Most injuries occur because you use poor technique or overuse certain muscles. To experience pain-free exercise, it's important for you to identify why certain movements are more likely to lead to injury. Once you strengthen the weak points in your body that leave you vulnerable, then you can achieve any fitness goal while reducing the risk of pain and injury. Use this guide as a way to protect your body.
If you want to understand why so many people get hurt during exercise, think back to when you learned math. You wouldn’t skip to algebra before you could add, and yet, so many exercise programs require you to do complicated movements before mastering the basics.
Even more frustrating? Many of those complex lifts are unnecessary because the basics are just as effective as delivering results.
Whether you're a beginner or a pro, the same problems lead to injury: you're unaware of a weakness that makes you more vulnerable to injury.
Most injuries seemingly happen out of nowhere because most pains can start out subtle and may seem like no big deal. But, they can grow into something serious (think: strains, sprains or tendinitis) over time. So, it’s important to know the warning signs, so you can address them before they become full-blown issues.
“The vast majority of strength-training related injuries are due to overuse or poor technique, and can build up over time into more serious problems,” explains California-based exercise physiologist Pete McCall, M.S., C.S.C.S., C.P.T.
Once you start performing exercises that eliminate the most common muscle weaknesses, that's when everything changes for the better.
And that doesn't mean doing rehab-like exercises that feel like a waiting game. Developing a pain-free exercise approach doesn't mean you won't see results. In fact, it's the best way to achieve your goals because staying consistent is how you transform your body, and that means avoiding injury.
Instead of blindly following another workout program, you should be able to quickly identify what movements are consistently leading you down a high-risk path for injury. Consider this a new way to approach pain-free exercises: this isn’t about going easy on your body, it’s a smarter approach to pushing your yourself harder without being in a position where you're more likely to get hurt.
Pain-Free Exercise: Your Knees
What you feel: Knee pain (especially around the kneecap), low back pain
When you feel it: Squats, step-ups, lunges.
What’s causing the problem:
A lot people worry about knees going over your toes, but the real concern is your knees collapsing inward. This is what's known as a valgus collapse, and that's bad news for your joints.
So how do you strengthen your knees to prevent it? Well, you don't. The problem is actually with your glutes.
When your glutes aren’t as strong as they need to be to handle the load on your back, your knees automatically fall inward in order to help you lift the weight.
Making matters worse, having weak glutes can cause you to lean too far forward when you squat. While a little bit of a forward lean is OK, having too much of one can put excess pressure on your lower back.
What you can do: Strengthening your glutes will help your knees track correctly (think of them angling toward the pinky toes when you squat or lunge). To strengthen them, try adding frog pumps, glute bridges and hip thrusts to your workouts.
Pain-Free Exercise: Your Back
What you feel: Pain in your lower back or neck
When you feel it: deadlifts, hip thrusts, and glute bridges
What’s causing the problem: It's cliche, but bad form is the only thing that makes a deadlift a dangerous exercise. You don't want to round your back or arch your back when you set up for a deadlift. Doing so is just asking for trouble.
What you can do about it: To achieve the perfect hinge-style movement you want on a deadlift, think about getting as much movement as possible from your hips with as little movement as possible from your knees. To do this, think about pushing your butt as far back as you can. (Imagine you're holding a tray full of glasses, no hands are free, and you need to open a door behind you. What do you do? You push your hips back into the door.)
Another way to make sure that you are using your hips rather than lower back is to keep the weight as close to your body as possible during deadlifts. When you lower the weight, image the bar almost scratching against your shins, which will help keep the bar closer to your body throughout the movement.
Also, don't be stubborn about your range of motion. Every person's body is different, so, if you feel pain in your lower back when you pull from the floor -- stop pulling from the floor. You can place a barbell or dumbbell on boxes or platforms. This limits the range of motion and helps you be in a comfortable position of power.
That way, you can perfect the movement without getting into a position where you are overly rounded and vulnerable. As you can stronger and better, you can lower the boxes -- or, you might find that you never need to pull the weight from the floor.
Pain-Free Exercise: Your Wrists
What you feel: Shoulder pain, elbow strain, wrist discomfort.
When you feel it: Shoulder press, bench press, pushups, and triceps extensions
What’s causing the problem: Your body (and more importantly, your joints) don't want to be jerked around. That means, you need your entire structure in order. When pressing, think about having your wrist, elbow, and sholder in line. That will protect your shoulders. And your wrists? Try as much as possible to not bend them during exercises.Not keeping your wrist, elbow, and shoulder stacked (in line) during chest and shoulder presses can also introduce instability in your shoulder joint, Kite says. Bending your wrists can also introduce pain.
What you can do about it: Start by gripping the bar correctly. A tight grip can solve so many problems because it creates tension that will lock our body into place and make you much less susceptible to injury.
Once your grip is locked down, it's time to focus on your core because that's what will keep everything else locked into place. A weak core means unnecessary movement. And unnecessary movement means a greater likelihood of injury. To do so, build your core with exercises like planks, dead bugs, and Pallof Presses.
Last, but certainly not least, you might just want to ditch barbells. Sometimes, the barbell can create an unnatural range of motion that causes pain. Dumbbells, cables, kettlebells, and even bodyweight exercises are all great alternatives.
Pain-Free Exercise: Your Shoulders
What you feel: Shoulder pain, wrist discomfort, tennis elbow
When you feel it: Rows, pullups, biceps curls
What’s causing the problem: Don't be offended, but it's probably not surprising that when you overestimate your strength, you're more likely to get hurt. In this case, strength isn't just about pressing a weight up -- it's about controlling it all the way down.
Many people put their body at risk by not controlling the lowering phase of the pull-up. In fact, the eccentric (or lowering) portion of an exercise is where most people hurt their shoulders. You spend all your time focusing on pushing or pulling, and the go completely lax on the other half of the movement, and that's when your joints scream for help.
What you can do about it: Check your ego at the door. You will become stronger and better when your body is read for it. How do you know if you can't safely handle a weight? Use this simple test: if you can’t control the weight for 2-3 seconds on the descent, the weight is probably too heavy.