Hello again! Today I'd like to discuss a topic that many people don't want to hear about, but it might be the most important information that I can pass along. It matters to everyone, whether you are a workout fanatic or a beginner that has more goals than workouts under your belt. The topic is injury prevention.
I've said before that the best workout is the workout that you've never done, and I believe that. You will get more, physiologically, out of a new exercise or routine than you will out of something that is practiced on a regular basis. Your nervous system will have to learn a new firing pattern, and it will encourage the growth of neural connections and muscle within your body. But I'd like to add a critical component into the quest for that elusive perfect workout: The best workout is the one that allows you to keep training.
In the years I've spent in gyms training and in sports, I've seen some pretty gruesome injuries. I've heard the audible pop as a muscle tears off the bone. I've seen people drop like a sack of potatoes from a punch or kick. I've seen joints move in ways that they aren't supposed to. I've heard screams of pain. But those are extremely rare and disconcerting scenes. More often, you don't see or hear someone's injury, you simply notice their absence after a few weeks. Unfortunately, I often begin to work with a client months or years after a mistake took place. One thing I can tell you with absolute certainty: It's much easier to prevent an injury than it is to rehabilitate one.
First and foremost, you have to know where you're at, currently. I can't count the number of people that need a deep tissue massage and a round of physical therapy because they overdid it on their first workout in a long time. If you're having trouble doing a handful of pull-ups, your body is not ready to attempt a muscle-up. Don't try to run a marathon if you spend five minutes waiting for a closer parking spot to avoid the fifty feet that you'll have to walk by parking farther away. Yet. I won't argue against setting goals and challenging yourself to achieve them. I believe in that. But there's more to it than willpower. Your body will adapt to the challenges, given time and consistency. But professional athletes don't start out as professionals; years of training shaped their body to the demands of their sport. Gradual increases of stress on the body will give you the lasting, positive results that you are after.
The next concern of injury prevention is to ensure that the body is ready for the activities that it will undertake. A warm-up is a vital component of every exercise routine. This opening phase of your workout should accomplish two things: increase fluid motility; both in the joints (most joints in your body are in a capsule that contains synovial fluid) and in the circulatory system (cellular oxygen and nutrient uptake increases during exercise), and connect your conscious mind with your physical body. Body looseners allow you to take your body through functional movements slowly enough to feel stiffness or discomfort, alerting you to areas that have not entirely recovered from previous activities. Lighter warm-up drills ready the nervous system by signaling to the body that it will be going through a period of greater physical stress.
During the workout, exercise form is of the utmost importance. Technique should always be considered. There are proper sequences and movement patterns for every exercise and sport. Pushing beyond your current conditioning, especially with a heavy load for that exercise, greatly increases the risk of initiating the cumulative injury cycle. When form is lost, the body will bear the consequences. Sometimes those consequences will be immediately discernible, and at other times it will be years before the ill effects become apparent. If you don't know the basic form and important components of an exercise, make sure to ask someone (preferably a certified trainer, but at the very least someone that accomplishes the motion with ease).
Finally, adequate post-exercise rest allows the body to repair the micro-tears that occur during strenuous activity. A recovery period should reflect the intensity of the workout that it follows. Any high-intensity program that demands maximum effort day in and day out will eventually break down the body to the point of injury (over-trained individuals and cross-fit enthusiasts beware!). Hopefully that injury will not be a drastic, life-changing event. But know that some mistakes have permanent consequences. Make sure that any high-intensity program has a definitive timetable, and that an adequate "off-season" is undertaken to allow the body to rebuild.
To quickly review; the best workout is one that lets you continue to train, to pursue your goals. The main points of injury prevention are to know current levels of condition and ability (gradually and consistently progressing the challenge), warm up properly for the tasks at hand, use the proper techniques while performing, and properly resting afterwards to allow the body to recover.