3 Easy Strategies to Reduce Injury Risk in the Weight Room

By Sean Kao

1. Wear a jacket

During these colder winter months, increasing your core body temperature will be slightly more difficult to do. Unless you are coming directly from swim practice, wear a jacket or sweater during your warm-up until you get a light sweat going. The increased core-body temperature should decrease your chance of injury (Shellock and Prentice, 1985). If it’s especially cold, leave the extra clothing on for the duration of the workout. As Jesse Burdick put it, “Lifting heavy and being cold has never worked for anyone”.

2. Lift with a qualified coach

Not only will a qualified coach be able to spot faulty technique, they’ll be able to help you with your exercise selection and programming. A coach will select exercises that will safely provide the biggest bang for your buck based on an individual's anatomy, needs, and goals. For example, an athlete with long femurs will be more likely to struggle getting into safe positions during a barbell squat due to their biomechanics. Many coaches will preach the barbell squat as an absolute must in building leg strength, but ideally you want to utilize exercises that keep the risk to benefit ratio low. If you can’t get access to a coach, carefully select exercises that work for you and your training.

Smart programming (periodization) is also often overlooked. Not only does it get you stronger, it decreases the chance of overtraining, therefore reducing the chance of injury (Vetter and Symonds, 2010). A coach can help you determine when to increase/decrease volume and increase/decrease frequency based on your season.

Additionally, if you’ve been lifting for several years, be certain to follow some sort of periodization model (non-linear, linear, weekly undulating, daily undulating, etc.). Unfortunately, the current literature on periodization models is equivocal. But, researchers will agree that following some sort of periodization model is more effective than a non-periodized model (no planned variation in frequency, intensity, volume, exercise selection) (Rhea and Alderman, 2004).

3. Don’t be stupid

Swimmers don’t like getting injured and missing training time, especially if the injury was a result of an accident. I’ve witnessed numerous teammates in my career miss weeks or months due to accidental

injuries. Injuries such as falling off bikes, dropping weights, spraining ankles, and falling off benches have all sidelined people that I know.
The weight room can pose many dangers to an athlete if precautions are not taken and behavior is not controlled. I had a friend in highschool who injured his neck in the weight room because his friend poked him in the anal region while he was in the bottom of a barbell back squat.
Interestingly, children have a lower risk for resistance training related joint and muscle sprains compared to adults (Myers et al., 2009). Possibly due to the fact that children use a lower absolute load and are more likely to stay within their capabilities. Anecdotally speaking, teens and young adults tend to push past their capabilities and allow their ego to interfere with safe lifting. Remember, the most effective way to get faster in the pool is to train in the pool. Resistance training is secondary and the risk to benefit ratio should always be considered before pushing the boundaries.

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Additionally, selection of exercise should be carefully considered when designing a training program. For example, a barbell reverse lunge can be easily made safer by using dumbbells. While the loading capabilities of a barbell are greater, ask yourself if the chance of injury is worth the benefit.

While accidental injuries are not entirely avoidable, taking precautions such as making sure you are lifting in a clear area, warming up properly, spotting, and lifting within your capabilities will greatly reduce your risk.

References

Myers, G., Quatman, C., Khoury, J., Wall, E., & Hewitt, T. (2009). YOUTH VERSUS ADULT ‘‘WEIGHTLIFTING’’ INJURIES PRESENTING TO UNITED STATES EMERGENCY ROOMS: ACCIDENTAL VERSUS NONACCIDENTAL INJURY MECHANISMS. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research , 23, 2054-2060.

Rhea, M. R., & Alderman, B. L. (2004). A Meta-Analysis of Periodized versus Nonperiodized Strength and Power Training Programs. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 75(4), 413-422. doi:10.1080/02701367.2004.10609174

Shellock, F. G., & Prentice, W. E. (1985). Warming-Up and Stretching for Improved Physical Performance and Prevention of Sports-Related Injuries. Sports Medicine, 2(4), 267-278. doi:10.2165/00007256-198502040-00004

Vetter, R. E., & Symonds, M. L. (2010). Correlations Between Injury, Training Intensity, and Physical and Mental Exhaustion Among College Athletes. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 24(3), 587-596. doi:10.1519/jsc.0b013e3181c7c2eb