Avoiding Injury: How to Train Safely for Years to Come

I’m going to try to save you some time and pain by sharing the lessons I learned the hard way. Here’s how you should train if you want to do it for many years and remain injury free.

In plain English, becoming injured stinks. You love to train and compete consistently, but if those activities are taken from you due to a nagging minor injury or a debilitating major injury it’s no fun. Life would be great if you could train and compete for years and years injury-free, but it rarely happens.

In plain English, becoming injured stinks. You love to train and compete consistently, but if those activities are taken from you due to a nagging minor injury or a debilitating major injury it’s no fun. Life would be great if you could train and compete for years and years injury-free, but it rarely happens.

I have personally been there. For various and sundry reasons (read: ignorance and stupidity), I have suffered the minor and major setbacks. I completely agree that years of consistent training do create wear and tear on the body, even when smart training programs and orthopedically safe exercises are used.

However, this long-term wear and tear can be minimized and major catastrophes avoided provided we use our lessons learned the hard way to offer a wake-up call for aspiring new trainees and future generations to come.

To help spread the message of this lesson, I am going to address three issues regarding the occurrence and avoidance of injuries: general causes of injuries, sport training/competitions, and the simple goal of improving physical fitness.

General Causes of Injuries

An injury can occur when the body is exposed to a force or forces that compromise the integrity of the joint and/or muscles. It can occur in an overwhelming single event such as a fall, collision with another person, or abnormal torque or turning of a limb during an event.

An injury can also occur due to repetitive “mini” forces over time. In example, shin splints, stress fractures, and patellar tendonitis can appear in those who run often. When exposed to thousands of single-leg ground contacts – coupled with multiple training days each week – eventually something has to give.

As I have preached before, exercise should be demanding. We all know in order to create change in your body it must be exposed to stress. But the body must be given time to heal and adapt to the stress. Too much of an applied stress and/or applying it to frequently can result in an overtrained and under-recovered state that leads to overuse injuries.

A couple of things to ponder:

  1. Think of a door hinge. Opening and closing the door on that hinge can occur thousands and thousands of times. Maintaining the hinge on a regular basis (i.e., proper lubrication and realignment) and assuring the door is opened and closed properly (i.e., no slamming or abnormal stress on the hinge) can extend the longevity of the hinge. Imagine that hinge is your shoulder joint. The more you open and close that joint, the greater the potential wear and tear on the surrounding ligaments, tendons, and muscles. The greater the stress on those structures the greater the imposed cumulative stress on the joint. Too much unnecessary stress – especially misapplied stress – can magnify the potential for injury over the long-term.
  2. The number of demanding training sessions you use. Most Breaking Muscle readers would agree meaningful results could be achieved by training hard three times per week. Let’s say you did this over a five-year period. That would equal 780 training stress exposures (3 days x 52 weeks x 5 years). Think about it: 780 stress exposures – provided you are addressing the important components and training hard – should be adequate to achieve your training goals. Now, let’s add a fourth demanding training session each week. That additional session per week would equal 1,040 stress exposures over those five years. In this case, the body would have to deal with 260 additional sessions that require energy to fuel and energy to recover from. Knowing that recovery time between workouts is necessary to glean positive results, do you think the addition of 260 more sessions would make a significant difference? I’m not including skill and strategy work here, just high energy-depleting training that digs a deep recovery-from hole.

The lesson here: don’t pick the scab off prematurely – let the wound heal. More demanding training = more wear and tear on the muscles, joints, and recovery ability = more down time required. If not allowed, a greater risk of overuse injuries can occur.

Sport Training/Competitions

Anyone who engages in competitive sports assumes a risk of injury. Whether you play football (knee, shoulder, cervical spine), play baseball (shoulder, ankle, elbow), run (foot, ankle, knee), Olympic lift (knee, low-back, shoulder), compete in Tough Mudder events (total body), or partake in bowling (wrist), you are at risk. The only activity that is virtually free of injury potential is lying on the couch and watching a movie.

injury, avoiding injury, preventing injury, training injury

To prepare for sporting activities it is necessary to employ training methods that fortify your body for the demands you will face. That is why you not only practice the skills of your sport, but also strength train, perform intervals, sprint, and do various skill-related drills. Ideally, these activities will safeguard you against potential injury that is possible when competing.

Knowing that sport competition in itself can result in injury, it only makes sense to use training modes that are orthopedically safe. After all, inflicting injuries during training is counterproductive to the ultimate goal. Use safe strength training and conditioning techniques, practice sensibly, allow adequate recovery time between training sessions, follow a proper diet, and use reasonable warm up and cool down prescriptions.

Improved Physical Fitness

If you are simply seeking to get in shape, improve fitness, lose body fat, or increase your strength and have no desire to engage in athletic competition, then you should rarely become injured. To achieve these noble goals you don’t need to jump on the bandwagon of the popular but risky activities such as P-90X, Insanity, specious cross training workouts, or Turbo Jam, to name a few.

Placing your body in compromising situations where you are throwing, jerking, yanking, and heaving resistances or employing high-impact jumping and hopping exercises are not necessary if your goal is to safely attain general fitness.

So, to minimize the risk of frustrating injuries in your pursuit of general physical fitness, do this and not that:

  1. Strength train using safe protocols: control the resistance, slow it down, and minimize momentum. Way too much research supports this. 123456
  2. Wise up on your food consumption habits if you want to get lean. 80% of fat loss (or 83%, 79%, whatever it is, it’s high) boils down to dietary intake.
  3. You don’t need to “go for a jog” five days per week to lose weight. Too much running can create overuse injuries. Plant yourself on a VersaClimber or elliptical training device. These low-impact devices can create a high metabolic demand with less joint stress.

In summary, I want you to train hard, but use safe and time-efficient protocols. And please be smart and allow adequate recovery time between training sessions. This simple advice will take you a long way toward your goals and improve your odds of remaining injury-free over your training career.

Photos courtesy of Shutterstock.