January 13, 2022

How to prevent athletic injuriesCourt style (Photo: Dane Deaner)

Every sports fan knows what it’s like. Your favorite team picks up an amazing new player. they have shocking natural talent, incredible stats and work ethic.

They take one step onto the field and immediately hurt themselves, taking the season’s chances with them. After a long year of painstaking, expensive recovery they finally get back out onto the field. Then they immediately reinjure themselves.

Why do some athletes get hurt where others don’t? Genes and luck play a part, but more than that, not getting hurt is a skill.

It’s not glamorous, but top athletes are proactive with their body. They know the best athlete is one who can work out tomorrow.

As to how to actually avoid injuries, you’re going to hear a lot of sometimes conflicting advice online. Luckily, we’ve sifted through all that for you. Read on for some tips!

Awareness

The best way to deal with injuries is to not get them. This sounds obvious but as athletes we think sometimes we need to suffer through pain to achieve our goals. But there’s a huge difference between fatigue and real pain.

A little soreness or lactic acid is good, but pain is your body trying to tell you to slow down, figure out what’s wrong.

Unfortunately it can be hard to tell the difference. Endorphins and adrenaline can mask micro-tears which slowly become mega-tears. You need to take the long view in mind, especially if you have any previous injuries or medical issues. Things like knee injuries should be avoided at all costs because cartilage does not regenerate. Never be afraid to cut a workout short and hit it harder the next time.

Preparedness

You can avoid a lot of issues by making sure you’re following a proper training regimen. Whether you’re just getting into a sport, or returning to it after a long hiatus, building up your stabilizing muscles and tendons is critical.

If you’re getting into running, you don’t just run a marathon on the second day. You might be able to do it but your joints and muscles aren’t ready for the load. Work your way up by jogging at escalating lengths and intensity. Of course, don’t over train, either. Most injuries happen when we try to do too much, too fast. Also, don’t skip your warmup.

By increasing circulation, flexibility and muscle elasticity, you are dramatically reducing your chance of injury.

Tailor your warmup to your workout. Something like kettlebells is asking more from your shoulders than, say, running.

Post Workout
Recovery

Similarly, your post-workout recovery depends on your sport and your specific body. Research the common injuries in your sport and why they happen. Runners have tight hamstrings. Rock climbers tear their rotator cuffs. Weightlifters and tennis players hurt their knees. Be hyper-aware of these tension points and give them a little extra care.

In all cases, be patient with yourself. If you have an old shoulder injury, maybe think twice before that crazy bouldering move. You cannot live in denial about your body. You have to love it and bring self-care into your routine.

Cross Train

The best athletes cross train for a reason. They run, cycle, row, swim, do yoga, lift weights and more. It helps with tedium, overall fitness and flexibility.

Let’s say you’re a rock climber. Your back and arms are extremely strong but even if you climb for three hours, you haven’t worked your chest at all. Your arms are trained to pull but they haven’t pushed. This imbalance in strength and mobility might not affect you for a while, but eventually, it will dramatically affect your posture and joints. Is it worth being able to do a V7 if your back is miserable?

This applies for almost every sport. Be aware of your weak points. Skiers shouldn’t only think about their legs, boxers should work on more than their arms. Building stabilizer muscles and core strength will only help you.

Form

Not all injuries come from overtraining. Sometimes you’re inflicting subtle trauma on yourself without realizing it. This depends on your sport, but for things like running or weightlifting, your form might simply be off.

The gym is a controlled environment. If you’re getting hurt, it’s because you’re doing something wrong.

In general, lift with less weight and better form. We promise the girls are not impressed by you spastically thrusting a fifty pound kettlebell into the air. But this doesn’t only apply to weightlifting. Have an expert watch your form. If your knees hurt running, you might be running wrong. Perhaps your stride is too long, or you’re heel-striking when you should be running on your toes. Never be afraid to re-examine your fundamentals.

Gear

Don’t exercise on old, beat-up equipment. If you’re running, it’s worth the expense for good shoes. You also might simply have the wrong gear for your body. Running in wide shoes with narrow feet is not a good idea.

This is even more important for true gear sports. For something like mountain biking, an old bike that doesn’t fit is going to fail you every time. For backpackers, hiking with fifteen less pounds and a trekking pole might be the thing that gets you hiking the John Muir Trail in twenty years.

Mobility

This isn’t a very manly subject but you should be spending just as much time on your mobility as you do your strength. It’s probably more important, in fact.

This doesn’t just mean touching your toes, either.

Mobility exercises aren’t passive, they’re dynamic. It’s about elongating your muscles and building esoteric stability muscles around your joints.

It’s the difference between sitting with your legs stretched out and leaning forward and pulling your leg down to actively engage your hamstring.

The reason mobility is important is that your body is a system, not individualized muscles. You probably have parts of your body that are inflexible or weak that you’re not aware of. If your biceps are strong but some of the muscles around your shoulders are weak, you’re going to be overconfident in certain exercises. Even worse, when you’re inflexible or in constant mild pain your body will adapt around it, changing your posture and the way you exercise.

Active Recovery

As for increasing your mobility, it’s hard to beat a good yoga class. Try taking a class from a good teacher that’s built for your sport: yoga for weightlifters, for hikers, etcetera. Even if you’re someone who doesn’t like yoga classes it’s still worth trying to research specific, targeted exercises that really work for you.

The goal is for active recovery. In addition, you might want a foam roller, ice packs or a good hot tub to help manage inflammation.

Daily Routine

You also might be able to avoid injuries by changing up your daily work routine. If you work on a computer, try a standing desk or putting your laptop up higher. If you’re on your feet, get good working shoes or orthotics. By spending more of the day with good posture you might find half of your problems go away. The body you bring into your training affects the training itself.

Nutrition
and Sleep

Finally, get eight hours of sleep if you can. Eat good food, don’t skip breakfast and drink lots and lots of water. Ensuring you’re getting proper fuel for your body will help your muscles recover.

Summing Up

We typically get injured when we ignore what our body is telling us. Strengthening your body isn’t just about lifting more weights. It’s about treating your body holistically. We hope these tips help you stay healthy and maximize those gains!