Soft tissue injuries can put you out of your sport or exercise routine for weeks, but thankfully, can be prevented! Soft tissue injuries are tears in ligaments, tendons or muscles, that can be caused by overuse or by a single mishap like rolling your ankle, dropping a weight, or twisting or hyper-extending your knee. The most common soft tissue injuries are sprains (a tear in the ligaments) and strains (a tear in muscles or tendons), or tendinitis. Taking a few precautions to prevent those injuries with these 4 exercises will keep you in the game and not sitting on the sidelines.
Above all, warming up before your workout (and cooling down at the end) is the most important way to prevent injury. For your warm up, your best bet is to spend a little quality time with the elliptical trainer, the rowing machine or walking / jogging, but moving your arms for a total body effect. Choose one of these warm-up activities and go somewhat easy for the first minute, then bump up the resistance or speed slightly for the next 2 minutes. For the last 2 minutes, bump it up a little harder, but keep your effort level at about a 5 or 6 out of ten. Your purpose is to get blood pumping to those large muscle groups and loosen up your muscles, tendons and ligaments.
2. Toe Taps
Toe taps will help loosen the ankle and calf muscle, while working the shin to reduce the occurrence of shin splints. The plus is that these can be done anywhere--at the gym, on the track or even in the shower! Stand with right foot slightly forward and begin tapping right toes. Complete 30 taps, bringing toes up and down, with heels glued to the floor. After 30 reps, tap toes to the left and right like windshield wipers. Complete 20 windshield reps, then switch to the left foot to repeat.
3. Band Raises
Get your shoulders and elbows moving with fluid resistance by using a band instead of weights. Grab an exercise band and hold firmly to both handles, palms facing toward the back, thumbs at your sides. Step onto the band with one foot, or both feet for more resistance, and keep feet shoulder width apart. Raise the band straight up to the front for 15 reps. After the shoulder raises, complete 15 bicep curls to warm through biceps and triceps, while loosening through the elbow. For both exercises, focus on keeping your motions slow and fluid. Try to avoid jerking to the top or letting go quickly to the bottom of the exercise.
4. BOSU Squats
BOSU balls and balance disks are used often in physical therapy to help patients regain control of previously injured ankles and knees. You can use them to your advantage to prevent injury. Grab a BOSU ball or two balance disks and stand on top, balancing in the center. Keep your abs tight and concentrate on stabilizing as you begin your squats. Squat low, so your backside is even with your knees. If you have trouble balancing, holding a 10 lb weight plate or 2 dumbbells (5 lbs each) can help even out your weight. Complete 15-20 squats, then carefully step down from the disks.
After these 4 exercises, you'll be warm enough to start even the most rigorous exercise. After a few weeks, you may notice that your balance is greater as those ligaments, tendons and muscles become stronger. At that point, add more reps, or stand on 1 foot for the raises and BOSU squats to take your strength to the next level.