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5 secrets to moving better and preventing avoidable injury

Strength training can help you preserve and enhance your muscle mass. (Aaron Lockwood/Lockwood Studios via CNN Newsource) Strength training can help you preserve and enhance your muscle mass. (Aaron Lockwood/Lockwood Studios via CNN Newsource)
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Countless people seek emergency care for back pain, muscle strains and similar injuries resulting from “moving wrong” during mundane, everyday tasks such as bending over to tie shoes, lifting objects or doing household chores.

Even the most basic of human movement patterns — walking — can land you in the emergency room due to tripping or losing balance. Falls are one of the leading causes of emergency room visits, with more than nine million logged annually. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, One in four older adults report falling every year.

These incidents highlight the importance of understanding proper movement mechanics to prevent avoidable harm. Read on for five essential strategies to correct improper movement patterns, enhance movement quality and minimize your risk of injury.

What are 'wrong moves'?

The most significant way you can move wrong is by not moving enough.

The clichéd saying “move it or lose it” is sage wisdom. Human bodies are inherently designed for movement. Yet in our modern, sedentary lifestyles, we often neglect the importance of moving both regularly and well. The less we move, the less we can, and the more susceptible we are to hurting ourselves by moving in a way our body is not accustomed or intended.

Understanding what constitutes right and wrong movement is crucial in preventing injury. The unique blueprint of the human body ensures the ability to move in all directions based on using the joints as they were designed.

For example, certain joints, such as the hips and shoulders are ball and socket, enabling 360 degrees of rotation, while knees are hinge joints that have more limited mobility. Likewise, the middle of your spine, known as the thoracic spine, is designed for rotating, while the lower back or lumbar spine is not. Core muscles need to support and stabilize any carrying or lifting to avoid low-back stress.

If you attempt to twist from your lumbar spine to get out of your car or ask your knees to compensate for a lack of hip mobility in your golf swing, you are moving wrong. Bending over to pet your cat without hinging from your hips and bending your knees or carrying heavy grocery bags without engaging your core to stabilize your spine are also examples of wrong moves. All these actions put unnecessary stress on your muscles, ligaments and joints. As you continue to adopt improper movement patterns, you not only increase your risk of injury but also compromise your body’s functional performance long term.

Editornote: Consult your doctor before beginning any new exercise program. Stop immediately if you experience pain.

How to make the right moves

Developing and maintaining proper movement patterns and training to enhance your movement quality are essential to enhance functional mobility so you can navigate your life pain- and injury-free. Here are five key strategies to make the right moves:

1. Master primary movement patterns

Consider the movements required to function during daily life. To get to anything on the floor, you need to squat down and hinge from your hips. When you reach for something, you push your arm or arms forward. To open a door, you grasp the handle and pull back. You rotate to grab and latch your seat belt in the car, and you must stabilize through your core to sit, stand and walk.

As such, the six generally accepted primary functional movements are squatting, hinging, pushing, pulling and rotating, as well as core stabilization. By mastering these patterns of bodyweight movements and regularly performing them with good form, you develop a strong foundation for safe and efficient movement in all aspects of life.

2. Practice moving in all planes of motion

As you go through daily life, performing different variations of the primary movement patterns noted above, you are also moving your body forward, backward, side to side and twisting around. These directions cover what are known as the three planes of movement: sagittal (forward and backward), frontal (side to side) and transverse (rotational).

It’s important to incorporate intentional exercises within each of these planes into your training regimen. This comprehensive approach ensures that your body is prepared for the demands of all your daily activities and sports.

3. Train for better balance

Adding balance training to your workouts will improve stability and proprioception (the ability to perceive the position of your limbs). This type of training helps you to better navigate uneven terrain and sudden changes in direction to reduce the risk of falls and injury.

Unilateral exercises that focus on one side of the body at a time, such as single-leg Romanian dead lifts and lunging variations, challenge your neuromuscular system, enhancing coordination and spatial awareness. Because good balance is an essential part of moving well, you should incorporate some form of unilateral balance exercises into all your workouts.

4. Include strength training in your workouts

Regular strength training builds more than muscle; it also increases bone density, joint stability, endurance, metabolism and overall durability. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends adults strength train two or more days per week.

Aim to incorporate resistance exercises targeting different muscle groups through all the primary movement patterns using good form to ensure safe and effective strength development. Strong muscles support the joints in functional movement to reduce the risk of injury.

5. Cultivate your mind-body connection

Another key to moving better and avoiding injury is to move with intention. While exercising, focus on your breath and what you’re feeling to stay connected to your body’s experience. By maintaining awareness of your body’s movements and associated sensations, you can set a safe and effective foundation of mindfulness and focus on proper form during exercise.

This mind-body connection enhances movement efficiency and reduces incidences of injury through unintentional “wrong moves.” Progressive muscle relaxation is a great exercise for cultivating your mind-body connection. I recommend practising it several times per week.

Are you ready to start moving better and safeguarding your physical fitness? Try this 10-minute single dumbbell workout, which incorporates all five strategies.

Remember, injury prevention begins with understanding proper movement mechanics and consistently practising functional movement patterns. Incorporating the five keys outlined above into your fitness routine and daily life can significantly improve your movement quality and reduce the risk of avoidable injuries.

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