- By Rick Thibodeau, PT, MPT, B.Sc. Kin.
It’s quite common to see many of my patients come in with an injury sustained from the gym or as a byproduct of too much exercise, myself included. You would think that as a physiotherapist I would take my own advice, and most of the time I do, but I still tend to get in trouble and therefore need to treat my own injuries or ask a colleague to help me out, and shake my head at how silly I was. Call it a learning opportunity.
But the discussion today is on gym injuries, and how they occur, and what should be done to prevent them.
1. a) Too much weight – Piling on the weight on a barbell for a bench press or attempting to curl a dumbbell much too heavy is the main catalyst for an injury. Using weight that you cannot employ a full range of motion in a controlled, safe manner for 6-12 repetitions will lead to changes in biomechanics to lift the load and forcing stress on tissues that have no business taking on such a load. Half range of motion repetitions, arching the back, buckling of the knees, etc, means your body is simply unable to lift the load. A sprain, strain, or worse, a tear or dislocation may happen when the tissues simply give out.
b) The fix – Lighten the weight, use full range of motion, do not cheat the movement and use momentum, and have help from a spotter to make sure that when your muscles are fatigued, they are there to help prevent you from injuring yourself.
2. a) Too much volume – While it can be said above that lessening the weight will help prevent loading injuries, if you exercise the tissues with too much volume and are not properly trained to do so (i.e. you start exercising for 2 hours a day when you previously haven’t exercised regularly at all), you risk overloading the tissues are causing significant inflammation and straining. This also applies to endurance athletes increasing weekly mileage rates higher than the body will allow.
b) The fix – Progressive loading over time in volume. If you are currently doing two sets of an exercise and two exercises for that body part, try three sets of two exercises or two sets of three exercises. If you are running 5 km, do not ramp up to 10 km immediately; instead try 7.5km, and then move up to 10km within a couple of weeks if the body will allow it.
3. a) Improper form – It was mentioned in the first point about improper form, but this can occur even if weights are lighter, if you are a beginning trainer or an experienced athlete. If you perform exercise and cheat your movements, curl the back, throw weights up with momentum, run on the outside of your feet or slap your feet, ultimately changing the way your exercise is performed safely, you will have tissue failure.
b) The fix – See a physiotherapist, personal trainer at a local gym, observe people who look like they are doing it right compared to ones who are doing it wrong, watch YouTube videos, or anything to educate yourself.
4. a) Malnutrition and dehydration – If you do not feed your body enough nutrients in the day and keep yourself properly hydrated, you risk injury. Exhaustion, cramping, loss of focus, decreased drive, and energy can eventually cause injuries.
b) The fix – Eat foods within an hour to an hour and a half before each training session, as well as drink 2-4 litres of water a day.
So what happens if you do injure yourself? Typical muscular injuries will benefit from moist heat more than ice as long as applying the heat does not increase symptoms (in which case ice would be more beneficial). Lightly stretch and move the body segment which is injured, and find a comfortable position in which to rest. Any other serious injury which disables you should be medically screened as soon as possible. See your Physiotherapist as any injury may lead to months of decreased activity function, reduced exercise intensity or frequency, and possibly reduced motivation; something we obviously do not want to happen. We want functional, exercising, and happy moving people.