7 Ways You're Exercising Wrong and Causing Injury

army workout injuries
Spc. Reggie Wilson of the Raymond W. Bliss Army Health Center demonstrates the use of rollers for treating myofacial pain. (Photo Credit: Mo Greenberg)

Have you ever focused on a physical goal that required significant training, pushed yourself too hard and then sustained an injury? Scenarios like this are classic cases of overtraining or under-recovering or simply doing too much, too far, too soon, too fast.

If you're on a journey preparing for special ops or hardcore physical events (ultra-marathons, Ironman triathlons, obstacle course racing), here is a list of the most common ways injuries occur:

1. Too Much Running. The number one reason why people get injured is simply running too much without any logical progression. Injuries such as compartment syndrome, shin splints, stress fractures and tendonitis in joints (feet, ankles, knees, hips) can occur and then take weeks, months or even a year or more to fully recover from, depending upon the severity of that injury. Do not just jump into a long run week of 30-40 miles just because a few years ago you could. Time away from training requires a steady build-up even if you took only a month off. If you say to yourself, "I used to run in high school" and you are over 25 years old, high school running does not count; you are a beginner again. See ideas for beginner running programs and other progressions.

2. Too Much Heavy Lifting. Injuries in the weight room are a close second place compared to running. Lifting a heavy weight while pushing your personal record can be a fun challenge, but can also bring strains and other injuries. Most of the injuries I've seen in the gym include shoulders from heavy bench press or military press (1 rep max effort typically) or heavy squats and deadlifts, or torn biceps from heavy weighted pull-ups.

3. Pushing Too Hard in Martial Arts. Karate, boxing, Jiu-Jitsu, MMA and other contact martial arts where sparring is part of the workouts can cause injuries either by the trauma of hitting something harder than your body or by joint manipulations that can tear or dislocate joints. These injuries happen fairly often to those who like to practice combative sports. However, as you get closer to your selection or need to maintain a certain level of abilities for your job, you should consider not doing the events that statistically cause the most injuries.

4. Too Many Repetitions. Physical training in the military typically means calisthenics. There are some calisthenics tests that require absolute maximum effort to be competitive, and the process to get there requires pushing yourself to get into that kind of conditioning (100+ pushups/situps, 20+ pull-ups as an example). Often, people will do these events daily with no recovery period. Even people in their late teens and early twenties need to recover from lifting weights and high repetition calisthenics workouts. In fact, give yourself a good 48 hours prior to working the same muscle groups again when doing high-volume calisthenics workouts. High volume is relative and progressive as well. It takes time to be able to build up to 100-200 pullups or 300-400 pushups in a workout, just as it takes time to do 5- to 6-mile runs. Jumping into a Murph, for instance, having never gotten close to that kind of repetitions is a recipe for tendonitis, muscle strains and joint pain that can put you down for weeks. Be smart.

5. Pick Up Games/Recreational Sports. It is always fun to throw a ball in the backyard or play a pick-up game of basketball, softball or football, but all have yielded injuries that have taken months and even surgery to repair. Throwing a ball too hard after not throwing in years is a quick and easy way to stress your rotator cuff. Playing basketball is an easy way to sprain or break an ankle and, of course, any sport where tackling, sliding into bases or diving for the ball is involved can leave you with bumps and bruises that slow you down for the next few workouts IF you are lucky and don't end up with a more serious injury. Be careful when these sports are weeks before your test, selection or ship date to leave for the military.

6. Working Out With a Fit Friend. This one gets all of us at some point in our lives. Working out with a friend who exercises regularly can lead to a personal challenge to push as hard as your friend can. Sometimes, positive peer pressure can be injurious to a novice exerciser. The technique in lifting, running and even swimming without the joint stability of an intermediate/advanced exerciser can cause injury from tendonitis, shins splints or joint dislocations, and make you so sore you are unable to move for a few days. Even worse, you could get rhabdomyolysis and spend a few days in the hospital.

7. Not Taking Rest Days or Mobility Days. Working out seven days a week is not smart. You need a day off at least once a week, and smart training programs allow for active recovery while working other body parts and energy systems. Consider periodization for that model. Sleep is the best recovery tool, so let that be a guide to how hard you train each day. Flexibility, mobility and yoga-based stretching will help you place an easy day into a tough week of training and make the following training days even better.

Don't Skip Mobility Day!

There is a fine line between building mental toughness and being stupid, and it is all relative to your personal ability, current fitness levels, and time training. Just because you see a hardcore workout in an article on the internet or in a magazine, or videos of people doing high-level physical activity, does not mean you are ready to even attempt it. Be smart with your preparation and make sure you have a logical progression on your journey to attempting hardcore workouts and preparation courses.

Accidents, training injuries and traumatic injuries are showstoppers for your progress and could be the very thing that disqualifies you from competing or joining certain groups within your tactical profession.

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