Jordan graduated with a Master’s in Physical Therapy from McGill University. While studying under world class rehab science researchers, he conducted research with the aim of changing the school’s cur...
Summer is coming, restrictions are lifting, the gyms have reopened… It’s time to get back to it!
"But how do I do it without injuring myself?"
Many of you reading this are already, or have already been physically active, and you’re looking to renew that vigor in your training or sport you once had but stopped or slowed either due to COVID, injuries, or both. But now the time is coming, the snow is melting, gyms are opening up and restrictions are lifting, and you want to get back into the gym, powerlifting, crossfit, tennis, soccer, golf, etc. But how do you do it in the right way so that you don’t get injured? I’m going to help you establish some simple principles to base yourself on to greatly reduce your chances of getting hurt returning to your sport.
Lets start with injury risk. What is it? Many people out there claim there are specific exercises you need to do to prevent injury, but that’s simply untrue and there is no scientific evidence to back up any one specific arbitrary exercise to prevent any one specific injury. What IS true, is that it’s not about preventing injury, which is impossible, it’s all about reducing your risk for injury.
"Awesome, how do I do that?"
Many factors affect your risk of injury. Some you can’t control are things like previous episodes of injury, socioeconomic status, stress (to a certain degree), age, sex, environmental factors like rain, snow or mud… you get the idea. With the risk factors you can’t control, here’s what you do about them:
Don’t worry about them, you can’t control them. Focus on the risk factors you can control, like:
- Sleep: didn’t sleep well last night → Don’t push as hard
- Proper diet: Not eating healthy → work on it, consult a dietician
- Wearing protective equipment (when applicable)
- Working towards a healthy body composition: if you are overweight, that’s okay and I encourage you to exercise! Just be aware it increases your risk of injury so don’t push yourself to the max and consult a coach to help train you and meet with a dietician to figure out an appropriate weight loss plan
- Your skill level at the sport: the less you have practiced what you are about to do, the higher the risk of injury, stay in your lane when performing, and if you want to do higher intensity things, practice more!
- Psychological factors (competitiveness, fear of injury, etc): if you are struggling with fear of a specific movement or activity, it can make you more likely to get injured doing that activity (i know… sucks right?) but there is something you can do about it! Meet with a physiotherapist who knows how to work with kinesiophobia (fear of movement) → someone like me!
And most importantly:
- Using appropriate load
Using appropriate load is going to be the main focus today. We’re not talking about the way you load your body in a technical sense, but rather load refers to the overall stress you are imposing on your body. For example, deadlifting 300lbs is more load than 150lbs, and playing 18 holes of golf is more load than driving balls at the range.
"How do I know what an appropriate load is for me?"
This is where you need to take a good hard look at your activity over the course of the last year and compare it to what you are about to do. In this case, I want you to consider your acute load and your chronic load.
Your acute load is the load you are about to demand of your body – e.g.: 4 hours of weight training per week, a 3 hour tennis session, 18 holes of golf, 5 soccer practices and 2 games a week, etc.
Your chronic load is what you’ve been doing for the last year. Your chronic load is what your body has adapted to doing on a regular basis, and this regular level of activity is super low risk for injury.
If your acute load is about to be 4 gym sessions a week, and you haven’t been to the gym since they shut down in 2020 (chronic load = not much), I strongly recommend starting off lighter, and with maybe 2-3 workouts a week and slowly build up to 4 over the course of the next few months. Same applies to your weights; don’t expect to just walk back in there and lift what you used to. This applies to ALL sports, for example: golf, tennis, running, cycling, etc. If the last time you golfed, played tennis, went for a run or bike ride was September of last year, start off SUPER easy. A safe place to start is at about 50% of what you think you can do. No, that’s not going to be super heavy, but the priority in the first few weeks is not to make physical improvements. The goal in the first month of training/sport should be to get back into the flow of doing it. This means taking it easy. Start with 2x 1hr workouts in the gym, a light 2-3km jog, driving balls at the range or going and playing an easy 9 holes, hitting tennis balls against the wall or playing for 30min instead of 60. I know this seems ridiculously easy, but it really is the best way to get back into your favorite activities you might not have done in a few months or longer! Check your ego at the door and start off easy. Over the course of the next few weeks, bump up the load 5-10% every week. In less than a month and a half you’ll already be doing what you used to (unless it’s been many years, in which case it will take longer and you should progress slower).
This applies to ALL age groups. Some people have a perception that younger people have it easier, but it’s not true. Last summer I saw dozens of youth athletes that got injured because they went right back to playing their sport at 100% with no ramp up, after an entire year of sport closures due to covid. The problem with getting older is that our perception of time changes, and the last time you may have done a specific activity can be much longer than you realize. Maybe the last time an 18 year old went to the gym was 6 months ago, whereas for a 40 year old it may have been 5 years, but it only felt like 6 months. That's where most of the danger lies. And it all ties back to what?
Your Acute vs Chronic load: what are you about to ask of your body, vs what you have been doing for the last while.
So be patient, start off slow (50% of what you think you can do) and ramp up 5-10% per week. And most importantly, the best thing you can do to reduce your risk of injury is to never stop! If your acute load = your chronic load, you’re always going to have a lower risk of injury.
Remember: preventing injury is impossible. But you can stack the deck in your favor. If the house wins however… well you know where to find me.