Five ways to work around common injuries

November 14, 2015

When I was young, I believed there were certain exercises that had to be done even if I was injured or in pain. As I’ve grown older I realized that this philosophy was nonsense. If you want to consistently get results, the most important thing is to take care of yourself and make smart choices that keep you in the game and off the injured reserve list. Here are five ways to work around common injuries without losing time in the gym.

Dumbbell squats for back

Everybody knows barbell squats are one of the greatest exercises for building strength and lean muscle, but if you have a back or disk injury, you might be a lot better off doing a dumbbell squat variation. Exercises like goblet squats, plié squats or dumbbell squats are great alternatives because they effectively work your legs with the weight closer to your center of gravity, giving you a great burn in the targeted muscles without compressing your spine by putting heavy loads squarely on your back.

Face pulls for shoulders

Most shoulder injuries are due to overbearing front shoulder strength and weak side and rear deltoids. If you have this problem, exercises like overhead dumbbell presses and military presses will only make the problem worse, causing more pain and injury. However, switching to face pulls in most cases will allow you to work the shoulder pain free and will fix the imbalance while maintaining shoulder strength. To try this exercise, attach a flat bar to the seated cable row and instead of pulling to your stomach pull the bar toward your throat with your hands shoulders' width apart and your elbows away from your body.

Hammer curls for elbows

Many people experience tendonitis in their elbows from traditional curling movements, but in most cases a simple change of hand grip can make all the difference in avoiding pain and injury. To give this a try, hold a dumbbell in each hand with your palms facing toward each other and curl from your sides with your elbows tight to your body until the dumbbells are 4 to 5 inches from your body but parallel to your shoulders. Squeeze your biceps tightly and repeat the process. If pain persists, eliminate all bicep exercises until the pain goes away.

Towel crunches for neck soreness

Some women are discouraged from doing crunches and other abdominal movements because their necks cramp up before their abdominals feel the burn, but with one minor adjustment they can fix this problem, get a great abdominal workout and slowly strengthen their necks so that it won’t be a problem in the future. To give this a try, lie on your back with your feet elevated at 90 degrees, hold a small workout towel with both hands and loop it tightly behind your head so your head is resting on the towel. Crunch forward with your head facing the ceiling, lifting your upper body with your abs, pausing at the top and repeating for the desired amount of reps. This technique will place the tension on the abs and off the neck, allowing for a great workout until the neck strength catches up with the core.

Foam rolling for muscle tightness

Anyone who works out and lifts weight will eventually experience muscle tightness in the form of trigger points. These are nagging sore spots caused by a hard workout, sleeping the wrong way or life in general. The best way to prevent and treat trigger points - muscle knots - is to use an inexpensive device called a foam roller. A foam roller is a 6-inch piece of tubular foam that allows you to roll or massage the affected areas on the roller, flattening and lengthening the muscles and causing the trigger points to release and return to their regular shape. You can start by resting a portion of your body weight on the foam roller and progress to resting all of your body weight on the roller for optimum results.

Remember, no exercise is worth risk of injury, and learning to make small modifications to your workout like the ones above will often prevent long-term issues.

Chris Antonio is a personal trainer and former world-class weightlifter. To send a question, email or check out for training tips, news and inspirational stories.


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