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Practical tips to avoid athletic injury

Many of us are constantly bombarded with messages from our environment that encourage us to exercise regularly in order to stay physically fit. Truth be told, it is in each of our best interests to stay physically fit because doing so increases the chances of maintaining high quality health well into old age. So if exercise is so good for us, why then do so few of us actually do it? Well I think the reason for this particular example of a misalignment between what is good for us and what we actually do is threefold. First, many of us don’t exercise because we don’t have the time to. For example, there are many amazing single moms and dads out there that just can’t find the time to go to the gym for an hour each day in the midst of their busy schedules. Second, many of us don’t exercise because to be honest, exercise can be painful if done effectively and we humans hate pain. Third, some of us avoid exercise because it can lead to injury if done improperly which in turn can significantly hinder other parts of our lives. This last one is especially true when you’re in your 30’s and beyond because the injuries get much more serious and debilitating at that stage of life.

To be frank I do not think it is possible for active/fit individuals to completely avoid injury but I do think it is possible to reduce the risk and/or severity of injury. Through this article, we’ll provide practical tips that you can follow to minimize your risk of athletic injury. The information presented here comes from knowledge gained through numerous years of athletic endeavor. In my view, it is very important to learn to avoid injury because it stands to reason that the best way to deal with a serious injury is to avoid it in the first place. Alright people, here we go!

  1. Eat Well

  2. The fundamental purpose of our very human need to consume food is to build and repair the body in a very concrete way. Your body is always in a constant state of flux because your cells are constantly dying and being replaced by new ones… such is the natural ebb and flow of life. This cellular turnover occurs at a heightened rate for people who exercise because exercise actually causes tiny micro injuries in the muscles and bones which get repaired and lead to a much tougher structure provided sufficient time and nutrition are made available for recovery. Thus, it stands to reason that the higher the quality of nutrition you put in your body, the less vulnerable it will be to injury. This doesn’t mean that you can’t have the odd slice of pizza or the odd scoop of ice cream here and there, but it does mean that they shouldn’t be the mainstay of your diet. If you want to make your body less vulnerable to injury, concentrate on fruit and vegetable smoothies, green salads, bone soups, nuts, beans, and seeds.

  3. Regularly release muscular tension

  4. As you get older, you will notice that your muscles will begin to naturally tighten, making you more prone to muscle strains and tears. While this is a fact of life, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you should just give up and accept the fact that your athletic days are completely behind you. Increased muscle tightness with age does however mean that your body needs more help from you to stay loose and supple if you want to avoid injury. Below are three major strategies that you can use to keep your muscles loose.

    Get regular massages – Find a good masseuse and pay him or her to give you a good deep tissue massage at least once a month. This will help relieve some of the muscular tension that most of us adults carry around.

    Get a foam roller or lacrosse ball – A good deep tissue massage can be pretty expensive. If you don’t have the cash for one, you can buy a foam roller , or a lacrosse ball from amazon and knead out the knots in your back, hamstring, and calves by sitting or lying on the lacrosse ball while applying your full body weight. If you do this long enough, you will start to feel the release of muscular tension.

    Stretch often – Try stretching your major muscle groups (hamstring, thighs, arms, buttocks, groin, hips) every morning. This will also help relieve some of the tension in your muscles and make you less vulnerable to injury.

    A woman holding a stretching pose
    A woman holding a stretching pose

  5. Cross train

  6. Most of us humans are creatures of habit and in the realm of exercise, this means that most of us find one thing we really like to do and stick to it. For some of us, it is running. For folks like me, it is boxing and mixed martial arts. If this describes you, you should be commended for actually having an exercise routine you stick to… that’s already better than most. We would just advise you to pick up another sport that is different from your current sport so that you give the major muscle groups that you need most for your main sport a rest when you cross train with your other routine. A good example of this would be a runner who also chooses to learn how to swim so that she can cross train. Such a person will be able to maintain her fitness while she gives her ankles and knees a break from the constant pounding that comes with running by deciding to swim laps for a few weeks instead of running.

  7. Take breaks

  8. Most folks who have a regular exercise habit are naturally driven people. The problem with driven people is that they often don’t check in with themselves to see how they are feeling partly because they are so focused on trying to achieve things. The problem with this personality type is that they burn out often, or in the case of physical exercise, they sustain overuse injuries. The antidote for this is simple… force yourself to stay away from the gym or any other strenuous physical activity for one week every quarter (3 months). This will give your body time to rest and recover before you get back in gear.

  9. Buy the proper high quality gear

  10. In this world, it is generally true that you get what you pay for so please avoid buying cheap exercise equipment because you’re trying to be frugal. Your health is arguably your most important asset (second maybe only to your time) so this is one of the avenues where you should actually intelligently splurge your cash. Buy the best running shoes, the best boxing gloves, the best heavy bag, the best ankle brace, shin guards, etc. It is far better to buy well cushioned shoes for 50 extra dollars than it is to have to endure the annoyance of a badly sprained ankle. Now this is not to say that you will never get injured if you buy the highest quality gear, but you do generally reduce your risk of sustaining an injury if you do so.

  11. Get strong

  12. It stands to reason that the stronger you are, the less vulnerable you will be to injury. The best way to strengthen your physical body is through resistance training. You can use weights at a gym or your own bodyweight to create resistance while you exercise. It should be noted here that you should strive towards a balanced weight training regimen which focuses on all your muscle groups with equal intensity. In plain english, don’t just work on your biceps because you want to look good in a tank top and neglect your legs and buttocks. Overtraining one part of the body relative to the others can actually eventually lead to injury.

  13. Train Smart

  14. If you haven’t trained for a while, it isn’t wise to attempt jumping back into the game at 100% intensity. It is better to be smart and take it easily initially, and slowly build up the physical stamina and strength you will need for higher and higher levels of athletic accomplishment. Although this line of thinking probably makes good sense to most normal human beings, ego can take over when beginners see other people in a social setting who have trained for years lifting much heavier weights than they can. It’s no use trying to match someone who has a decade more experience than you do in the gym… you’ll just end up frustrated and or injured. Take your time to gradually build up your strength and stamina.

  15. Ice regularly

  16. Your recovery routine is just as important as your exercise routine. One of the best ways I have found to expedite recovery is to ice my joints right after a workout. This is especially applicable if you have a particularly troublesome joint. For me, it is my knees that need special care. For you, it might be your ankles or your shoulders. Anyhow, an easy way to ice your troublesome joints without making a drippy mess would be to stick some ice from your refrigerator into a ziploc bag, and place it on the body part of choice for 15 minutes. Some people go the extra mile and soak their entire bodies in an ice bath for 6 – 10 minutes. Ice baths are tough to endure, but are very effective. So if you can take the discomfort of an ice bath, they are highly recommended.

So there you have it guys, a few very practical tips to help you stay injury free as you pursue your fitness goals. Exercise is very important for all of us and something we cannot avoid if we want to stay healthy. So we might as well each figure out the best way to get our regular doses of exercise without succumbing to injury. As with all things here at, we try to be realistic so please note that while the tips above will significantly reduce your risk of injury, we cannot guarantee that following them will keep you completely injury free for the rest of your athletic career. Till next time my friends, please take care of yourselves and each other.
Without Wax
Oyolu B.C. Ph.D.
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