Here’s something I’ve noticed over my years in fitness: rarely will someone get hurt while exercising in the gym.
Yes, it happens, and that’s why no one will ever work out in solitude at the Bodysmith. I’ve seen people strain hamstrings, drop weights on their feet and hands, or fail under a bench press and have to be rescued by a trainer. And, the New York Times reported that between 1990 and 2007, nearly one million Americans wound up in the emergency room due to an injury in the gym.
But on the whole, I have found that most people I encounter strain a muscle or throw their back out doing regular, daily activities. Just a couple of weeks ago, a member came to me with a shoulder injury after trying to pull-start the gasoline engine of a stubborn power washer. This guy is no weakling and is an accomplished, strong lifter in the gym but the power washer got the best of him anyway. How does this happen to a veteran athlete and all-around active guy?
Is “Functional” Really Useful?
At the Bodysmith, we spend a lot of time with our members working on technique. We coach, instruct, and give them the tools to exercise safely. We do this to not only help our members achieve fantastic results in the gym but also outside of the gym as well.
You see, years back, there was a buzz word in the fitness world called “functional” training. “Functional” meant different things to different people. To some, functional exercises were “exercises that mimic real-life,” to others they were “exercises that do what they’re designed to do.” The vague definition of “functional” led to a lot of people doing stupid things on stability balls or balance boards and provided endless gym fail videos.
I’m not going to debate exercise classifications or the reasons for doing a one-legged barbell squat on a balance beam (for the record I can’t think of anything). Instead, let me talk about what I think really makes an exercise “functional,” that being when an exercise bridges the gap that exists between life in the gym and life outside the gym. It is my feeling that if we bridge that gap, we could prevent a significant number of injuries outside the gym.
Think, Think, Think
The solution is not an exercise or technique that only elite level athletes can or should be attempting. And no elaborate fitness gadget or additional weight on your deadlift will prevent you from injuring yourself if your head isn’t in it. I believe the answer to injury prevention lies in awareness.
I’m speaking from experience because, somewhat embarrassingly, my three most severe bouts of back pain occurred while 1) eating a hamburger, 2) tying my shoe, and 3) unplugging an extension cord. No kidding. And in two of these instances, I was actually in top physical condition. Why did this happen to me? Simple: I wasn’t paying attention.
Think About Form Outside the Gym, Too
When we are working out in the gym, we tend to think about what we are doing. For example, we will brace our core, position ourselves correctly over the kettlebell, and pay attention to our posture. And our members know that when you are doing this at the Bodysmith our coaches will constantly nag/remind you to pay attention to your form. This prepares us to safely move the object because we are “set” to work or move…with purpose…with awareness…with a goal in mind.
But what happens when we aren’t following you around reminding you to pay attention to your form?
If we want to stay healthy and mobile for our entire lives, then we must place an intention in our actions. Even when we think we shouldn’t have to. Right now, I can hear some of my colleagues arguing, “the body’s reflexes are automatic,” and “motor engrams operate on an unconscious level.” Yeah, I love the innate amazing capabilities of the human body, too. In fact, I’d love to talk about activation of the deep core prior to limb movement and how digestion affects neural drive to stabilizers. Buy me a beer and you’ll have my attention.
But while we talk about the science and theory of human movement, I’d also urge you to keep your head in the game. So, throughout your day I’d ask you to apply what you’ve learned in the gym—in terms of form, injury prevention, and movement—to your daily life when you are cleaning, moving furniture or even taking groceries out of your car. It will pay off…I guarantee it!