The health and fitness industry is huge. It’s worth billions of dollars and employs millions of people.
In its current state, a large chunk of that industry is relying on you getting injured for their livelihood.
There’s doctors, nurses, specialists (surgeons), manual therapists, specialist coaches, physical therapists, masseurs and probably a whole load more that I haven’t even thought about.
These people aren’t sat rubbing their hands together with glee, waiting for the chance to pounce when you’re hurt – rather, they enjoy being able to help someone who needs it.
The trouble is, the entire industry is unknowingly set up to provide them with that exact opportunity.
It’s based on, what I like to call “The 7 Deadly Sins of Preventing Injury” and here’s how:
The industry has us believing that there is only one “correct” way to perform any given movement. They have us believing it’s this one way that is the most efficient and therefore the most effective.
The trouble is, to our brains, this is only ONE possible way of moving.
Let’s take a push-up for example.
If you ask 10 people involved in fitness “what’s the correct way to do a push up?”, they will have some common responses, like “keep your back straight”, but there’ll be a debate over where the hands should be.
Some will say wide, level with the shoulders, and some will say hands next to the chest, directly underneath the shoulders.
Depending on your thoughts as to which one is correct, you’ll do push ups that exact same way every time you’re asked to perform a push up.
Repeating the movement in the exact same way every time creates muscle tightness. This muscle tightness leads to joint position change (in this case a rounding of the shoulders and a bending of the elbow), which leads to a restricted joint range of motion (in this case, overhead), which leads to movement pattern compensations (in this case may be a hyperextension of the lower back to maintain an upright posture or arching of the back to get the hands overhead).
These movement compensations require more effort from your body and as your muscles fatigue, you will experience pain, which leads me to my second deadly sin…
It’s a common belief in the health and fitness industry that pain is the first sign of injury. But as we’ve seen from the 1st deadly sin, actually, it’s muscle tightness that causes the movement compensations that lead to injury.
Waiting for pain before doing anything about injuries leads to a catalogue of errors, all of which are industry standard protocol across the world and combine to leave you languishing in the injury cycle for years…
3: Confusing the trigger movement for the cause
Waiting for pain to be the first sign of injury, leads us logically to investigate what we were doing at the time of the pain, which leads us to blame that movement for the pain. Then, much of the time, we’ll be more cautious of, or even avoid, that movement completely.
If we had bent over to pick a pen up off the floor (trigger movement) and put our backs out, then we would be more cautious of bending forward in future – when the real reason for the pain was more likely to be the tightness in the hip flexors.
Following the trigger movement mentality, leads us further away from the real cause and less likely to deal with it properly, which makes the problem much more likely to return at a later date.
4. Treating the Symptoms
It’s our human instinct to protect something that hurts. If we strain our backs for example, we’ll put our hands on it in an attempt to soothe it, or protect it when we move in a way that’s likely to cause more pain.
Contact with the affected area does seem soothing, so it makes sense to try to ease the pain by dealing with it directly. Unfortunately, this distracts us from the real cause of the issue, since the symptom is just an indicator of a problem elsewhere.
Back pain for example is usually a symptom of excessive hip flexor and adductor tightness. By removing the cause, the symptom has no reason to be there, but easing the symptom does not remove the cause, hence making the symptom much more likely to return.
5. Treating Pain with Pain
If the symptom is our focus, then it is commonly thought that increasing pain around the area will trigger the body’s natural healing response, which in turn make the symptom settle down.
Which it might – for a little while.
But it goes against every instinct we have to inflict pain on ourselves (like using a foam roller), or to have someone else do it. This means that much of our effort is spent fighting our own instincts, rather than contributing to progress.
With painful methods, our bodies tense up to protect us from the pain, when the most amount of progress is made by helping the body to relax.
6. Strengthen the Weak
It is commonly thought that muscle imbalances across an affected joint are strength imbalances. Some are labelled “strong” and others labelled “weak”. Inherent to these labels is the belief that the “weak” muscles are problematic, which leads to attempts to strengthen those individual muscles.
The problem is that these muscles aren’t actually weak, they’re just being pulled into a position that makes them less able to function in the way that we would test them.
A good example of this is the glute firing test.
In a face down position, one leg is lifted straight up off the table and the therapist places their hands in a W shape to feel which fires first, lower back, glutes or hamstrings.
In many cases, the glutes don’t fire first, so they are labelled “weak” and conventional wisdom dives in to try to strengthen them, using isolation exercises like clams, bridges and bent leg raises.
Unfortunately, these exercises only serve to tire the glutes out further, which leads to more pain.
It is actually possible to alter the firing sequence of the glutes in a few seconds, simply by tilting the pelvis so that there is a slight bend in the hip while performing this test, the glutes are restricted in function and therefore will give a “weak” glutes result.
But it’s not standard protocol to check for hip flexor tightness.
Because everybody’s tightness is different, making it difficult to measure, and therefore to create a reliable, standardised test.
7. Eliminating Pain
By mistaking pain as the first sign of injury, it is logical that once your pain is gone, you are no longer injured.
But all you managed to do is remove your symptom.
The underlying muscle tightness that caused the pain in the first place will only have been reduced sufficiently to remove the pain, not to remove the problem.
Since we head back to training right after our symptom has gone, we dive right back into the repetitive training that increases our muscle tightness, which pushes us right back into the pain we just got rid of.
These 7 Deadly Sins of Injury Prevention are fully embedded into our sporting culture, and it’s by following this process that we end up on this constant merry-go-round of injury.
Fortunately, breaking this cycle is VERY simple.
By focusing our efforts on reducing the muscle tightness in our bodies, we can avoid pain for many years. All it takes is to know what underlying tightness we’re dealing with in the first place.
Take my FREE Injury Predictor Assessment to discover what’s lurking in your body, waiting to present you with pain