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A Tip For Getting Back in Shape Without Getting Hurt by Devin Gray, CSCS

In a perfect world, we would never miss the gym. But life happens. Kids, finals, in-laws, work. It all happens. What happens next, though, can often be worse. I’ve known several people that became badly hurt (strained a muscle) when they jumped right back into their old training habits. If they had followed the tip in this article, they may have been able to avoid a serious injury and maybe even rehabbed a few old aches and pains.

In order to minimize the risk of serious injury (i.e. - sprains, strains, and other assorted tears), it’s important to ease back into training. Now, this doesn’t mean doing a bunch of machines. You can still do all of your old favorites (OK, maybe not the plyometrics). The key is to alter the volume and intensity of your favorite routines for the following goal: To re-acclimate your body to intense activity. This is done via two methods. 1 - Increasing the strength and thickness of your connective tissue. 2 - Restoring proper posture and mobility through corrective exercise.

If you’ve ever followed a periodized training program, you should be familar with the concept of a ‘foundation phase’. The more technical term is the Muscular Hypertrophy & Endurance Phase. Basically, the idea is a focused effort to build the size and endurance of an athlete before focusing on strength and power. This is especially important for athletes that need extra size, such as linebackers and fighters moving up in a weight class.

However, this concept is very important for those that are deconditioned, sedentary, recently inactive, or weekend warriors. As I’ve mentioned before, weight training increases the thickness and strength of connective tissues such as bone, tendons, and ligaments. In other words, training makes your body stronger and more resistant to injury (Method #1).

So rather than immediately start grinding out one-rep maxes, heavy singles, doubles, triples, or even heavy 5×5 on Day 1 of ‘getting back in shape’, it’s pretty important to make sure that your connective tissue is up to snuff. If your tendons (which connect muscles to bones) are weak, do you really want to push it?

Let’s look at this from another angle (Method #2). Chances are, you work behind a desk. Or maybe you got hurt and spent the last few weeks sitting. I’m also willing to bet that your posture wasn’t perfect during your time off. As a result, your muscles are accustomed to staying in poor posture. Tight, inactive muscles contribute to poor posture and can greatly increase your risk of injury.

During the foundational phase, it’s also important to correct these imbalances. This can be done with extra emphasis on mobility drills, soft-tissue work, and corrective exercises. This includes: foam/lacrosse ball/travel stick rolling, hip mobility, ankle mobility, shoulder mobility, flexibility work, horizontal rowing (for shoulder health and posture), posterior chain strengthening (glute activation and for correcting anterior pelvic tilt), and core strengthening.

The foundational phase should last between 4-6 weeks, but maybe even longer. I recently spent 8 weeks focusing on all of these factors after studying for finals. The results? My shoulder feels great. My posture is much-improved.. And I even packed on some much needed size and strength in my upper back. At the end of the phase, I was dying to lift heavy. And I am - without any new injuries.