Ever feel like you’re just prone to injury when you work out? Follow these 5 steps to injury prevention and decrease your chances of hurting yourself when you exercise:

1) Never stretch before you exercise. I am asked all the time at my talks if I stretch before I run my speed races and the answer is NO. Never. Instead I mobilize. Stretching means taking your muscle to full elongation. I would never do that to a cold muscle. Mobilize means taking your muscle to mid-range elongation. Mobilization movements are also great to lubricate your joints before you begin your exercise. If you want to bend a piece of metal, you better heat the metal beforehand; otherwise it will crack and break. Our muscles are the same way. Why should you warm-up anyway before strenuous exercise? Warming up your muscles and joints will not only help you avoid injury, but also it will give your body a chance to peak perform.

injury prevention2) Do not sit or lie down to perform any exercise. How many exercises do you do while you are seated on a bench or lying down on a mat or ball? There are few sports that are done in these positions. Cycling, rowing, bobsled, NASCAR, and a few others. It is amazing to me how many athletes still isolate muscles and train in positions that do not fit their sport. For example, a football lineman was telling me how much weight he could bench press and how it will help him with his blocking. But when I told him that he needs to be able to push that much weight standing up in order for that exercise to help out his position. He began to understand what I meant. Good blocking, for example, needs to use your entire body that begins with getting leverage from the ground. When you sit or lie down many of your muscles that you use in your sport are turned off. When you turn off certain muscles because you are seated, you have a greater risk of injury. For athletes, full body exercises will get them to a higher level of performance.

3) Avoid stomach crunches at all costs. In my almost 30 years of coaching, I have never asked one of my athletes to shorten (crunch down) during their sport. Never. However, that is the main exercise for most athletes worldwide to strengthen their core. Now there are even machines to add more resistance to this move! Not only are athletes on the ground doing their stomach crunches which turns off certain muscles and focuses on isolation, but they think they are working their abs because they feel a “burn.” My question is: at what cost is that burn? No matter how strong you are, the spinal discs are vulnerable – especially when doing stomach crunches.  I want the core of my athletes’ bodies to be like a “girdle” that stabilizes their movements in every direction. There are so many traditional exercises even on the ground that would be better than crunches, like arm planks, elbow planks, and properly done bridges. And then there are a variety of exercises standing up that fit your sport even better as you work your core in conjunction with the rest of your body to ensure proper care of your spinal discs. The time has come to move beyond the idea that an exercise movement is good because we feel a “burn” and everyone does it. I challenge athletes around the world to change their paradigm on their core workouts.

4) Never isolate a muscle when training. No matter what sport you play, resistance or weight training is a necessity to higher performance and injury prevention. Most athletes base their weight training program on “bodybuilding” foundations. Professional bodybuilding is a competition that has judges award points based on the competitor’s appearance. Usually the increased size (hypertrophy) and the more defined the muscle, the higher the points awarded by the judges. However, isolation does not transfer to your chosen sport or activity. When moving, we use groups of muscles. If you look at the body, there are our layers of muscles in action in every exercise. Muscles are not one-dimensional, but multi-dimensional. Train full body exercises in multiple directions to avoid taxing your tendons, ligaments, and cartilage. Train movements, not muscles to avoid injury.

5) Stretch at the end of your workout. Before you get in your car to drive home – stretch. Now is the time to take your muscles to full elongation. Now is the time remove the toxins and lactic acid in your muscles created from your workout. Many people stretch on the ground. When sitting down, it does shut off certain muscles even when stretching. So this is why I do all of my elongation above ground against gravity with what I call 3 dimensional (3-D) stretching. This will also transfer better to any of your sporting activities. Please empty your lungs of all the air when doing these stretches. This will allow you to get as deep as possible into the stretches and allow your body to recover for your next workout.

Photo Credit: lululemon athletica, Mauricio Monsalve

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