Contrary to popular wisdom, stretching is not the cure-all that we’ve been led to believe. Walking, riding on a stationery bike, or doing calisthenics is a better way to warm up than stretching. If you stretch before your muscles are warmed up, you have a much greater chance of actually injuring the muscles. Stretching is best saved for after a vigorous workout.
Prevention of injury during exercise is best achieved by going slowly and paying attention to the task at hand. If you’re not careful, you can let your attention drift, and between that and doing something physically challenging, you can genuinely hurt your body.
Let’s look at some different injuries and how to treat them.
During weight- or strength-training, chances are that you might overdo it and injure your muscles in some way. You may strain or pull them, stretching the tendon too far and causing yourself great pain and swelling. Treatment includes rest, an anti-inflammatory medication, and alternating cold and hot packs on the affected area.
You can easily sprain ankle or wrist joints, and knee injuries are common. Exercising should NOT hurt—if you are hurting, you need to stop and restart at an easier level than what you had been doing. Brace the injured area and put as little weight on it as possible for the first 24 hours. Alternate cold and heat on it, and use anti-inflammatory agents as needed.
If you have a sharp pain in your shoulder and you can’t get your arm over your head, you may have injured your rotator cuff. In this case, bypass the arm exercises and just concentrate on working your leg muscles. If you have injured your rotator cuff, get yourself to a doctor for an x-ray or other diagnostic test. This is not something to be taken lightly.
Make sure that when you lift, you do so with your legs so that you don’t injure your back. If you do think you’ve injured your back, avoid exercises that strain it, stand up straight, and take pain medication as necessary. When the back muscles heal, begin working out slowly again and don’t neglect those abs!
Many gyms have the abdominal exercisers that you use by laying on the floor and doing sit-ups. If this hurts your back, don’t use this machine. You can still do ab-exercise and get the benefit by using an exercise ball. When you build up strength in your abdominal wall, you also strengthen your back muscles and protect yourself against further injury.
Make sure you don’t continue exercises if you’re in pain. Give yourself time to rest and the injured area time to heal. Focus on walking or some other aerobic exercise that gives you the benefits of working out without the muscle strain.
Don’t neglect that cool-down stretch! You’ll continue to strengthen muscles when you do this and be more limber the next time you hit the gym!