Fitness Saturday: Injury Prevention, 101

Photo courtesy of Jonathan Urla

I heard on TV the other day that more and more people are getting injured while doing exercise. As someone who has been injured from exercise, and who deals with clients who have suffered exercise induced injuries, I believe this is one of the most important issues in the health and fitness field.

People get injured when doing exercise for various reasons. Below is a list of some of the most common causes and how to avoid them during exercise.

  • BAD FORM. What constitutes bad form? As a Pilates instructor, I constantly stress proper alignment, control of momentum, limited range of motion, and performance of the exercises with a minimum of unnecessary tension. Any deviation in these qualitative factors can lead to bad form and thus to injury. Above all, a participant must learn alignment principles when they are lying down, sitting, and standing. The neutral, parallel positioning of the feet, knees, hips, ribcage, spine, shoulders, neck, and head have to be shown and practiced in static positions and then gradually introduced into movement. This is why modern Pilates training now includes “functional awareness exercises”.
  • LACK OF BODY AWARENESS. Cues such as “pull your ribs in”, “draw your shoulder blades down,” “keep your pelvis in neutral,” are common in Pilates training, but would be difficult for a non-Pilates exerciser to grasp while in the middle of doing a conventional exercise against resistance. A certain amount of body awareness training is essential to insure that a person first knows what proper alignment is and then how to maintain it. Emphasis on this when training should be paramount if someone wants to avoid injury. 
  • GIVING IN TO MOMENTUM. Another factor that relates to bad form is giving into momentum. If you allow your body to be pulled around during movement, it can throw you off center. One cannot move without generating momentum, but it can be controlled through stabilization and by initiating the movement from the center. Again, this is part of Pilates training, but as a concept it can be practiced in any exercise or movement. Suffice it to say that if you are jerking or swinging wildly in your movement, your risk of injury skyrockets.
  • EXCESSIVE RANGE OF MOTION. A key factor that affects your risk of injury is if you exercise within a safe range of motion (ROM). Recently, I have seen a lot of people doing an exercise that some call “Bulgarian Lunges,” which is a lunge with the back leg and foot up on a bench or step. This creates an excessive ROM for the hip flexor of the back leg and very often can lead to injury in that hip. There is a better way to accomplish the same ends without risking the strain on the back leg hip flexor. Focus on keeping your hips level and inline with your back, and simply ease up the muscles in the back leg to place more focus on using the front leg. By not tilting forward at the waist, you keep the weight centered over the front leg and get more work for those muscles.

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