Regular exercise or sports participation is a great way to sustain a healthy lifestyle, but mistakes in your training could lead to injury or keep you from achieving your fitness goals. A sports medicine expert at Baylor College of Medicine discusses common mistakes that can result in injury.
- Repetitive Stress Injuries
“Repetitive stress injuries are common when you are doing the same activity, such as running, swimming, throwing and lifting repeatedly, particularly without supportive cross-training, core conditioning and rest days,” said Dr. Theodore Shybut, associate professor in the Joseph Barnhart Department of Orthopedic Surgery at Baylor.
Often when people experience pain during their preferred activity, they try to push through it or rest for a minimal amount of time and resume the activity as soon as it starts to feel slightly improved. Shybut advises stepping back and looking at the big picture.
“It doesn’t make any sense to push back to activity too fast. If the stresses of a sport or exercise have resulted in injury, returning to that same activity too quickly may not allow for proper healing and recovery,” he said.
It’s important to identify issues early on, he said. For example, speaking from his own personal experience as a Boston and New York Marathon runner, people training for a marathon generally start training 15 to 24 weeks ahead of time. They can get too focused on their day-to-day workout goals, pushing through pain to complete a day of training, and lose sight of the overall goal of finishing the race.
But according to Shybut, people training for a marathon should identify pain early and take a few days to a few weeks off to cross-train, work on corrective rehabilitation and let the issue resolve before pushing back into hard training. Evaluation by a sports medicine specialist and rehabilitation with a good physical therapist also may be beneficial and is recommended for any pain that persists.
The same is true for repetitive upper extremity workouts, such as swimming, throwing, Olympic lifting, rowing, etc. Shoulder pain can indicate rotator cuff injury, muscle strain, an impingement syndrome, and evaluation with an experienced sports medicine specialist can help diagnose the problem and optimal treatment.
Muscle pulls and tennis elbow also are common with repetitive workouts. Keep in mind tennis elbow does not only occur during tennis. It can be the result of any repetitive stress, including lifting weights, rowing, other racquet sports and may even occur in some professions such as butchers, plumbers and carpenters whose work involves repetitive wrist and forearm activities.
It is fine to rest for a few days and modify training to pain-free activities to see how your injury responds. Some training aches such as delayed onset muscle soreness will improve, and athletes may quickly resume high intensity training. If pain persists, see a sports medicine physician or physical therapist.
“It’s important to remember that when you see world-class or elite-level athletes, they have done a lot of extra work in training to get where they are. This includes cross-training, proper dynamic warmups, strengthening and flexibility work, preventative exercises, core fitness and corrective exercises focused on the weakest elements of their kinetic chains,” Shybut said.
It’s also important to understand your fitness program may have relative deficiencies, Shybut said. Common deficient areas include core strength, postural and small muscle groups, endurance and eccentric tolerances. The goal of a good corrective program is to find a way to strengthen the deficient muscles in a way that replicates the activity without the extreme level of stress and build the muscles up so that they are strong enough to handle the actual sport or movement, for example throwers performing a PEP (Prevent Injury and Enhance Performance) program or runners doing eccentric single leg squats.
- Proper Technique
Understanding the proper technique for different workouts is key in injury prevention. Using bad form during activities such as squatting can aggravate your knees or strain your back if the body is not properly aligned.
Shybut suggested engaging with a fitness trainer with a strong rehabilitation background when starting a new workout routine.
- Too Much To Soon
Shybut said that he often sees injuries when people do too much too soon in a new exercise routine. For example, if you’re starting high-intensity interval training that involves Olympic lifts and sprints, where muscles are maximally engaged, be aware of your baseline fitness first. If you haven’t been working out, start with basic cardiovascular fitness exercises, including walking, biking or swimming. Start weight training with light-resistance exercises to get comfortable with the proper form before you “max out.” Seek out coaching guidance.
“It’s important to know when to stop, and severe pain should be a red flag. While some soreness is normal, the amount of soreness you experience with workouts should decreases as your body adapts. See a sports medicine specialist for evaluation if you experience joint pain, swelling, painful popping or catching, or instability,” Shybut said. “Exercise is medicine, so do exercise and have fun.”