Avoid the Ouch!: Injury Prevention and Your Fitness Program

By Ben Smith, Lead Health Coach at Fitness Interactive Experience

When selecting a fitness program, there are a number of things you need to consider:

  • Which program is best for your goals?
  • Is this program something you can stick to long term?
  • How do you avoid getting injured?

While each of these is a great topic worthy of its own discussion, in this article I’m going to arm you with the knowledge to best address the last topic: injury prevention.

If getting back in shape isn’t a test of will in its own right, staying the course after an injury certainly is.

Can we anticipate circumstances that may lead to injury? If so, what can we do to avoid situations that may be detrimental to our health and performance in the long term?

Let’s start by identifying what can lead to injury: too much physiological stress.

If your training regiment outpaces your adaptative gas tank… injury is soon to follow.
Although mental stress can contribute to your inability to recover from workouts, excessive physiological stress is the leading cause of injury. Physiological stress is the body’s response to a mechanical or metabolic stimulus. Think lifting heavy weights (mechanical) or hill sprints (metabolic). In either case, homeostasis is disrupted and your body reacts by attempting to accommodate the stimuli by building stronger muscles/bones or generating more mitochondria. In case you need a refresher on your biology, mitochondria are the powerhouses of the cells that produce ATP (adenosine triphosphate), the energy currency for every cell in your body.

Whether you participate in CrossFit, triathalons, obstacle courses, weightlifting or the occasional 5k, you need to be able to adjust your program to your body’s ability to recover. If your training regiment outpaces your adaptative gas tank… injury is soon to follow.

Your body’s ability to adapt to training can change on a weekly or even daily basis depending upon the following variables:

  • Mental Stress: Things like projects due at work, arguments with friends or loved ones, financial problems…
  • Sleep Quality: Do you get the recommended 6-8 hours?
  • Nutrition: Are you eating lean protein, fruits, vegetables and minimizing consumption of processed foods?
  • Training History: When is the last time you worked out on a consistent basis?
  • Genetics: Are members of your family prone to X condition?

Subtle changes in the following stress variables can alter your body’s perceived “dose” of stress:

  • Training Volume
  • Training Intensity
  • Training Frequency
  • Exercise Selection
It’s worth noting that each individual will have a unique response to a given training protocol.

During periods of intense stress, your body may initially respond by ramping up hormone production, but this is not sustainable over the long term.

After an extended period of intense stress, your body will attempt to mitigate the stress by reducing hormone production entirely. This is your body’s last-ditch effort to mute the stress response before “throwing in the towel.” Once the proverbial towel has been thrown, your hormones will be in flux, you’ll be very susceptible to injury and your immune system will be compromised.

So how do you avoid going down this path?

  1. Keep a training journal. In addition to the sets, reps and intensities of your regiment, note how you feel during each training session and the days following. It’s not uncommon to feel tired and sore from time to time, but that shouldn’t be an ongoing trend for more than a few days.
  2. Gradually ramp up your training. If you haven’t been training consistently or if you’re just beginning a training regiment, I’d advise ramping up your training frequency from 2x/week to 3-4x/week over a 4-6 week time period. As much as we’d all love to go full bore from no training to training 2x/day, 5 days/week, you’ve got to give your body an opportunity to gradually acclimate.
  3. Assess and adjust your training. Based upon your training journal and the anticipated impact of current life stress (work, family, finances, etc.), you should dial down (or dial up) your training to accommodate for these factors.
  4. Remember that it is great to have a training plan BUT it’s even better to have a plan that can adjust to what life throws your way. Factors that can and will alter your body’s ability to adapt to stress should be taken into consideration.

    If you follow the steps listed above, not only will you mitigate your risk of injury but you’ll also be more apt to reach your intended long-term fitness goals.