Your best bet, of course, is to prevent injuries from happening in the first place. We asked three experts—R. Alexander Creighton, chief of sports medicine at the University of north Carolina; Jonathan L. Chang, clinical associate professor of orthopedic surgery at the University of Southern california; and Tim McAdams, team physician for the San Francisco 49ers—to offer the most common career-ending injuries and give us their best advice on how to prevent them.
–By Taylor Kubota
This frictionless cartilage at the ends of your bones is extremely hard to replicate. “Once you injure that, we do not have a very good way to put you back the way you were before,” says Creighton. An imperfect repair can lead to arthritis, recurrent swelling and catching-and-locking-type symptoms.
The fix: Keeping off extra pounds and working out daily is the best—and only reliable—way to lessen your chances of articular cartilage problems. Also, beware of supposed protective supplements like chondroitin, since they often don’t work. “My opinion is the marketing has outpaced the science,” says McAdams.
About 50 percent of people over the age of 65 have some kind of rotator cuff tearing, and it’s seen by many experts as a natural part of aging. Painful tears can sometimes be addressed with physical therapy, but if surgery is required, it is an operation with a fairly high success rate.
Surgery and physical therapy are both successful ways to address this injury, but it can still be devastating. “Although the operation is not that difficult, it’s quite an extended rehabilitation for which full recovery may not be possible in some cases,” says Chang. A six- to nine-month recovery time—Kobe Bryant’s was more than seven months—is fairly standard.
The fix: This one is hard to prevent because most people who tear their Achilles tendon have no prior symptoms. Genetics and activity level are big factors, but cross-training with elements of yoga, biking or running may help.
These strains and tears are common in sports with lots of cutting movement, like soccer. If they aren’t aggravated, they usually repair themselves. People generally feel better after two to three weeks of recovery time, but they should wait more like four to six. If they don’t, they can end up with lingering pain for many months or even a year.
The fix: Flexibility will be a big help in avoiding this one, especially as people get older. Basic foam-roller stretches are probably going to give the best results.
Like hamstring tears, the main reason elbow tendonitis is on this list is because it’s frustrating. Although you can start to feel better pretty quickly, an important part of recovery is to progress back to your activities slowly. So don’t go play a full round of golf as soon as the pain is gone.
The fix: A good way to keep from getting tendonitis is to steer clear of any heavy lifting where your arms are positioned far away from your body. Exercises like that put too much stress on your elbow and shoulder. Gentle stretching can also help ease elbow pain.
Although this isn’t a common injury for everyday athletes, the groin pull is a brutal one. Once someone gets a groin strain, it can become chronic—an injury you never quite shake.
The fix: Flexibility is key. Start with hip stretches and then work on strengthening your core, which can also decrease the risk of groin strain. Using an ab wheel or doing planks are recommended over classic sit-ups because those can put unnecessary stress on your back.
Every year about 200,000 people tear their anterior cruciate ligament, leading to some 100,000 reconstructive surgeries. This injury will take you out for about six months or more and, after surgery, as many as one in 20 people suffer another rupture. People with repaired ACLs are also at greater risk of injuring their other knee.
The fix: Hamstring, quad and calf exercises and stretches have long been advised but may not be enough. “Now we’re realizing it’s much more than that, in terms of the control of the knee coming from the hip and the core,” says McAdams. He specifically advises hamstring curls, leg presses and hip abductor strengthening.
Join the training circuit: In one study, dieting women who did Fitness routines that combined aerobic and strengthening exercises shed up to 11 pounds in 10 weeks — and most of that was fat.
The moves: Do 30 seconds of cardio (such as jumping jacks), then 30 seconds of strength-training moves (like squats or push-ups); repeat 15 times.
Pausing to do yoga — even at your office desk — can help ease tension, reports an australian study.
The moves: Try side bends (with arms overhead and hands together, bend gently from your waist) and forward bends (reach for the floor).
Bonus: To target neck and shoulder tension, reach over your head with your right arm, hold your left ear, and gently draw your neck toward your right shoulder; hold for 10 breaths, then switch sides, says psychologist and yoga instructor Rachel Allyn, Ph.D.
“Like muscle, your skeleton needs to be stressed to stay strong,” says nutrition and exercise physiology professor Pamela Hinton, Ph.D.
The move: Jump! The impact signals bones to become stronger, says Hinton. As few as 10 jumps each day may bolster your spine and hips.
Bonus: Add jumps in different directions or on just one leg, since bones can become desensitized to repetitive motions. For upper-body protection, do a push-up between each pair of jumps.
Strengthen your core. Try trunk-balancing exercises twice weekly for 15 minutes, say researchers.
The moves: 1. Kneel on a pillow with arms 90 degrees out to the side. Comfortably twist upper body, head, and arms to the right; hold for 30 seconds. Repeat twice for each side.
2. Start on all fours, with back flat. Extend your right arm forward and your left arm back so they’re parallel to the floor. After a minute, switch sides.
Bonus: To add a challenge to the first move, close your eyes.
The best way to train your ticker in a short time is with cardio intervals, which alternate intense bursts of exercise with periods of moving at a more relaxed pace, says Martin Gibala, Ph.D., a professor and the chair of kinesiology at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.
The move: If cycling, pedal hard for 60 seconds, keeping your pace up so you can say only a few words before getting out of breath. Then let up for 60 seconds, cycling slowly. If jogging, go at a quick clip for 60 seconds, then walk for 60. Repeat seven times.
Bonus: Make a playlist of songs that pump you up. Listening to favorites may help you disconnect from the discomfort. Also, research from the U.K. and Germany suggests jamming out to music you like can make time seem to pass more quickly.
If you spend a lot of time sitting in front of a screen, all that sitting can destroy your posture, which leads to all sorts of lousy outcomes, from lower back pain to inhibited breathing (try breathing deeply while you’re hunched over, as opposed to sitting with your back straight and shoulders back). The majority of people these days need stretches that will undo the tightness and tension that result from lots of sitting.
Here, you’ll find five stretches you can do anywhere, anytime—maybe on a break from work—that will help to keep you from slumping into a permanently chair-shaped posture. As long as you’re not injured, you almost can’t do them enough. Hold each one for 30 seconds.
–By Jordan Metzl, MD, Rodale News
More: Better posture blocks out back pain
Assume a lunging position with your right foot forward, your left knee on the floor and both knees at a 90-degree angle. Extend your right arm overhead.
Keeping your torso upright, your hips and shoulders square, and your left knee on the floor, step your right foot forward about 12 inches and push your hips forward and downward until you feel a deep stretch in the front of your left hip. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat on the other side.
More: laptop computers linked to arm, shoulder pain
Bend your right arm 90 degrees (the “high-five” position) and place your forearm against a door frame. Stand in a staggered stance, your right foot in front of your left.
Rotate your chest to your left until you feel a comfortable stretch in your chest and the front of your shoulder. Hold for 30 seconds. Switch arms and legs and repeat for your other side. Repeat for a total of three reps on each side.
More: 9 health problems you can treat with exercise
Stand about 2 feet in front of a wall in a staggered stance, your right foot in front of your left. Place your hands on the wall and lean against it.
Shift your weight to your back foot until you feel a stretch in your calf. Hold this stretch for 30 seconds on each side, then repeat twice for a total of three sets. Perform this routine daily, and up to three times a day if you’re really tight.
More: 5 easy yoga poses everyone should do every day
Lie on your back with your arms directly out to your sides, palms up, your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor.
While keeping your feet together, simultaneously lower your knees toward the left and roll your head toward the right. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat on the other side.
More: Stretch less often, stay flexible
Place a gym mat next to a wall. Face away from the wall and assume a kneeling lunge position on the pad with your left knee down and your right foot flat on the floor in front of you. Slide backward toward the wall, pointing the toes of your left foot toward the ceiling.
Keeping your left knee on the floor, inch your foot up the wall behind you until you feel a comfortable stretch in the front of the left thigh. Place both hands on your right knee and extend your back into an upright posture. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat on the other side.
More: Exercise is medicine! Learn how exercise can help you cope with any ailment, be it PMS or chronic pain. Get your copy of The Exercise Cure today from your favorite retailer!
Every guy wants washboard abs. But actually getting them can seem impossible. It doesn’t help that much of the how-to hype out there—”Eat this food to blast belly fat” or “100 sit-ups a day will make the paunch go away”—is straight-up false. Here are 10 common myths about six-packs, along with the right ways to get your abs to pop.
–By Melaina Juntti
Sure, some men were blessed with super-high metabolisms and don’t have to work as hard to stay trim. But the rest of us have just as much potential for svelte stomachs. “All humans have a beautiful set of washboards abs,” says Cedric Bryant, chief science officer at the American Council on Exercise (ACE). “It’s just that most men’s six-packs are hidden beneath a layer of fat.” The only way to get the chiseled abs your mama gave you is to lower your overall body fat through a healthy diet and exercise.
Even if you hit the treadmill and rock out 50 crunches every morning, you’ll never get a toned stomach if you eat like a college freshman. “You also have to eat a sensible diet in order to reduce body mass and body fat overall, or you won’t see the fruits of your labor,” Bryant says. Ditch the high-fat, high-calorie processed junk in favor of lots of lean proteins, real fruits and vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats.
Food just doesn’t discriminate by body part. “Companies will claim that certain foods target belly fat because it sounds better, but it’s a total myth,” says Anna Renderer, a performance trainer and outside Fitness expert for the Gatorade sports Science Institute. “There are definitely foods that can help you lose weight, such as fiber-rich dark, leafy vegetables and citrus fruits. But eating lots of these foods will help you lean out overall, not just in the stomach region.”
Forget what your fifth-grade gym teacher told you. Full sit-ups—where you lift your torso all the way up so your elbows touch your bent knees—are “way outdated,” says Renderer. Crunches are much more effective. “You just need to curl your trunk so you’re raising your shoulder blades off the ground,” Bryant says. “The rectus abdominis muscle has a short range of motion, so all that extra movement in a sit-up doesn’t engage it any further. Crunches focus contraction where it is most maximized.”
A recent ACE study found that crunches are the most effective exercise for activating the rectus abdominis, which is the main, outermost core muscle. But this is only one of the muscles you need to tone in order to score a cut core. “These findings do not mean that the crunch is the best ab exercise overall,” says Bryant.
“There are other abdominal muscles, such as the external obliques and rectus femoris, that play a powerful role in spinal and core stability. Side planks and other exercises are better at activating those muscles.” Bryant says. “No single ab exercise is going to address all that you need.” That means you need to combine exercises that target your core from all angles, including your lower back.
The same ACE study hooked up participants to electrodes to measure rectus abdominis activation during two types of crunches: arms folded across the chest and fingers interlocked behind the head. The researchers suspected that hands-under-the-head crunches would be less effective because people seem to pry their head up with their hands instead of engaging the abs. But to their surprise, both methods were equally as effective. Just make sure your crunches are slow and controlled.
Many guys view their lower stomach as more of a problem zone than higher up and think they can zero in on that part. First of all, your lower region likely isn’t any less toned—it’s just covered by more belly fat. Second, you couldn’t work only the lower abs if you tried.
“When clients tell me they just want work their lower abs, I laugh,” Renderer says. “Get this straight: Your rectus abdominis is one unit.” Still, people often confuse this single muscle for multiple muscles. “Certain core exercises involve the hip flexors and other muscles, which makes you feel like you’re doing more for your lower abs than your upper abs, but you’re really not,” says Bryant.
“When doing any kind of core exercise, it’s always better to go at a slow or moderate tempo—never, ever fast,” Renderer says. “You’ll have more control over your movements and rely less on momentum to get from one position to the next.”
She says a lot of people tend to lift upward really fast and then lower back down slowly, but the entire exercise should be done at a continuous pace. By holding each position for two or three counts (for moderate speed) or up to four counts (for slow tempo), you’ll actually recruit your muscles to do the work instead of riding on your body’s momentum.
Renderer says BOSU balls, Ab Rollers and TRX devices can offer great ab workouts. So if you belong to a gym that offers these gadgets, try them out. But if you exercise at home, save your money. Between planks, pikes, crunches, seated twists and more, there are plenty of effective ab exercises that won’t cost you a dime.