Today I’d like to focus on the final question: How can I give each workout my best effort while avoiding injury?
LeBron James, Tom Brady, or Serena Williams don’t enter a competitive contest with the fear of getting injured. They do recognize, however, that injury is a possible outcome.
Because of this, the world’s best professional athletes use three tactics to avoid injury when competing at the highest level: Warm-Up, Understand the Situation, and Practice.
Warm-Up: Most sport-related injuries happen to the lower-body, specifically at the joints. The knee joint, hip joint, and ankle joint are the most common injuries and (most of the time) cannot be prevented. However, the likelihood of these injuries can be reduced through strength and conditioning exercises. Squats, deadlifts, and box jumps reduce the risk of injury because they strengthen the muscles around those joints.
Additionally, in basketball, football, or tennis, you don’t know where your opponent will dribble, throw, or hit the ball. These unknown variables require your body to speed up, slow down, and cut at a moment’s notice (where most injuries happen). Because you will know before every workout how many squats, pull-ups, and meters on the rower to perform, you won’t need to speed up or cut at a moment’s notice. This, combined with the fact that you regularly perform strength and conditioning exercises, reduce your risk of injury.
That being said, your body needs to warm up before any activity. For specific recommendations on how to warm-up, read The Warm-Up.
Understand the Situation: When Tom Brady drops back to pass and he knows that he’s about to get sacked, he will drop to his knees in order to prevent getting tackled from behind (a high risk event for knee injury). If LeBron is on a fast break but is being followed closely behind from a defender, he will pull the ball out and reset the offense (thus preventing an ankle or knee injury).
However, if the game is on the line and there are only a few seconds left, neither of these players will do what they usually do. They’ll risk the possible injury to win the game. Understanding the situation, more specifically, understanding the payoff of attempting a high-risk move for the sake of winning needs to be a decision you make before you compete this weekend.
Ask yourself, “How much am I willing to risk in order to win?” Your answer will help you decide how far to push your body at the end of a workout. Recognize that these professional athletes make a living based on the number of games they win. You winning or taking 2nd place in a fitness competition will pay no dividends.
Practice: Finally, you want to rehearse the movements you will be competing in for each workout as many times as you can before the competition. The more comfortable you are with the movement (and your strategy), the lower your chance of injury. For example, if you know that you can only perform 15 deadlifts at 115-lbs, don’t attempt to complete 25 deadlifts on competition day.
Practicing beforehand will do more than help you feel confident or develop a strategy for the competition. It will also help you understand how far you can safely push your body.
Injury is inherent in any physical activity you participate in. Competition enhances that risk because you’re pushing yourself to the limits.
However, the greatest athletes in the world never enter a competition worried about getting injured. Instead, they do three things to reduce their chances:
Warm-Up. Understand the Situation. Practice.