Whatever your workout, your risk of injury is probably a lot higher than you think. One British Journal of Sports Medicine study found a 19.4 percent to 79.3 percent rate of injury among runners, while 73.5 percent of regular CrossFit participants report having sustained some type of injury during training, per one Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research study. And similar injury rates are seen among weight- and power-lifters.
But, there are plenty of things that will take your risk of injury to 100 percent. Here are 15 ways you can guarantee yourself a sidelining workout injury.
“Men love to celebrate international chest/shoulder/tri day on Mondays and Thursdays and interstellar back/bi/leg day on Tuesdays and Fridays. I'm surprised there aren't greeting cards for this,” says certified personal trainer Al Painter, owner of Integrate Performance Fitness in Palo Alto, California. And while isolation routines are great for adding size, not to mention strengthening up muscles that need work, it's important to make sure those isolation workouts, when put together throughout the course of the week, don't leave out any muscle groups. Otherwise, you could be setting yourself up for injury-spurring muscle imbalances and poor biomechanics, he says.
Men like to train the muscles they can see, says strength coach Tony Gentilcore, C.S.C.S., co-founder of Cressey Sports Performance. But no matter how good your pecs look, if your back is weak, you’re screwed. “Too much focus on muscles like the pecs, abdominals, shoulders, and biceps without working equal balance on the back of the body can lead to muscular imbalances which can set someone up for injury,” says exercise physiologist Janet Sunderland, C.S.C.S. That’s especially true when we consider that these same muscles are also the ones that are generally overused and over-tight during daily living if one has a desk job.”
We get it: You want to do cool stuff like plyometric pull-ups, box jumps, and Olympic weightlifting. But “advanced” exercises are way more advanced than most guys like to think, and if you aren’t ready for them, they’ll get you injured real fast. “I usually tell people to get at least a year in of serious, consistent, basic programing before doing any advanced stuff,” Gentilcore says. And, even then, the bulk of your workout should be squarely focused at progressing at those basics. “Look at any coaches I work with, and their programs aren’t going to be very advanced. They do squats and deadlifts. It’s the same with the athletes we train.”
“Our ego gets in the way sometimes,” Gentilcore says. When your end game is all about curling heavier weights and running faster miles, it’s easy for your elbows to flare out, your back to sway, and for you to become injured. “Oftentimes, using too much weight is all that’s causing bad form in men,” he says, noting that to move up in weights, you need to be able to finish your reps at a lighter weight and still have gas left in the tank.
“By ignoring small niggly issues and continuing to train hard small things can become big issues over time. It takes way less time to fix a small issue than it does a big one. If you wait until it is a big issue you may have to stop altogether until you are well again,” says Sunderland. After all, most injuries don’t strike as a sudden snap or tear. They develop gradually over time.
“It is great to have a healthy sense of competition and use this to motivate you to the next level; however completely losing your judgment and doing things that are unsafe or beyond your capabilities is a recipe for an injury,” Sunderland says.
To get results, you need to train hard. But it’s resting up of from your workouts that lets your muscles come back stronger, says Sunderland. Every person takes a different amount of time to fully recover between each workout. Try to schedule your hard workouts too close together and you’ll wind up with overuse injuries.
Similarly, guys tend to think that if they don’t collapse on the floor, their workout is no good. That mindset, though, can up your risk of overuse injuries. When things hurt we seemed to pull out a bigger hammer instead of putting it down. “I'm not one of those guys who think every workout has to be a ball-buster,” Gentilcore says. There’s a time and place for those workouts, but I’m more of a fan of leaving the gym feeling like you want more.” Plus, when you’re mentally and physically fatigued mid-workout, that’s when technique falters and serious exercise injuries happen, he says.
“Jumping into a bench workout or squat session without moving and getting warm will limit your range of motion, muscle engagement and is a great way to hurt yourself,” says former pro triathlete Terra Castro, a certified USA Track & Field coach at Detroit Tough. Before any hard workout, you need a gentle cardio workout, dynamic stretches, and foam rolling.
If you walk into the gym, take a look around, and then think about what you’ll do in the gym that day, you have a problem. Not following a training plan not only limits your fitness gains, but ups chances of overworking certain muscles and underworking others, Castro says.
“Core training is essential for a strong and stable body,” says Jacquelyn Brennan, C.S.C.S., a personal trainer to collegiate and professional athletes, and co-founder of Mindfuel Wellness. “Without a strong core you make yourself susceptible for back, hip, and knee injuries.” And, no, those crunches you perform at the end of every workout won’t cut it. Crunches target your rectus abdominis, six-pack muscles, while your transverse abdominis, internal obliques, and lower back muscles (which you work with stabilizing movements like planks) are what’s critical to performance and injury prevention.
Being a weekend warrior isn’t necessarily a good thing. A lot of them sit in office chairs all week, and when Saturday and Sunday rolls around, they expect to push themselves from zero to 60, says physical therapist Erik Moen, P.T., owner of BikePT. So between their weekend workouts, they suffer from deconditioning, meaning they aren’t well prepared for their workout of choice, he says. Even though they are called “fun runs,” races like the Tough Mudder and Color Run, can lead to injury without proper and consistent training, Brennan says.
“Men often times focus solely on strength training and put little time and effort into flexibility training,” Brennan says. Yoga, Pilates, and even swimming can help loosen your muscles and increase your flexibility to make sure that you have the range of motion to complete exercises with proper form.
“Guys tend to take up linear fitness models like running, cycling, walking—all in the sagittal plane, moving forward. Then one day, they play a soccer game or tennis involving accelerating and decelerating in multiple planes of movement,” says board-certified sports specialist Emily Ohlin, P.T. at Kinetic Integration in Portland, Oregon. “I have seen lots of Achilles ruptures, ACL injuries, and general knee pain due to this.” Whatever your sport of choice, you need to work on strengthening your abductors, adductors, and lateral stabilizers before doing any intense side-to-side sports.
You want to stress your muscles in the gym. But mental stress can also do a number on your body, increasing the time it takes for you to recover from your workouts, Sunderland says. If you don’t factor in your mental stress, performing the same old workout during a particularly hellish week could contribute to overuse injuries.