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Follow our expert advice for dealing with exercise-related injuries such as sprains, aches and pains

Injuries in the gym
Angel Catala, a personal trainer at the Clayton Hotel in Limerick

Lower back injuries are the most common injuries we find in the gym because clients lift more weight than they can handle. Many clients associate lifting heavy weights with being stronger and cooler in the gym. This is a big mistake because with a good technique we can be safe and also work harder with smaller weights than with big weights.

When training with weights, we need to control the weights, not the other way around. Many people will aim for one muscle but in reality, will be training other muscles as a result of swinging. The immediate consequence is that the client will increase the chances of injuring a totally unrelated muscle. For instance, when doing bicep curl clients tend to swing and get the extra strength (that they don’t have) from their lower back rather than using their biceps in isolation. Their focus is on lifting heavy weights instead of using a proper technique.

A good technique is to move the weight slowly, checking every movement in the mirror. Don’t be afraid to look vain, the mirrors are there for a reason. Your back should be straight. Breathe out when you perform the maximum effort and always look for a good balance in your posture.

Aches and pains are very common when training beyond our comfort zone, they are also the result of muscle imbalances. These pains might become milder after a few weeks of training. In most cases pains are the result of the accumulation of lactic acid in our muscles. Traditionally people use stretching as a way to reduce the aches, but if possible a good massage will help to remove the lactic acid in a more effective way. Water is also a fantastic way to get rid of aches, especially a plunge pool, ice pools or a hot tub or a bit of gentle swimming will work wonders.

Coping with pain and stiffness

“Our Joints and Muscles hub receives more questions on knee pain, back problems and neck issues than other areas,” says A.Vogel Muscles and Joints expert, Earle Logan. “We try to persuade people to see a physical therapist as we can’t diagnose over the internet. Some of the problem areas are also quite complex and, in the case of the neck, vulnerable too. In general though, movement is always better than immobilisation and we do refer people to appropriate web pages where they can learn more about the causes of their joint pain and try some easy stretches.

“We are asked about everything from sports injuries to hip pain in the elderly, the reasons for visiting are also diverse. We generally advise the use of cold therapies in injury, warm applications in cases of stiffness and alternating cold and heat where circulation is poor. Stretches and exercise tips are always offered, plus recommendations of our Atrogel or Atrosan tablets for acute or chronic pain relief respectively. The best thing for a sprain is rest, plus some cold therapy and Atrogel – these usually have people back to full strength in a few days.”

Personal trainer advice
Carl Cautley, personal trainer and founder of Health &: Fitness Together in Ranelagh, Dublin

The most common injuries we see in the gym are shoulder injuries (particularly to the rotator cuffs), especially in beginners who aren’t used to training their upper body. Back and knee injuries are also a significant risk — people who work desk jobs are particularly vulnerable as they spend hours hunched over in chairs, which rounds out the back and weakens the hips.

Aching muscles might just be the sign of a great workout. This can be alleviated with light exercise, stretching or foam rolling, and it usually dissipates within a day or two. But if the pain is sharper, more persistent, or restricts your movement in any way, you may well have picked up an injury and should seek medical help.

Sprains are best treated using the RICE method (rest, ice, compression, elevation). You’ll also want to use a brace or bandage to restrict the movement of the joint while it heals. Loading an injured limb with weight will exacerbate the problem, so use crutches with sprained ankles and avoid leaning on (or pushing with) a sprained wrist. If it’s more than just a strain, however, you should see a doctor immediately.

Tips for avoiding injuries
Tom Dalton of TD Fitness

Warm up A proper, gradual warm-up goes a long way to prevent injuries. The warm-up can consist of walking, jogging or simply doing your regular activity at a snail’s pace.

Don’t workout on empty While you don’t want to exercise immediately after eating a large meal, eating about two hours before exercise can help fuel your exercise and avoid crashing during your workout.

Take time for rest and recovery In addition to getting enough sleep, it is important to take some rest days. Working out too much for too long can lead to overtraining and possibly reduce your immune system.

Cross train In addition to helping reduce workout boredom, mix it up. Cross-training allows you to get a full body workout without overstressing certain muscle groups.

Listen to your body If you experience any sharp pain, weakness or light-headedness during exercise, pay attention. This is your body’s signal that something is wrong and you should stop exercise. Pushing through pain is the fastest way to develop a severe injury. If you don’t feel well, you should take some time off until your body heals. Rest is so important for recovery.

Drink before you exercise Dehydration can hinder your performance, so stay hydrated. Try to drink a minimum of one litre of water in the couple of hours before your workout and then take in water during your workout to replace any lost fluids.

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