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Strength Train to Recover From (and Prevent) Injury

By Giovanni Ortiz

Think you’re immune to injury? You’re not. No matter what your age or physical shape, you can easily take one wrong step on the field, at the gym, or even on the dance floor and find yourself unable to lift the weight, pass the ball, or shake that shimmy.

The shoulders, lower back, knee and hip are all particularly prone to injury, but most people don’t build up the strength in these areas that help prevent it. That’s why physical therapy centers are constantly filled with seemingly in-shape people who didn’t take the proper steps to care for their insides as much as they did their well-built outsides.

If you find yourself sidelined by a minor injury, don’t despair. You can significantly reduce your recovery time by adding some simple strengthening exercises to your exercise program. Below you’ll find eight excellent injury-recovery exercises that can help speed your body back to health. If you’re already injury-free, try adding these exercises to your workout routine to build strength and prevent injury.

Remember that these exercises are meant to treat minor new and recurring injuries, or to prevent injuries by strengthening the area. Always check with your doctor before starting any new exercise routine, and, if a particular problem continues, see a doctor who specializes in treating sports injuries.

Rotator Cuff Exercises
The shoulder’s rotator cuff muscles are one of the human body’s most problematic areas. Help prevent and recover from rotator cuff injuries with these simple exercises:

  1. Progressive resistive exercises, external rotation: Lie on the floor or a gym mat on one side with a towel or small pillow bracing your head for comfort. Allow your bottom arm to lay flat on the ground and close to your body. Bend the elbow of your upper arm so that your upper arm is running along your body, your elbow is at a 90-degree angle, and your forearm is draped across your body with your hand touching the floor. Keeping the elbow of your upper arm against your body, raise your forearm up toward the ceiling until your hand is pointing upward, then reverse and bring your hand back to the starting position. Repeat 10 times with one- to two-pound weights (dumbbells if you have them or a can of uncooked beans if you don’t). If you are already injured, repeat twice a day until your strength returns, then continue once a day until full use returns to the shoulder. If you are not injured, do one set several times per week as a warm-up exercise to prevent injury. Remember to alternate sides to keep your strength balanced across both shoulders.
  2. Progressive resistive exercises, internal rotation: Lie on one side as you did with the external rotation, but reverse your arm position. Your upper arm should be resting along your upper side and hips, and your lower arm should be bent at the elbow with the forearm at a 90-degree angle to your body and resting against the floor. Keeping your lower elbow close against the body, bring your lower forearm up from the floor and across your body until your forearm is perpendicular to the floor, then lower it back down to starting position. Repeat 10 times with the same weights you used for the external rotation exercises. Do twice a day until your strength returns, then continue once a day until full use returns to that shoulder.
Lower Back Exercises
Who hasn’t hurt their lower back? Help alleviate lower back injury and prevent it with these floor exercises.
  1. Prone back extension: Lie on your stomach on the floor or on a gym mat with your arms straight and held out in front of you. Lift your arms and upper body and legs off floor simultaneously. Be sure not to arch your neck—leave it neutral. You should look and feel like a plane ready to land. Hold for ten seconds and then return to the starting position. Repeat three times twice a day.
  2. Superman: Lie on your stomach on the floor or on a gym mat with your arms out in front of you. Keeping your head and neck neutral, lift your left arm and right leg together until they are both six inches off the floor. Hold for a count of two, then lower back to starting position and repeat on the other side. As your back strengthens over time, increase the difficulty of this exercise by separating the upper body lift from the lower. First lift only the torso and the arms while keeping the legs on the floor, and then repeat with just the legs rising from the hips.
Hip Exercises
Not only little old ladies hurt their hips. Skiers and soccer players are particularly prone to hip injury, but just about any sport that uses your lower body puts your hips at risk of injury.
  1. Strengthening prone hip extension: Lie on the floor or a gym mat on your stomach. Tighten the muscles on the front of one thigh, then lift that leg eight to 10 inches from floor, keeping your knee locked. You should feel the buttocks on the raised leg tighten. Hold for 10 seconds, and then relax down to starting position. Repeat five times with both legs twice a day.
  2. Hip hikers: Stand on a well-built, steady stool or a flat bench with your weight on one leg and your other leg unsupported and hanging over the edge of the stool or bench. Keeping both knees locked throughout the movement, lower your unsupported heel toward the floor by tilting your unsupported hip down. Your stool or bench should be tall enough so that your lowered foot never touches the ground. Lower and raise the hip 10 times, then switch legs and do the other hip.
Knee Exercises
The knee is one of Mother Nature’s most complex and amazing creations—and one of her most delicate. Use these knee-strengthening exercises to prevent and recover from minor knee injury:
  1. Strengthening wall slides:Stand about one foot away from a wall with your back to the wall. Lean back until your shoulders are touching the wall, then slowly lower your buttocks toward the floor until your thighs are parallel to floor. At the bottom of the movement, your hips and knees should be in one straight line—never let your hips go below knee level or let the knees pop out in front of your toes. Think of your body like a standard chair—a 90-degree angle at your hips, and a 90-degree angle at your knees. Hold for five seconds, then return to the starting position. Repeat 10 times and do twice per day if your knees are bothering you. Once you have recovered from your injury, do one set of 10 reps per day for maintenance.
  2. Step-ups:Stand on a stair step, stool, flat bench or strong stable chair that can handle your body weight. Slowly bend your right leg and lower your left foot to the floor. Straighten your right leg and return to the starting position. Do 10 repetitions, then switch legs and do 10 more reps. Do three sets of each leg twice per day until your knees feel stronger, and then drop down to once per day until your full strength has returned.