If there's one thing I've learned as an athlete and coach over the years, it's that injuries often happen when we're not paying attention. And I'm not just talking about when a player takes a softball off of her head because she wasn't looking.
There was a groundhog eating an apple okay?
I'm talking about injuries that happen when you approach an exercise or a movement with little thought, preparation and set up.
So the one trick?
Prepare. Mentally and physically.
I know, this seems so...obvious. And yet we get in a rush, we find ourselves thinking about work or relationships or money, and that lack of presence to the moment can suddenly have you hunched over in back spasms because you didn't set up appropriately.
Below is a video of me doing a bowler squat. The first few reps are nothing fancy. I'm hanging out (in my Pittsburgh Penguins hat, yes), doing my bowler squats as part of my reps. But you'll notice that I take a moment before starting to get into a good position, arms out to my sides, put my ribs into a good position** and then start the movement.
In the second half of the video, I'm performing the same exercise, but with a less deliberate set up and practice. As a result, you'll see that my balance gets thrown off and I can't go as deep on the squat.
The difference is subtle I know. But it's also substantial. There's a reason that fatigue lends itself to injury. When our bodies are tired, our form suffers. But when our bodies and our minds are exhausted, we stop paying attention to what we're doing.
And that's when we set ourselves up for injury.
So do yourself a favor and build a habit of deliberation in the gym. Whether you're setting up for a 35 pound kettle bell deadlift or a 200lb conventional deadlift, your setup should be the same. And the same holds true for warm up drills, finishers and everything else you do in the gym.
Stop. Set up. Prepare yourself.
** I haven't discussed it at length, but pulling my ribs down towards my belly button and bracing my core as though someone was going to punch me in the stomach is part of a good set up for just about every exercise.