Training is essential for any recreational athlete in order to excel in a given sport, but without proper exercise form and technique, you may place yourself at greater risk for injury.
In fact, according to published reports (April 2011) by the American Journal of Sports Medicine, 970,000 people were monitored during bouts of exercise, and 82 percent of these subjects (men) were injured during activity. This fact goes without saying that many people are training incorrectly.
James Rizer, a certified sports physician at the Provance Chiropractic Clinic in Metairie, finds that often patients will "sacrifice technique and form for heavier weight and higher repetitions (in hopes of becoming bigger and stronger)."
Of course, poor form may surely lead to injury as the heavier weight could place stress not only on your muscles, but also, on your joints (responsible for all compound movement in the body). For example, the basic squat is one of the most commonly practiced weight lifting exercises today, as it is great for building mass and strength in the legs, but this exercise is also one of the highest to induce injury if not properly performed.
There is a debate as to whether squats should be performed below parallel (legs bent parallel to the floor) or above parallel to prevent trauma to the knee. Rizer claims, "because (this idea) is still in debate, and since my job is to help repair injuries and prevent them from occurring, I recommend stopping at parallel. Not to mention that the deep squat causes the lower back to lose its natural curvature and sets the stage for it to become sprained and/or strained."
Other commonly overworked and poorly performed exercises are those involving the pectoral (chest) muscles. Rizer warns that too much focus on the chest without any counter balance to the back muscles can cause rounded shoulders to occur or worsen leading to a condition known as Upper Cross Syndrome.
"In our society we already spend too much time in a forward flexed position, sitting at desks, texting, riding in vehicles, etc., and by overworking the (pectoral) muscles we are pulling our shoulders forward and rounding our backs even more." It's important to focus on strengthening the back as much as possible (allowing for adequate rest) in order to prevent poor posture, which could worsen as we age. I recommend exercising the larger and the more abundant back muscles with frontal pull downs and seated rows.
Even without the use of weights, it is easy to place strain on the body, if form is not taken into consideration, when performing a specific routine. Rizer believes abdominal exercises like "V-ups" or "Jack-Knives" can place strain on the neck, hips and lower back. "The rectus abdominal muscles only induce a few degrees of core flexion and mainly serves to hold our body upright as we walk."
When performing an abdominal routine one should consider starting with "crunches." In order to perform a crunch properly, lie on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor, while interlacing your fingers behind your neck. When coming up, exhale while keeping your eyes focused on the ceiling and bringing your head off the ground only seven or eight inches. Your fingers should only support, and not pull, on the neck.
Rizer suggests the following tip to test your core strength: First, stand with one hand feeling the muscles of your lower back right next to your spine and then raise your other hand slowly into the air above you head. You will notice that the muscles of the back engage. Now imagine lifting a weight or swinging a tennis racket and your lower core muscle activating improperly and weakly. There will be a "wobble effect" throughout your body. This instability adds unnecessary muscular stress and may cause you injury.
Shoulder muscles are prone to injury as many times the deltoid muscle is placed under heavy strain due to misguided and potentially dangerous exercises like a barbell shoulder press behind the neck. The deltoid serves as the shoulder's cap, and if over trained, it can pull the arm bone (humerus) into the shoulder joint. This situation can lead to all types of problems such as ligament sprains and shoulder impingement.
"If you're going to workout the shoulder, then emphasize strengthening the rotator cuff over deltoid muscles. In addition, avoid pushing weight up and above shoulder height (like) military presses," Rizer said.
Keeping your body warmed up will allow you to better tackle any exercise, while keeping your mental focus sharp. "When it comes to exercising," Rizer said, "we must always remember that progress not only comes from the outside in, but also from the inside out."
Always warm up by doing the motions of the exercise you choose to perform with little to no weighted resistance (called dynamic and functional stretching). It mimics the movements you will be performing and brings blood out from the core and into the extremities. For example, prior to running or jogging, swing your legs forward and backward as you walk, or perform incline bench presses with only the bar and no added plates before performing a weighted set.
If you feel like you may have injured yourself during while exercising, stop all exercise and seek medical attention, as your condition may worsen and cause discomfort if left untreated.
Train hard, but be smart by knowing your limitations and working around them. There's no shame in having to use a lighter weight. Think about it, what's worse, a hurt ego, or a hurt body?