In truth, you don’t really need seven ways to avoid injury. What you need is the discernment to know when to push, when to pull back, and when to rest.
You need to cultivate the skill of giving yourself the workouts and recovery that you need vs the workouts and recovery that you want. Exercise is only a positive stress on your tissues if you give your body the ingredients it needs to recover, and recovery is only needed for those with the discipline to push their body in the first place.
All easier said than done. I get that. I have pushed too hard, left recovery to chance … and paid the piper. I have had to learn through experience that pain is exhausting and demoralizing and that being injured is the worst; it just sucks when your body can’t do what you want it to do.
Learn from my mistakes. Follow my seven tips to stay active, healthy, and injury free!
Tip 1. Be Goldilocks
Know what is “too much,” what is “too little,” and what is “just right” for you.
For you being the two critical words.
You need to know what your unique threshold of tolerance is for everything. Some people can run five days in a row without getting injured. Others need every other day off. Some people need nine hours of sleep. Others thrive on seven. Some people can tolerate gluten. Others can’t. I can’t process eggplant. Even one bite is too many bites.
Don’t unproductively compare your threshold to anyone else’s. It doesn’t matter what your favourite celebrity can do, what you see others doing on social, or what you think you “should do.” Stop “shoulding” all over yourself. All that matters is what “past you” did, what “current you” does, and what you want “future you” to be able to do. Thrive in your own lane! Become the fittest version of you—based on your threshold of “just right”—that you can be.
Tip 2. Make sure your goals are realistic
On a connected note, make sure your goals are realistic. Your goals need to respect your genetics and the time, energy, and resources you have vs the life realities you want to have. Every goal needs to fit within your threshold of tolerance, to pass the Goldilocks test … to fit within the Goldilocks “just right” pocket of challenge and comfort. Goal setting boils down to knowing yourself.
A goal should be challenging enough to be stimulating but small enough to be achievable. The “win” is key. The benefits of anything are moot if one can’t make oneself do it.
How are your goals?
Are they not challenging enough to be inspiring? Are you too competent, too bored, to move forward?
Or, are they too far along the “discomfort” continuum to be realistic? For example, if running always injures you, then don’t aim to run—running might fall under the “too much” heading.
Find a balance between “challenge” and “comfort.” Live at the end of your ability, but not on such a high diving board that you can’t jump or that jumping will leave you with a concussion.
Tip 3. Put equal thought into BOTH recovery and training!
We circle back to knowing yourself. Which direction do you bias—do you bias towards pushing too hard or too little? Do you train too often or do you excel at sitting on the sofa and watching Netflix?
If you are the type of person who thinks the only way to get stronger is to push and then push some more, think again. The harder you train, the harder you have to recover! Recovery allows the body to become stronger, leaner, and generally healthier. Being under-recovered is just as bad as being under-trained; being under-recovered leads to exhaustion, lethargy, muscle aches, trigger points, and stiffness, and left long enough it will lead to injury. Yes, train with intentionality and purpose, bring the zest and zeal … but then recover with the same level of awareness and dedication. Put as much effort into your recovery protocols as you do your workout plans.
Now, if you bias towards hanging out on the sofa and leaning into self-care, great, but make sure you put as much thought and intent into your workouts. Rest should aid recovery from something. Basically … blah, blah, blah go work out. Too much rest will create different types of injuries—neck and shoulder pain, muscle atrophy, back pain, cardiovascular issues, etc.
Tip 4. Think GRADUAL progression
The body is amazingly adaptive, but adaption takes time. Think gradual progression. If you have never run 5 km before, don’t attempt a continuous run tomorrow. Start with one minute of jogging alternating with three minutes of walking. If you have not hiked for five years, don’t start with the aggressive three-hour trek. If you have not skied for five years, skip the black diamonds.
Progress slowly. Build up. Respect where you are now, your past injury history, and where you want to get to. Hire an expert if you need help titrating appropriate progression.
Tip 5. Build in recovery workouts AND daily “body work”
Recovery workouts include light cardio (light swimming, walking, etc., to promote circulation and mobility, and decrease excessive inactivity and sitting), stretching, yoga, meditation, etc.
For “body work” think foam rolling, using yoga tune-up balls, and specific stretching or physio exercises for body parts that you overuse in your sport and/or body parts that have been injured in the past. I injured my right hip in the summer of 2019. I have hip exercises I do daily, and will do daily until I die.
Tip 6. Stay hydrated, prioritize sleep, and eat a nutritiously dense diet
Your body recovers while you sleep, and staying hydrated and consuming a healthy diet helps your muscles and connective tissue repair and become stronger.
Don’t just “wish” or “hope” for better sleep, hydration, and food habits. Create systems that set you up for success. Establish a sleep routine—an alarm that tells you to go to sleep, limit caffeine, meditate, etc. Always have a water bottle so you can sip through the day. Add lemon or fruit so the water feels exciting. Make healthy food convenient (e.g., food prep, cut up vegetables for snacks, keep soups in the freezer, etc.) and make unhealthy food utterly inconvenient (e.g., get crap out of your house).
Tip 7. When you do get injured, act appropriately
You will experience aches and pains at some point. “Feeling your body” is a problem of the privilege of having a body. To paraphrase Susan David, a goal of never being in pain is a “dead person’s goal.”
Set a goal to act appropriately when your body does “talk” to you. Consult an expert (physiotherapist, trainer, etc.) when needed and don’t ignore warning signs. Don’t let a sore muscle turn into a full-fledged injury because you refused to skip a day of training.
Push when pushing is appropriate and stop when stopping is appropriate. Don’t let yourself off the hook, but be compassionate. Know your limits. Ditch the ego.