches, fatigue, and light-headedness. What’s more, according to a small study published in the Journal of Nutrition, even moderate dips in hydration levels can turn someone into a grouch—a hypohydrated grouch at that.
How to Hydrate Better
There’s no hard-and-fast rule for how much water you should consume on a daily basis. The “drink eight glasses per day” advice you were taught in phys ed has largely been dismissed.
Instead of going by thirst, check your urine. If it’s dark in color, like iced tea, chug a glass of water. If it’s pale yellow to nearly clear, you’re in the clear. And if it’s sparkling neon green, you’re undoubtedly a space mutant.
2. Understand good and bad soreness
Do you know the difference between good sore and bad sore? It’s good info to possess for a couple of reasons. 1) it’s the type of question that might pop up in the Cash Cab; 2) knowing can enable you to detect an injury, prevent soreness from worsening, or simply stop you from getting injuries during exercise.
“Bad soreness typically has a radiating sensation. Or it’s a localized, continual disruption or irritation,” Hennebelle says. “Good soreness isn’t sharp, shooting, stinging, or radiating. It just feels like it’s within the movement pattern…[or] muscle tissue.”
How To Assess Soreness
Where the soreness occurs can also tip you off.
“I have not heard of a good sore in the joints,” he adds. “Joint pain can typically be a result of some type of injury, or a lack of hydration, recovery, or lubrication.”
Whether you feel a radiating sensation or discomfort in the joints, a wise idea would be to reassess your approach to training and recovery, and revisit your body alignment during exercises that utilize those body parts. You should also ice down the injury to reduce muscle soreness and inflammation.
3. Find the best warm-up
A general warm-up elevates the heart rate, while a specific warm-up uses similar biomechanics and movements that target muscles that will be used in forthcoming exercises. So which of those is right for you?
How to Warm-Up
“There’s no right or wrong way to warm up, so an improper warm-up is subjective. It depends on the athlete,” Hennebelle says. “And the interval for each individual’s warm-up is nonspecific as well.” That means it’s on you to decide when your body feels it’s ready to rumble. But if you dog your warm-up or fail to loosen up synergistic (or supporting) muscles, joints, etc., that oversight can come back to bite your shoulders, ankles, back, knees…
“For example, a progression or level up from a squat and a lunge would be a jump squat and a jump lunge,” Hennebelle explains. “And if you’re not [physically] prepared for those movements, your muscles will think, ‘Well, my quads are warmed up because I did squats and lunges.’ But did you warm up your ankles? Your knees? Your calves? Because those are the things that will probably go wrong.”
4. Get More Rest
You probably feel like a chump doing so, but sitting out a set when you’re too gassed to continue or subbing in an easier exercise for one that’s too advanced is sometimes necessary to prevent injuries during exercise. Your ego may get bruised in the process, but that’ll heal much quicker than a muscle tear.
How to Rest Smarter
When you’re on the fence about turning on the afterburners or participating in an intense HIIT workout, slow things down. Double-check your technique and body alignment during the movement to reassure yourself that what you’re doing isn’t demanding too much of your body.
“When you use ‘speed strength,’ the muscles must fire at a more rapid movement, which means there’s a greater chance of pulls to occur,” adds Hennebelle. “Going slow and steady enables enough time to recruit other muscle fibers to help support and handle the workload.”
If you’re body is telling you to chill out, listen to it. You may also need an entire rest day or even an entire recovery week.
5. Do More Stretching
According to Hennebelle, you should be stretching multiple times per day. That doesn’t mean you should drop into a downward-facing dog in the middle of a meeting with your boss. But, specifically, stretching before and after workouts, which each demand different kinds of stretches.
How to Stretch Better
“A pre-workout stretch can identify which muscles have tension within them,” he says. “You’ll be more likely to protect your muscles, having been aware of which seem tight, than if you go into a movement pattern having not stretched. Add warm-up time if you detect muscles that aren’t ready.”
Stretching increases flexibility and encourages your joints to move through their full range of motion. However, before a workout, opt for dynamic stretching, also known as active warm-ups.
“The negatives to [longstanding static stretches] pre-workout are that you can inhibit… the ability for muscles to fire, and performance output can decrease,” Hennebelle says. “Use static stretches after you work out. Hold the stretch for at least 30 seconds, and take it out as far as two minutes.”