Staying active and exercising becomes increasingly important the older you are. You won’t get away with making the same mistakes younger people do while working out, though. You simply must take better care of yourself to prevent injuries. I was one of the people who still think they’re 22 when they’re more than twice as old. I had to learn the hard way that my body has changed over the years and is not as resilient any longer. Don’t be like me. Here are my best tips to avoid getting injured during your workouts:
- ALWAYS EASE INTO IT. No matter what your favorite exercise/workout is, ease into things when you’re older. For example, if you’re a runner, do not start your run by going at top speed. Instead, warm up a little first, especially if it’s early morning or cold out. Your warm-up can be as simple as walking fast and then jogging for a few minutes before you break into a faster run. You do’t necessarily have to stretch, but if you do, make sure those stretches are appropriate for your upcoming activity.
- STRETCH, BUT DO THE CORRECT STRETCHES. Stretching is important as we become stiffer with age. But doing STATIC stretches before your workout can result in injury because static stretches make your muscles unstable and weaker. According to HHS (Hospital for Special Surgery), “static stretches are those in which you stand, sit or lie still and hold a single position for period of time” while dynamic stretches are controlled movements that prepare your muscles by sending them blood, raise your body temperature, and improve your range of motion. Always warm up using DYNAMIC stretches. According to the Cleveland Clinic, “Dynamic stretching has been shown to acutely increase power, sprint, jump and improve performance.” Leg swings front-and-back and sideways as well as walking lunges and torso twists are great dynamic stretches that prepare you for lots of different activities, including running. Save the static stretches for the end of the workout, holding each stretch for at least 45 seconds.
- ACTIVATE “DEAD” MUSCLES BEFORE AN ACTIVITY. You want to be sure you’re using the muscles intended for a certain activity or you’ll run the risk of injury by compensating with others. For example, your glutes–your butt muscles–and hamstrings both extend your leg backward so you can walk and run. However, because most of us sit so much every day, we often suffer from Dead Butt Syndrome. When you have DBS, your hamstrings do most of the work, which often leads to back, hip and knee pain. And hamstring injuries. You need to activate your glutes for most activities, so do a few hip bridges and side-lying leg lifts to wake them up before you start your workout.
- GET A DEEP-TISSUE MASSAGE. Or foam roll muscles that are tight before you stretch them. This goes for both static and dynamic stretches. As we age, we tend to get more and more knots in our muscles. Use a foam roller to work out those knots and increase our mobility. There’s little point foam rolling loose muscles. Check out this video of me foam rolling my quad and going back and forth over a sore point in my muscle. I keep rubbing into that spot/knot until it goes away or at least feels better.
- FOCUS ON STRETCHING TIGHT MUSCLES. A few of us are hypermobile and those people should skip stretching altogether. But the vast majority have at least one or two areas–I have more–in their body that’s too tight. Stretch those muscles statically most, if not all, days of the week to avoid injury. Always stretch those muscles after a workout to cool down and make them longer. Be aware that overstretching an already loose area can make it so weak, you’ll injure yourself, though. If you absolutely have to stretch ALL muscles, also strengthen every inch of that joint’s/muscle group’s range of motion. This is usually the case when practicing yoga or dance, but not always. It is NOT true that, the looser you are, the better, says WebMd. Hypermobility without stability is a great way to increase you chance of falling and hurting yourself in general.
- STRENGTH-TRAIN TWO OR THREE TIMES A WEEK. If you’re over 40, 100 % include strength-training into your fitness routine. You’re losing muscle at an accelerating pace and you must replace it to decrease your chance of injuries. Maintaining your muscle mass will improve any activity/sport you engage in, not to mention help you keep your weight in check. Your warmup for weight-lifting (same thing as strength-training) can be as simple as doing the exercise you’re about to do at a lower weight with more repetitions. For example, if you’re about to deadlift, use a lighter barbell than the one you use for your main set of reps. Doing high reps/low weight of any full-body exercise such as the deadlift is a good way to warm up for strength-training.
- STRIVE FOR SYMMETRY. If you have one leg or arm or joint that is not as tight as the other–or as strong–you’re asymmetrical. Avoid asymmetry like the plague! As you get older, you’re more likely to notice differences in your body because your compensation skills deteriorate. If/when you notice an asymmetry, don’t just accept it. Immediately work to fix it. If one hamstring is tighter than the other, stretch that hamstring more until it’s caught up to the other. Only work the side that’s weak until you’re equally strong on both sides. It’s better for you to be super-tight in one hamstring than only on one side! Don’t ever forget this if you want to stay injury-free.
- INCLUDE FUNCTIONAL AND SINGLE-LEG EXERCISES. As we age and become increasingly sedentary, don’t only use the weight-machines at the gym. Use free weights or your bodyweight as the resistance. Stand up when you do overhead presses. Do pull-ups instead of lat pull downs. Do more pushups than benchpresses. Do dead lifts instead of leg press half of the time. Those are all examples of functional exercises, which are anything that simulates daily activities. Putting your carry-on into the compartment above your seat on the plane or lifting your child from the floor are good examples of such activities. To increase your balance and core strength, include lots of single-leg exercises such as multi-directional lunges and standing on one leg when you do something like lateral raises or deadlifts. You can do one-legged exercises using machines as well. Try using the leg press one leg at a time. When you do one-legged exercises, you sometimes notice that one side is weaker than the other. Having such muscle imbalances eventually leads to injury. Train the weaker side more than the other to fix it.
- MIX IT UP. Doing the same workout over and over is the perfect recipe to injure yourself. That goes for any activity, but generally repetitive activities are the worst. Like running. Playing golf. Swimming. Even weight-training. Some people think trainers always do the right thing, but trainers are like anyone else–if no one gives them new things to do, they tend to fall into a rut. Let’s be honest, working out is often a chore. Like, many times I’d rather stay in my comfy chair and write something than go to the gym and sweat (though I’m always happy I went, which is why I push myself to go). Asking me to mix up my workouts is often too much, so I end up doing the same thing. It’s typically only when something starts to hurt that I change things up. Luckily, these days I catch onto this fact a lot quicker. As soon as a muscle or joint feels off, I find alternative ways to train them. Mixing it up doesn’t have to be complicated. For example, if your shoulders start to hurt because you’re doing the same kind of pushups over and over, something as simple as changing up your hand positions can fix it. Or doing a different type of lunge if your knee hurts. Changing the order of the exercises is another way of mixing it up.
- GET ENOUGH REST BETWEEN WORKOUTS. When you get older, less really is more when it comes to workouts. Go as hard as you can when you workout, but you MUST get enough rest in between. If you absolutely have to strength-train in the evening and then run five miles the following morning, do something very easy such as walking or stretching the day after the run. Or lie on the couch:)You need to sleep enough every night. According to the CDC, adults between 18-60 need at least seven solid hours/night. Eight or nine is better. If you work out and don’t get enough rest, you’ll, at best, just break down your muscles instead of strengthen them. At worst, you’ll get a really nasty injury, which will take forever to heal (because you’re no longer a spring chicken.)
- LISTEN TO YOUR BODY. If something hurts or doesn’t feel right for your body, stop immediately. If you’re exhausted, go home and take a nap. Don’t engage in physical activity, especially not something strenuous such as running or CrossFit. Chances are you’ll hurt yourself. Plus, it’s a sign your body NEEDS rest more than a workout. Do what it wants.
- HIRE A TRAINER. Yes, yes, I know. It’s too expensive. Who do you think I am? Some kind of celebrity??? Well, I’m not saying you need a trainer every single time you work out, but use one every now and then to check your form and ensure you’re doing everything you need to be doing to achieve optimal fitness. Everybody benefits from using a trainer from time to time, even trainers themselves who “really know what they’re doing.” Like I said earlier, it’s easy to get stuck in a rut.
Is there another way to avoid injury that I forgot to mention? Can one of my tips be improved? Let me know in the comments!
Thank you very much for showing me how to use my foam roller on my left quad, Julia.
Glad it helped, Chris!