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MOST EFFECTIVE WAYS TO AVOID INJURIES WHILE TRAINING

By John Litteral 12-17-22

When it comes to avoiding injuries and setbacks to my training, I have had to learn lessons the hard way. It seems like the first 5 years of my fitness training I was constantly nursing injuries and having to take time off from training. Then the following number of years I was learning to take the time to warm up before each training session, but I was still getting the occasional nagging shoulder and back injury that would set my training back a little. Then about 5 years ago I developed a stretching routine that has helped me stay completely injury-free. In this article I am going to discuss the practice of warming-up and stretching that I wish I had understood from the beginning.

Back in the early days of my weight training, I knew nothing about the importance of getting warmed up before lifting weights. I remember doing barely one halfhearted set of light weight before I would start my working sets. I remember one time in particular when I was doing the flat bench press and I immediately put 225lbs on the bar, and my form was so bad that I arched my back as I pressed the weight up and I felt a pop and a severe sharp pain in my middle back. I went to the chiropractor, and he did x-rays and saw that I tore a rhomboid muscle. That injury took some time to heal, and it was very painful. Unfortunately, it developed scar tissue, and it would continue to cause me problems for many years. It seemed like every time that I did not warm up sufficiently that the scar tissue would get pulled the wrong way and it would be a nagging injury that would take me about a week or so to recover from. I would also experience pain in that area when I would do very simple things outside of the gym, especially during cold weather and early in the mornings. This was because my body had not warmed up and certain motions would cause that scar tissue to get aggravated. One time I aggravated the scar tissue simply by raising my arm up to put deodorant on.

Another type of injury that I had more often than I care to mention was injuring a rotor cuff. That almost always happened because I didn’t take enough time to warm up prior to lifting. But even when I did start taking time to do some type of good warm up, I would still get nagging shoulder pain from time to time. But I have started a routine/ritual of stretching in between sets that has completely eliminated those shoulder injuries and has developed a lot more range of motion and flexibility that I never had before.

WARMING UP  

When it comes to warming up before your weight training, I recommend doing at the very bare minimum of 5 minutes of walking or cardio exercise. Five minutes is bare minimum, and the longer you do it the better, as long as it doesn’t become a cardio session that hinders your training. I try to do at least 10 minutes of walking on a treadmill, and sometimes I raise the incline on the treadmill to help get the blood flowing through the body even more. The warmup should do just that, raise your body temperature. The warmer that your body becomes the warmer that your muscles become, and warm muscles become more elastic.

WARMUP BEFORE STRETCHING

One of the most common mistakes that I see people make is stretching their muscles before getting warmed up. Stretching your muscles before warming up is the reverse order of how it should be done. The reason is because our muscles are similar to rubber bands. When rubber bands are cold, they are more brittle and they will break more easily. But when a rubber band is warm, they become very flexible and stretchy. Our muscles are the same way. I recommend starting your exercises before stretching. A good time to stretch is once you have at least done your warmup sets for your training session. I will explain that in a bit.

WARMUPS BEFORE SETS

Before you begin doing your working sets of whatever exercise that you are about to perform, such as the bench press, do at least a few sets of light weight. For example, if you are planning to workout with 225lbs on the bench press for 6-10 reps per set, I recommend doing a couple of sets of 135lbs for about 10 reps, and then a set of 185lbs for about 6-10. (Note, the weights should be considered according to your level of your strength) This should be sufficient to warm up your working muscles to perform your working sets safely. Once you complete your flat bench presses, and you move onto the incline bench press, I recommend doing one or two sets of warmup sets before you do your actual working sets for the incline press. This is because the incline press requires you to press at a little different angle and it is wise to get those muscles that are less involved in the flat bench press but more involved in the incline press warmed up for that movement. The principle for warming up goes for other body parts as well. It is very important that all your muscles, tendons, ligaments, and joints are completely warmed up for whatever movements that they will be preforming.

WARMUP HACKS

One very effective way to warm up your body before training is to soak in a hot tub prior to working out. Some gyms have hot tubs. I never thought much about it until a friend of mine told me about it. It makes a lot of sense. Most people soak in the hot tub after working out, but as my friend explained to me, the heat of the hot tub is not good for your muscle tissues that have just been broken down from the weight training. But the heat is excellent for your muscles, tendons, ligaments, and joints prior to weight training.

The gym that I go to does not have a hot tub, but they do have a hydro massager. The hydro massager uses heat, and it will do a hydro heat massage on the back of the body from the ankles to the back of the head. I use this often when I am going to train my legs, back, and shoulders. It does a good job of helping me get warmed up.  

STRETCHING

I have started stretching between sets religiously for the past 5 years, and it has been one of the most effective injury preventions that I have ever done. I stretch every single body part that I am working during my workout. If I am doing a chest workout, I stretch my chest in between every set. I typically stretch my chest and shoulders both in between my sets of every chest press movement and shoulder press movement. I hold each stretch for 10 seconds at a time. I will often do 3 or 4 various stretches for shoulders and chest if I am training shoulders or chest at a squat rack or Smith Machine. Those racks usually have spots where I can place my hands to do various stretches.  

CHEST AND SHOULDER STRETCHES

The 4 stretches below are what I do between every set during my flat bench press, incline bench press, and overhead should press.

Straight Arm Pec Stretch

This stretch is very effective for stretching the pecs. I usually do this stretch with both arms at the same time. I perform this exercise for every chest exercise, including flye movements.

Bent Arm Pec Stretch

This stretch stretches the pecs at a little different angle than the straight arm pec stretch, and it stretches the shoulder joints in a unique way.

Overhead Shoulder Stretch

The photo above shows a man doing a shoulder press on a machine, but for the sake of demonstrating the overhead shoulder stretch I chose to use this photo because it allows you to see how this stretch can be performed if you use your hands to hold a brace above and hold the stretch for 10 seconds. This stretch can also stretch the lats too.

Rear Delt Stretch

This stretch can be done either by holding your upper arm like the photo above, or you can use the arm that is being stretched and hold onto something during the stretch. I do this stretch when I perform the side lateral shoulder raises, rear delt extensions, and all back exercises.

STRETCHES DURING MY BACK WORKOUT

Below are the stretches that I perform in between every set of my back exercises.

Rear Delt and Lat Stretch

This stretch not only stretches your rear delts, but it can be used to stretch your lats. I do these stretches when I do pull-ups and rows.

Bicep Stretch

I perform this stretch not only during bicep workouts but also during back workouts because the biceps play a huge role during your back exercises.

Touch Your Toes

I perform this stretch in between every set when I do deadlifts. I do not typically do this when I do other back exercises. This stretches the lower back, glutes, and hamstrings.

STRETCHES FOR LEG WORKOUT

Touch Your Toes

I perform this stretch in between every set of squats, deadlifts, and leg curls. I hold all other stretches for 10 seconds except for this stretch. This stretch I hold for 30 seconds at a time.

Standing Quad Stretch

I perform this stretch in between every set of squats and leg extensions.

STRETCH FOR TRICEPS

Triceps Stretch

I perform this stretch in between every set of every triceps exercise.

STRETCH FOR BICEPS

Bicep Stretch

I perform this stretch in between every set of every bicep exercise.

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