Results Come to Those Who Prepare
Ever wonder why the first month of your training goes smoothly, but then you find many of your old injuries returning?
Or, you begin your season with perfection only to find yourself stiff, sore, and tired within 3 months?
Contrary to popular belief, injuries and fatigue should not be a normal part of training in the gym or on the field. However, there are many reasons why they occur so frequently.
- Training is inappropriate to the level of the athlete. This basically means that you end up ‘in over your head’. If you are a beginner to the gym and using programs designed for athletes with 10 years of lifting experience, you’ll usually end up hurting yourself.
- Too much, too soon. Ever been on a team where you show up on day one of training and get your ass run into the ground? Seems innocent enough, until the next day, when you wake up to a nice pair of pulled hamstrings. Most people don’t know how to remedy this, so, they head back out to the field for more trash training and within the week are on the physio table.
- No warm up, no stretching, no control. I bet you can count on one finger the number of people in the gym you’ve seen warm up, stretch, and perform strength drills before working out. Yet you’ve seen hundreds head straight to the bench press or leg press, ripping out heavy reps right away.
- No nutrition. Most people consume the standard american diet of coffee, soda, cereal, toast, muffins, sandwiches, snack bars and energy drinks the majority of the time. If you record everything you eat for 3 days you may be surprised at what you actually put in your mouth. The connection between what you eat and how your body recovers from training is substantial – it will make or break you in the end.
These are a few of the main reasons I've seen people chronically injured in gym and on the field. There are more – but i’ll save those for later.
So just what do you do to protect yourself from getting sidelined? Here are 7 key tips for you, that if you follow, will help you tremendously.
Tip #1: Incorporate regular flexibility training into your weekly schedule.
Flexibility training means purposeful, focussed stretching sessions. A lot of people stretch for 3 minutes here and there, which is better than nothing. However, if you want to say goodbye to achy joints and muscles, you will want to dedicate more time to flexibility. For example, if you lift weights 4 days/week, aim to stretch 4 days/week as well. Think you don’t have 10 minutes, 4 days/week to do this? You do. It’s called “mid-day break stretch” rather than water cooler gossip with your co-workers. It’s also called “stretch while watching TV at night” rather than sitting on your laurels.
For a detailed physical assessment that will help you know what to stretch and how to stretch it, contact me now!
Tip #2: Dress in layers to warm up – even if you live in Florida!
If you are going to the gym to train upper body, wear a t-shirt, and a long sleeved shirt or sweat shirt, and keep the layers on until you have a light sweat going. Same for lower body – if it’s leg day, wear sweats or track pants over your shorts and strip only once you have a light sweat going. Why? Warm joints and muscles function far better than cold ones!
Same goes for sport – keep the layers on until you have a light sweat going, then strip down. Speed athletes, wear compression shorts to keep hamstrings and quads warm.
Tip #3: Perform rotator cuff/shoulder blade exercises prior to upper body lifting or throwing.
If you are serious about keeping your shoulders pain free, don’t skip this step. Warming up your rotator cuff/shoulder blade muscles not only prevents injuries, but will also allow you to get better results from all upper body lifting. If you are an overhead athlete (volleyball, tennis, baseball, etc) these exercises will improve your control, power, and speed.
Tip #4: Recovery is when you improve – learn to apply it!
There is shorter term recovery, and longer term recovery. Short term recovery refers to recovery between training sessions (ex. Monday/Tuesday training followed by a rest day or less intense training day on Wednesday) and long term recovery refers to taking time off between training stages. An example of this would be taking one week off from all formal training every 12 weeks (12 weeks being a common length of one training stage). I personally have a "back-off" week every 4th week.
Many athletes and fitness enthusiasts alike never take time off. It’s extremely rare to find an athlete that takes a week (or even half a week) off of training to give their body a break. A lot of people are scared to stay out of the gym for any length of time, thinking they will lose all of the gains they’ve made.
In most cases, just the exact is opposite. If you’ve been training for 12+ weeks without much rest, take a week off, do others things (like hang out with friends, stretch, get a massage!) and you will be surprised at how great you feel getting back to it. You will be stronger, faster, and mentally more stimulated to train.
Another simple method you can use within a training week is to take one full day of rest, typically on Sunday.
Tip #5: What you eat is what you get – learn the habits of great nutrition!
Dr. John Berardi published a great article a while back, "When Exercise Doesn’t Work", demonstrating just how important nutrition is to your training goals. Thanks to media and marketing, most people are quite confused when it comes to eating. When I begin helping clients and athletes with nutrition, most of them do not know what makes up a proper plan. They have an idea of what they “shouldn't” eat, but not much of an idea as to what they should eat, when they should eat it and how much.
An athlete training on a junk diet guarantees a sick, injured athlete. Common side effects of training while eating poorly include fatigue, irritability, mistakes on the field, frequent injuries, tendinosis, poor stamina, lack of gain in skill, strength, etc, and general malaise.
When simple nutrition ‘habits’ (coined by Dr. John Berardi) are learned and applied, the improvements are evident in less than a week.
If you consistently exercise, yet consistently fall short of your physique goals, it's likely that at least 50% of it is due to non-ideal nutrition habits. For example, are you consuming vegetables with each meal? What do you drink right after training? What are you drinking during training? Do you consume healthy fats with each meal?
Tip #6: Warm up prior to ANY lower body training
By warm up, I mean a light aerobic warm up to get a light sweat going. Thus, prior to workouts including squats, deadlifts, and variations, jog or walk on the treadmill, ride a bike, etc – for about 5-10mins. The goal is to increase your body temperature, so that your muscles are warm prior to stretching, and training. This will also help your joints warm up, which makes squatting and deadlifting much easier!
And yes, as per tip #2, when you are warming up in preparation for lower body training, wear sweatpants over top of tights or shorts (or both!).
Tip #7: STRETCH tight muscles prior to ANY training.
Stretching before training is a controversial topic, so you just have to try it in order to feel the difference it makes. Most people are tight through their chest muscles, quad muscles, hip flexors, calves and butt. It’s a wise idea to stretch these muscles before training in the gym or on the field.
Ideally, this is the sequence you follow in order to prepare your body for training:
- aerobic warm up to increase body temperature
- stretch the muscles you know are tight (if you are new to stretching, 5 mins may be a great start. If you are a stretching veteran, a longer time period may be necessary)
- light weight strength drills to prepare the body parts that are being trained
- gradual movement into the full session, which includes light to moderate load of the lifts to be performed
These tips will be very useful for you when you implement them.