Train Smart and Avoid Repetitive Stress Injuries

Stress Injuries photo
Photo by Ronald Douglas Frazier

Repetitive stress injuries afflict long time competitive athletes and beginning fitness exercisers alike. When insufficient time is allowed for muscles and joints to recover from exercise, cumulative-damage injuries like tendinitis, shin splints, tennis elbow or even stress fractures may result. Also, under the demands of training, muscle tissue strengthens more quickly than tendons, ligaments and bones-the tissues most prone to overuse injury-making it easy to over train and further increasing the chance of injury. If you’ve just started a new exercise program or sport, or if you are intensifying your training routine, you are at risk. But you can save yourself from frustrating and painful down time by exercising prudence in the pursuit of your fitness goals.

Evaluate Your Current Fitness Level
Remember, even if you are expert in one sport, your fitness level for another activity may not be as high. And if you’re just starting out, gage your body’s readiness for physical exertion with the same seriousness as a professional athlete would; after all, your injury will be just as painful and costly in terms of time out of your daily routine. And as always, check with your doctor to be certain you’re healthy enough for exercise.

Set Reasonable Goals
It’s okay to aim high, but don’t let a lofty goal tempt you into over training. Establish a healthy training schedule and stick to it.

Get Properly Fitting Gear
Make sure your shoes are designed for your sport, and suited to your foot and the motion of your stride. If you a bike, you need the right size bicycle with the seat and handles adjusted correctly. If you play a racket sport, make sure you’re racket is the right size and weight. Every sport has it’s own paraphernalia, but the same concept applies to all.

Start Slow
Your ultimate work out routine should not be your starting point. When beginning a new athletic activity, keep your workouts shorter and easier than your maximum limit. Do not increase your workout intensity for at least three weeks.

Warm Up
Warm up before each and every workout. If you feel impatient to get going, think of warm up time as time in the bank against injury recovery time.

Stretch
Stretch regularly according you your level of flexibility and the range of motion required for the type of exercise you do. Your stretching routine will vary depending on your sport, but in all cases avoid bouncing or over stretching, both of which do not increase flexibility and can cause injury. For some sports stretching is recommended after working out rather than before.

Moderately Increase the Duration or Frequency of Your Workouts
When the time comes to increase the intensity of your training routine, add less than you think you can tolerate. Evaluate your routine again in a couple weeks and make adjustments if necessary.

Take Rest Days
Allow your body to rest one or two days a week. Your muscles need a certain amount of down time to heal and rebuild. Pay attention to fatigue; this is a sign that you’ve reach your limit for physical exertion. Even if your bones and joints can take the punishment, fatigue causes you to be less coordinated and consequently prone to injury.

Pay Attention to Pain
Pain is a warning from your body that something is wrong. In particular, pain in the joints or bones may be the first sign of an overuse injury. Any pain that doesn’t go away once you’re warmed up, or pain that persists several days is a signal to change what you’re doing. It is true that some repetitive stress injuries don’t require complete rest for healing, but you shouldn’t continue to exercise with pain until you consult a doctor. Injuries to the tendons and bones can easily become worse or chronic with continued repeated stress.

Cross Train
Do more than one type of athletic activity. This not only helps to balance your muscle strength, it also gives you something else to do if you have to take a break from your preferred sport. You’ll be less likely to over train and incur an overuse injury.

Strength Train
When you engage in one activity repeatedly, certain muscles become stronger than others, placing unusual stress on the tendons, muscles and bones, which can easily lead to a repetitive stress injury. A balanced strength training program using weights, elastic band or other resistance methods, will help strengthen your whole body. You should also concentrate on strengthening areas that are particularly weak.

Compete Moderately
Competition is good motivation for athletic achievement, but it may also tempt you to push your body beyond safe training limits. Good competitive training strategy includes taking the time to figure out why your performance does not match your competitor’s, and then carefully adjusting your training regimen to eliminate or compensate for weakness. Pushing yourself to train harder instead of training smarter, on the other hand, may result in injury.

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