Athletes and serious gymnasts know that rehab is the backup plan. The best way to recover from an injury is to avoid it. We're talking about Prehab … doing these stretches and strengthening and stabilizing routines that are often seen in PT offices before they get hurt.
Research in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that preventive strength training halves overuse injuries. Another study found that adding movements to strengthen the hamstring reduced football players' risk of hamstring strain and tears by 51 percent. Part of this preventive work is especially important if you do the same workout without a lot of cross training. This can lead to imbalances and weaknesses (i.e. you are more prone to injury).
"Most people see traditional physiotherapy as a recovery tool after a specific injury," said Jason Moy, a physiotherapist at Tru Whole Care in New York City. "But preventive PT can improve muscle performance and minimize the risk of injury by improving balance, posture awareness, muscle flexibility, strength, and endurance."
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Here are some key prehab measures to stretch, strengthen, and improve your stability – not to mention that you can avoid some of the most common pain in this process. Add them at the beginning of your workout to warm up dynamically, or do a little each morning so you can exercise better throughout the day.
1. Wall Hip Flexor Stretch
How: Knees close to a wall. Step forward with your right foot so that your thigh is parallel to the floor. Raise your left foot behind you and lean on the floor against the wall. You will feel the stretch in your left quad and hip flexor.
Why: If you have back pain, this movement is a must. "The main reason for back pain in most men is the limited range of motion of the hips, especially on the front of their hips, caused by prolonged sitting," said Brian Gurney, DPT, CSCS, trainer, state-certified sports clinic specialist and physician therapist at BeFit Therapy in New York City. "This track is an absolute game changer."
2. Dumbbell rotation on the side
How: Lie on your left side and hold a barbell in your right hand. Place a small, rolled towel between your right upper arm and the side. Embrace it with your right elbow and let your forearm rest over your stomach. Keep your elbow bent 90 degrees and turn your shoulder to raise the barbell. Repeat on the opposite side.
Why: "The problem with shoulder problems is that most men focus on lifting large muscles – pectoral muscles, lats, delts – and neglect their rotator cuffs until they feel pain," says Gurney. This movement targets the smaller muscles that you normally ignore.
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3. Wheel position
How: Lie on the floor with your knees and feet bent. Place your palms on the floor with your ears and your fingers on your shoulders. Run through your feet, push your hips up and press them into your hands to bring the crown of your head to the floor. Make sure the weight is evenly distributed over your feet and hands, then stretch your arms and lift your head off the floor. (Make this movement less difficult by lying on a yoga cushion and lifting only as much as you want.)
Why: It won't help neck pain. "Poor posture and limited mobility in the upper back and thoracic spine are the main causes of neck pain," says Gurney. "The bike position reverses the position we are in all day and improves posture and shoulder mobility."
4. One-legged Russian deadlift
How: Stand with your feet hip-width apart and hold a barbell or kettlebell in your right hand in front of your left thigh. Shift the weight to your left leg. Hold a slight bend in your left knee, hang on your hips, and lean forward with your right leg behind you. Keep a straight, flat back until your torso is approximately parallel to the floor and lower the weight towards the floor. Push through your left foot to return to standing. Repeat on the opposite side.
Why: Hamstring strains are very common injuries; This movement improves your hamstring strength and reduces stiffness to prevent it, says Moy.
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5. IT tape stretching
How: Stand with feet that are hip-wide apart. Step behind your body with your left foot. Raise your left hand over you and lean to the right until you feel the stretch on the outside of your left thigh. Hold for 30 seconds and then repeat on the opposite side.
Why: Moy recommends this stretch to help alleviate IT band syndrome, which can be the cause of your knee pain – especially if you're a runner.
6. Stretch the shoulder rotation
How: Stand in a door. Place your right hand on the door jamb and slowly turn your body to the left for 30 seconds. Repeat on the opposite side.
Why: Poor posture also contributes to pain in the rotator cuff, says Moy. This route helps you to get up a little straighter.
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7. Calf stretch
How: Stand near a wall and place your palms against it at chest height. Step back with your left foot. Keep a bend in the right knee and left leg straight and sink into position until you feel a good stretch in the left calf. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat on the opposite side.
Why: Adding this to your routine will help relieve your gastrocnemius, says Moy, a two-headed muscle that runs from the knee to the heel and tends to contribute to Achilles tendinitis.
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