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Why We Get Injured: 5 Minutes of Injury Prevention with Lauren O’Shea

For most of you who frequent this gym, your workout is a daily non-negotiable. You walk out of conference rooms, rearrange your schedule, and do the Sean-Michele parent swap out front to make it to the studio.

—Yet you completely disregard the one thing keeping you in it. You voluntarily put yourself through sixty minutes of exertion multiple times a week, but won’t spare five minutes ensuring you’ll be here tomorrow.

Injury prevention is the single most important thing you can do for your body, yet none of us do enough of it. No matter how much you love this workout, you won’t hit the turf if your body is completely broken down. To keep you in the team huddle, we sat down with our favorite physical therapist, Lauren O’Shea, to understand why we get injured and what we can do to prevent it.  

The Majority of Injuries Occur Because You’re Tight in Certain Areas and Weak in Others

This is Washington, DC, where the majority of us spend our days sitting at computers. “Staying in this position causes your body to get ‘stuck,’ which can lead to faulty movement patterns,” says Lauren. Most of us stare at a screen with rounded shoulders and a strained neck, overusing our pec muscles without activating our back or core. In the lower body, this causes our hips to become tight while the glutes go unused, creating an imbalance.

When certain muscles are tight while others are weak, it manifests in pain throughout other areas of the body. Weak glutes can result in knee, ankle, low-back, and hip pain. A weak mid-back can cause problems for your neck, low back, and shoulders.

The Part of Your Body That Hurts is Almost Never the Core Problem

If your knee is killing you, your knee is probably not the problem. Read that sentence again.

Here’s what’s really happening: Somewhere in your body, a muscle is not doing its job, forcing your knee to pick up the slack.“A lot of times,” says Lauren, “I see athletes with their knees caved in while holding a squat. This happens because their glutes are too weak to keep their knee in a neutral position.

These faulty movement patterns become more pronounced when we progress to dynamic movements. This is Cut Seven. We’re not doing standing squats where we can slowly, intentionally focus on preventing our knees from caving in—we’re going from a squat jump to a tuck jump or dropping into TRX pistol squats. If you don’t know how to activate the correct muscles in a slow movement, you will certainly lose control in the Cut version.

Most Times, Your Injury Is the Result of One of These Three Things

“For the hundreds of injuries I see, almost all of them stem from the same three areas: Your back, core, or glutes,” says Lauren. When one of these three muscle groups aren’t activated, another muscle is forced to overcompensate. This puts undue stress on your joint or other part of your body (and is usually the site of your injury).

To treat an injury (not just the symptoms) you have to pinpoint the core problem.Then, take the following measures:

  1. Activate the muscle that’s not doing its job.
  2. Fire that muscle in a static or functional movement.
  3. Progress that movement to a dynamic pattern.

*If you have a nagging injury and don’t know the true cause, you should book an appointment with Lauren to get a full assessment.

Fixing the Core Problem: Activation, Functional, and Dynamic Exercises for Your Glutes, Back, and Core

If you don’t know how to activate a specific muscle, you need to “wake that muscle up” so it knows it’s time to do work. Do the below exercises before your workout to get your muscles firing: Start with activation movements, then progress to functional and finally dynamic.

Engaging Your Core

To activate your core: Tilt your pelvis back so it’s flat against the ground. Pull your belly button down and toward your spine. Pull your ribs downward, bringing your upper core down to your hips. Breathe deeply, without your shoulders coming forward.

To perform a functional core movement: In a standing position, keep your core activated. Perform an anti-rotation by pushing the resistance band out and back in, without twisting or losing your core position.

Do 20–30 reps each side. 

To perform a dynamic core movement: From a plank position, focus on keeping a neutral spine while not rounding your upper back or dropping your low back. Without twisting your hips, pull a weight across the body.

Do 2 sets of 10 reps (5 each side).

Firing Your Glutes

To activate your glutes: Your hamstrings, hip flexors, or back will often fire before your glutes. Perform a clam shell without rolling backward, forcing your glutes to do the work.

Do 2 sets of 15 reps per side.

To perform a functional glute movement: Once you learn to fire your glutes, progress to standing squats then single leg exercises. Your glutes are tied strongly to balance—if you can’t do a single leg squat or deadlift without falling over, it’s probably your glutes (tip: start by using sliders, offering a little stabilization from your opposite leg).

Do 20 reps each direction (out and back) on each leg.

To perform a dynamic glute exercise: Force one glute to do all the work, trying single leg or pistol squats. Don’t allow your knee to cave in, and keep your back and core activated.

Do 20 reps on each leg.

Activating Your Back

To activate your back: Pull your shoulders back and down, not straining your neck or using your traps.

To perform a functional back exercise: Once you understand how to pull your shoulders back and down, add some movement. Pull apart a resistance band with both arms, forcing your shoulders to stay down, away from your ears.

Do 2 sets of 15 reps.

To perform a dynamic back exercise: Continue to engage your back muscles, even when your arms move overhead. Pull your resistance band diagonally across your body, with one arm vertical and one pointed downward.

Do 2 sets of 10 reps.

Your Goal is to Teach These Muscles to Do their Job

The majority of injury treatment is reactive—we wait until we can barely walk to late cancel class and [finally] go to PT.

Doing preventative work stops injuries before they start and allow you to get more from your workout. Think about it: Are you halfway through Ass Day before you even feel your glutes? That’s not supposed to happen. Activation exercises teach your muscles to participate in the workout, preventing you from overcompensating in other areas.

Finally, remember that you go to Cut Seven. You are sitting stationary all day then asking a LOT from your body. Grab a foam roller, take a rest day when you need it, and stop skipping the cooldown stretch. We know you would choose bear crawls over a clam shell any day, but you won’t be seeing much of the warm-up if you can’t even make it to class.