Personal trainer, Dave Giloi, provides some tips on how to keep from injuring yourself in the gym.  According to Dave there are five golden rules to avoiding injury in the gym. These include:

1. Avoid or reduce overhead presses


Excessive overhead pressing movements can increase the likelihood of injuries to the rotator cuff group, impingements and pain in the acromioclavicular or AC joint.

If you must do overhead shoulder presses you can reduce the weight and increase the repetitions and stick to no more than three sets of an exercise.

Perhaps choose only one overhead exercise on your shoulder day. You can still get a great shoulder workout by focusing mostly on movements below the shoulder.  Choose movements such as front or lateral raises and upright rows.

Technique is also extremely important. Keep the shoulders down and back while pressing. Watch in the mirror that both shoulders stay down. Appropriate, gradual progression in weights and repetitions is also crucial.  If you are struggling with the chosen weight and having to throw your whole body behind the movement, decrease the weight and focus on getting your form right.

2.  Avoid or reduce explosive, plyometric exercises


Plyometric exercises can provide great gains in explosive power, but carry with them a high risk of injury for the uninitiated.

Unless you have progressed appropriately to be able to cope with the impact of plyometrics, do not attempt full blown plyometrics on your first day in the gym. Generally a large foundation of strength is important before attempting these, but also building up from simple jumping and soft landing exercises is necessary.

A great exercise to begin with is a two leg step jump, where you jump up softly onto a step and then step back down. Emphasis is on soft, controlled landing and proper technique before progressing to similar but slightly more advanced movements. Legs could be strong but unless they can absorb shock, they can be prone to injury.

3. Do one more pull than push exercise


The chest muscles and other muscles in the front of the shoulder are classified as mobilising muscles. The muscles in between your shoulder blades and at the back of the shoulder are generally classified as stabilising muscles.

This is due to the roles they generally perform. Mobilising muscles will usually tend to shorten and strengthen, whereas stabilising muscles tend to weaken and lengthen. This explains the commonly rounded shoulders of most postures. Especially sedentary individuals.

When you hit the gym and favour bench pressing movements you will only reinforce these imbalances and make them worse. Especially if you neglect working the muscles between the shoulder blades.

The result is usually further rounding of the shoulders and ultimately injury which can hamper your progress in the gym.

The best thing you can do for you posture and performance is give due consideration to these stabilising muscles. Add one extra pulling exercise or and do one less pushing exercise. External rotation exercises can also be beneficial and are commonly done with resistance bands or cables.

4.  Keep the reps up and the weights moderate


Although muscle growth does rely in some part on high load, constantly training with extreme weights places the joints under a lot of pressure. This can increase chances of injury, especially when form and range of motion is compromised.

Lighten the load and increase reps, slow the movement down and focus on perfect form. Injury will halt any progress you may have gotten from extreme loads. If you are to include high loads in your training vary it from week to week.

For example:

Week one: use loads of 60% one rep max.
Week two: use loads of 70% one rep max.
Week three: use 80% one rep max loads and week for back down to 60%.
This kind of stepped “periodisation” has been shown to show greater gains and will save the joints a lot of pain.

5.  Work with a physio whenever you can


Do not let injuries “fester”. With appropriate rest and regression some injuries go away in time, but most gym enthusiasts are not very good at modifying, reducing, moderating, resting or regressing when it comes to training.

Either they are unaware of what changes need to be made to a program, or fear a loss in fitness.

If you simply avoid working certain areas, compensations and further weakness can occur over time. If you continue to train weak or injured areas, you risk not only directly aggravating an injury, but also may employ compensation movements to avoid further injury which could cause other injuries to develop.

A physio will also probably be able to tell you the cause of the injury and therefore how to avoid re-occurrence. A good physio will refer you on to the right specialist if he/she feels you can get better advice elsewhere.

You may think you are tough and that you can continue training when you’re injured, but being injury-free is infinitely preferable.

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