By: Dale J. Buchberger, PT, DC, CSCS
As the summer comes to an end many of us will turn our exercise endeavors to indoor facilities like our basement or a local gym such as the Auburn YMCA or equivalent. When this happens our exercise routine usually changes and we introduce new exercises or exercise classes. While altering our exercise pattern can be good it can also expose us to gym related injuries. The good news is that with a little thought most of these injuries can be prevented. First, we need to identify the culprits that usually cause the injuries. We are at the top of that list! You and I are more times than not our own worst enemy. If you haven’t been in the gym for some time that means start easy. Don’t get into a competition with your friend or the person next to you. Formulate a plan to get into shape and stick with it! If you need help, putting a plan together recruit help. Even professional athletes have coaches. For instance the Auburn-Y has several personal trainers that can help put a plan together for you.
Warming up before exercising is critical. Take 10-12 minutes to ride an exercise bike, walk on a treadmill or elliptical. This should be done easily and gradually. The idea is that by the time you hit 12-minutes you should just be starting to sweat and your heart rate should be elevated above baseline.
Changing intensity of your exercise before you are ready is one of the more common reasons for injuries. It takes 4-weeks of exercise for your nervous system to learn how to perform the task at hand correctly. Many people confuse this with getting stronger. The human response is to increase the weight or intensity. This will most surely lead to injury. It takes approximately 8-weeks for you to actually build muscle. When training think about working in 8-week cycles.
The number one area of the body that gets injured in the gym is the shoulder. Because of its advanced range of motion it is exposed to many different injuries. The strength requirements for the shoulder are also higher because of its inherent instability. Unfortunately, most of us don’t think about strengthening our rotator cuff as we walk into the gym.
Gym activities that put our shoulders at risk include over head shoulder press, dips, barbell bench press, machine chest press, lat pulls behind the neck, pec deck with too much weight, upright rows, etc. Avoiding these movements or having your personal trainer modify them for you can greatly reduce the risk of injury. If you are using machines, keep the weight at a level that allows you to perform 12-15 repetitions. Machines direct the force to the joint and over-loading with heavy weight will ultimately damage the shoulder. Keeping the weight below maximum and concentrating on good technique will help you accomplish your goal and preserve the shoulder. If you are using free-weights avoid using a heavy weight that requires the use of momentum and induces poor form. Instead perform the exercise using a controlled motion and concentrate on good form. Two or three simple rotator cuff exercises performed before your workout can pay a great dividend in injury prevention down the road.
Lower back pain is another frequent complaint in the gym. Injuries can range from muscle strains to more severe injuries such as lumbar disc herniation. The reason this injury is so prevalent is due to the fact that so many exercises can put that lower back at risk. The second and most prominent reason is that most of us go into the gym with lower back weakness, poor flexibility and/or some underlying problem like preexisting degenerative disc or degenerative disc disease. After all that’s why we are in the gym, to get stronger and more flexible. Some would call this the illusive obvious. Instead of starting your exercise routine with lifting weights shift the focus to your weaknesses and deficiencies. Build some general flexibility and CORE and lower back strength. This will give you a better foundation from which to exercise. If you have an existing back issue you should let your personal trainer know and you should speak to your healthcare provider about any potential risks before undertaking a stressful exercise routine.
The lower back and the shoulders are tied together through their specific muscle attachments. This is why they frequently act up together. It is also why they are the two most common injuries in the gym. Both are affected by inactivity and sedentary lifestyle. So if you start back to the gym after a long layoff start slow and get some professional advice. Work on your deficiencies first and progress from there. No one gets in shape over night! Be in it for the long haul.