Injury Prevention Tips

Learn about injury prevention tools and techniques to help you get the most out of your training - injury free.

Injury Prevention Tips

Human beings have a tendency to overdo things, especially when first starting out. We often think we should be capable of doing so much more than we are, and as a result we burn out fast. Unfortunately, this often leads to injuries.

Thankfully, there are a lot of tools at our disposal that enable us to train smart, hard, and consistently without the constant threat of fatigue and injury.


Killing Your Ego

One of the biggest and easiest ways to prevent injury is to keep your ego in check. We would all love to run faster/longer, lift heavier, and ultimately perform at a higher level than we are currently capable. But there is a fine line between pushing yourself and letting your ego take control while you crash and burn.

This is a major motivating factor behind why I am so adamant people base their maximum %'s off of clean reps with the best form possible. Anyone can push themselves to lift heavier when they let form go out the window.

We do not want that. It's dangerous.

We want to keep our bodies healthy and maintain the ability to train consistently so we aren't constantly taking long breaks to nurse aches and pains, or worse - rehabilitate a serious injury. Additionally, by focusing on our form from the beginning, we will teach ourselves how to move properly. Being able to increase the volume and intensity will come quickly.

So the next time you step inside a gym or onto a track, let go of your ego and focus on doing things correctly. Your performance will improve much quicker and your body will thank you for it.


Gradual Exposure to Volume & Intensity

Hand-in-hand with ego is ramping up the volume and intensity far too quickly. Especially when you are just starting out, you want to control your volume and intensity to match your current state of readiness. You may feel you have ample energy to do another 500m, or lift for another couple sets, but that doesn't mean you should. Your body can only take so much stress before it breaks. We want to avoid injury by making sure our training pushes us to earn the desired adaptation. We don't want to train so hard that we are forced to take additional days/weeks to recover - or worse, run into an injury.

Bone and tissue tolerance is a big factor here, especially when going from a sedentary lifestyle to doing a high-impact sport such as running. Our bones and tissues are not used to that level of punishment. This is why you will commonly see runners facing issues like shin splints (medial tibial stress syndrome), stress fractures, and other overuse injuries. Their eyes were too big for their stomaches.

It is important to remember that our goal here is adaptation, not a new personal record or to "go-to-failure" every training session. We train so we can earn a desired adaptation such as become stronger, faster, healthier, etc. That way we can grow over time to achieve a specific goal.

For a lot of people attacking the Couch to 5Km concept, that means: losing weight, improving general health, learn to run, become stronger, and ultimately run that 5K race.

So what good does it do to push ourselves to breaking, when it's only going to make achieving those goals that much harder?


Static Stretching

Static stretching is generally the first thing I'll focus on when warming up, as I want to ease into today's movements/training. If I jump right into the intense part of my training, I haven't given those muscles the opportunity to get used to being under load in a lengthened position. I risk a strain or tear by ramping up that intensity too quickly.

Keep in mind, every movement we perform is a stretch in most basic terms. Our muscles lengthen (stretch) and shorten (contract) to allow us the basic concept of movement. Static stretching brings us to a range of motion we know we are going to perform when running or lifting weights. It simply offers us the ability to ease into that range of motion.

It is important to note here that we do not want to push past or force a stretch. This is where a lot of people run into issues. You should feel a stretch the entire time you are stretching, but you shouldn't be forcing it beyond your limit - it should never be painful.

For example, if I have been sitting in the lab all day in an office chair and have neglected moving all day, my hamstrings will be in a shortened position. If I went to run immediately after sitting - a movement that will put my hamstrings in a lengthened position under immense load/stress - I am at a higher risk of a strain/tear.

Whatever training I am going to do on a given day, I will make sure to do a round of static stretching to help put myself into and maintain a good healthy range of motion for the day's movements.


Dynamic Stretching

Immediately following static stretching comes dynamic stretching. We went from easing into a very controlled stretch to now adding a little movement into the mix. We are gently ramping up intensity and stress on the muscles/tendons/ligaments we are going to be using in order to perform our best and reduce the risk of injury.

Again, we are focused on creating a healthy range of motion. This means being able to be in both shortened and lengthened positions comfortably. It also means being strong and stable through the entire movement. Stretching for the sake of stretching can lead us to being more flexible sure, but we want to be able to control that movement from start to finish under load. It does us no good if we are flexible and elastic, but can't do anything with it because we aren't strong and capable through the full range of motion.


Warmup

Now that we've stretched, it's time to start adding load and getting proper blood flow going. Much like the stretching above, we ease into our heaviest lifts and our most intense runs/sprints. We don't go from 0-100.

We want to perform a handful of lighter/lower intensity sets and ramp up intensity gradually. Depending on how intense we plan on going that day, we may want 2-6 warmup sets easing us into heavier and more intense efforts. That way when we get to that heavy squat or our all-out-sprints, our body is prepared and we are ready to perform our best.

These action-specific warmup sets also add onto the stretching, as we went from static, to dynamic, and have now added resistance - it is an additive effect to get where we want for the day's most intense efforts.

The dynamic warmup above is the general full-body warmup for the Ultimate Couch to 5km Training. The idea behind this general warmup is to get optimal blood flow throughout the entire body and act as the dynamic stretching/initial loading to kick off our day's training.


Cooldown

We just spent all that time training or playing our sport and our sympathetic nervous system (SNS) is currently in full gear. Essentially we are in fight or flight mode. We want to calm down and allow ourselves the chance to recover, so we want to down-regulate our SNS and activate our parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) - our rest and digest system.

If we allow ourselves to stay in fight or flight for the whole day, it will wear us down and we will be stressed out. If we are constantly in fight or flight for sustained periods of time (which tends to happen in extremely high-stress professions), people end up with very serious health issues. We want to avoid this, so by doing a proper cool down, we can exit fight or flight and enter rest and digest.

How do we activate our PNS?

  1. Slow/Resonance Breathing - Slow controlled breathing techniques help stimulate the vagus nerve, thus relaxing us and calming us down. Inversely, if you were to hyperventilate, you would stimulate an SNS response, increasing adrenaline/cortisol - which we do not want right now.
  2. Low-intensity Activity - After you ramp up intensity during your training, you need to tell your body that the intense activity is over, and to slow down. A slow bike ride or other low impact, slow cardio option (rowing, swimming, etc.) would allow your body to transition to a more relaxed state.
  3. Meditation - Meditation is used to calm and focus the mind. Doing 10-15 minutes of meditation after training would also be a good tool to help you transition and become more relaxed.
  4. Soothing Sounds/Music - Most of us tend to listen to fast-paced loud music when we train to help keep us stimulated and excited. Transitioning to a much more soothing, slow, low-volume music playlist or sounds of nature can help relax us.

Realistically, anything that tends to calm or relax us will help us switch from SNS activation to PNS activation. The important factor is to make an effort to relax after training, otherwise if you head straight from intense training back to work or back home, your body hasn't received any signal that you should be calm, relaxed, or recovering. This will delay your ability to recover, but it will also keep you stressed as you move on to your next activity in the day. Continuously flooding your body with adrenaline and cortisol can have serious negative long-term effects on both cognitive and physical health.


Photo of Epsom Salt, Foam Roller, Lacrosse Ball, Massage Gun, DFND & 2xu Compression Garments, and Red Light/NIR Panel all together
Epsom Salt, Foam Roller, Lacrosse Ball, Massage Gun, DFND & 2xu Compression Garments, and Red Light/NIR Panel

Recovery

The three most important recovery tools that often get overlooked or undervalued are: (1) Sleep, (2) Nutrition, and (3) Hydration.

Sleep

Sleep has become a fairly popular topic these days in the realm of human performance and general health and wellness. It is often called "the number 1 performance enhancing drug" in the sports world. The reason being that sleep is when we recover - both mentally and physically. Our body performs all sorts of critical maintenance activities while we are asleep in order to recover from the stress we put ourselves through while awake.

Two major factors that affect sleep effectiveness are:

  1. Duration - Did we sleep long enough to repair everything we needed to?
  2. Quality - Was our sleep undisturbed by noise, temperature, light, and other irritants that would keep us from entering key sleep cycle phases?

A few quick tips to ensure high quality sleep are:

  • Set a pre-bedtime routine to help transition to sleep quicker
  • Keep your sleep-space dark and cool
  • Change your bedding regularly
  • Remove sources of light and noise from the room when possible
  • Remove sources of movement from the room when possible

Nutrition

There isn't much I want to say about nutrition, as I am not a registered sports dietitian. Nutrition is a very nuanced and individualized topic, as we all have our own allergies (or lack of), intolerances, conditions, illnesses, diseases, and other specific needs when it comes to food.

The only thing I would like to say is that transitioning to more whole foods and reducing/eliminating processed foods is highly recommended.

It is important to work with a registered sports dietitian to figure out how you should be fuelling your body. They will be able to guide you through food choices, portions, supplementation, and more with a high degree of efficacy.

Hydration

Hydration is one of those things where people often think they are drinking enough water during the day, but likely aren't even close to their daily requirement.

Signs that you may be dehydrated:

  • Colour of urine (the darker the colour the more dehydrated you are)
  • Dry skin (chapped lips, dry hands/feet, etc.)
  • Longer recovery times
  • Easier to fatigue
  • Dizziness/lightheadedness
  • Thirst

An additional factor critical to hydration is electrolyte replenishment and balance. It is extremely important to ensure you are replenishing electrolytes, as they are are critical to our basic survival and healthy functioning of our bodies. We lose electrolytes when we sweat. As we increase exercise volume and intensity it is important to keep up with water intake and electrolyte replenishment to aid in proper bodily function and water retention.

Side-by-side comparison of Salt Stick Caps and nuun hydration tabs containers and tabs/capsules
Salt Stick and nuun Electrolyte Supplements

Main Electrolytes

  • Sodium (Na+)
  • Potassium (K+)
  • Magnesium (Mg+)
  • Calcium (Ca+)
  • Chloride (Cl-)

Without proper electrolyte balance within your body, you can suffer from fatigue, headaches, dizziness, kidney damage/failure, muscle decay, confusion, heart arrhythmias, and much more. Electrolytes are what enable our organs, muscles, tissues, nerves, etc. to do their jobs and function properly.

It should be mentioned here that we are looking for balance (homeostasis). We can definitely have too little, as we lose more during our increased exercise. However, we can also have too much as well - the goal is to have a healthy balance and maintain that balance as best we can.

  • Graduated Compression Garments
  • Pneumatic Compression Sleeves
  • Red Light & Infrared Light
  • Massage & Scraping
  • Cupping
  • Acupuncture
  • Sensory Deprivation/Float Tanks
  • Sauna
  • Foam Rolling/Lacrosse Ball Smash Work
  • Active Recovery
  • Epsom Salt Bath
  • And more...

Each of these tools/aids deserves its own dedicated post, so I will just leave the list as is, but each of these helps different aspects of your recovery. From enhanced blood flow, to tissue manipulation, to increased energy. You have a lot of different options available to you (depending on your spending limit) that will help you stay healthy and injury free as you are able to recover faster and more fully.


Listen to Your Body

At the end of the day, you are responsible for yourself. As you get used to new activities - whether it be running, swimming, resistance training, or some other activity - you will learn and understand the different sensations associated with them. You will be able to judge whether or not you should participate or take another rest day.

Over time you will understand how your body reacts to different stressors, different training intensities, etc. and you will be able to control your activity accordingly. Knowing when you can push hard and when you have to take a step back is an extremely important part of managing your own training. Even the most competent coaches and professionals don't know what is going on in your body all the time, it is up to you to be your own best advocate for your health and happiness.


If you follow these principles and suggestions throughout your training, your body will be able to perform better and recover faster, allowing you to reach your goals quicker.