Injury Prevention


“The more injuries you get, the smarter you get.” -Mikhail Baryshnikov

Last week I received a great question from one my online friends about injury prevention.

Could you do a post about preventing injuries when training Martial Arts at a higher level (It would really interest me)!


The great thing about injury prevention at higher levels is that they are pretty much the exact same things you should be doing at lower levels.  I could go cite a bunch of sources and websites that discuss this topic but you came to ME for advice, so I am going to tell you what I’ve found out through personal experience and from observing others.

Don’t train while fatigued

When you’re muscles are fatigued, you greatly increase the risk of injury due to poor form.  Consequently the big, foundational exercises are typically the ones you’ll injure yourself on first (squats, deadlifts, etc).  If your form ever begins to suffer, either back off the weight or stop the exercise.

Be sure to remember fatigue can set in during the workout or be carried over from the previous day.  If your muscles are still feeling weak from your last workout, make note of it and test the waters before jumping into the heavier weights.

Get thoroughly warmed up

I actually had a good friend of mine pop a muscle (or maybe a tendon) in his calf due to not being properly warmed up before a Taekwondo class I was teaching.  The kicker (no pun intended) was that the drills we were doing weren’t even all that intense.  He later told me he hadn’t done a lot of warming up and stretching before class and that’s what caused the injury.  The recovery time was long and he still had nagging issues long after the initial injury healed.

Some trainers will tell you that a typical warm up should last 5-10 minutes.  I usually don’t time mine, but rather go by feel.  I check to see if my muscles feel warm and supple.  Another good indicator is if I have started sweating lightly.  After I get to that stage, I will spend about 5 minutes going through some light dynamic stretches.  For me, this is usually some hip stretches and leg swings.  Naturally, this reflects the type of martial art I train in (lots of kicks at various heights).  Adapt the dynamic stretching routine to fit your workout.

Stretching & Mobility

Every student in our class will inevitably pull a muscle in their leg.  It’s just the nature of the beast.  While typically not serious, it can be painful and leave you limping around for the next day or two…not ideal when training seriously.  The best way to prevent this is to stretch and work on mobility drills daily.  I try to incorporate some static stretching and foam rolling after my workouts.

Going through your full Range of motion (ROM)

This can apply to martial arts class or when at the gym.  Nothing drives me crazier (Ok, there ARE things that do drive me crazier, but I’m making a point dammit!) than seeing students doing pushups and only going halfway down, or halfway up for that matter.

Going through the full ROM not only stimulates the greatest amount of muscles, but it also provides a stretch as you exercise.  That’s why ATG Squats are so effective.  You are stretching the hips as you exercise AND you are increasing the strength of your muscles throughout the entire range of motion and not just part of it.

Start off easy

When starting a new routine, be sure to start off with lighter weights.  Even if it’s exercises you’re already familiar with you might not be aware how your body will react to the new order.

For example, let’s say you begin a new leg workout regimen and one new thing that you’re now doing is 15-20 minutes of cardio before lifting weights.  How does that affect your energy levels?  Will this fatigue your legs before the weights and increase the risk of injury?  I would advise when starting any new program is to back off the weights by ~10% for the first workout, see how it feels, and then you can always bump it back up.

I have made the mistake of starting off a new routine too gung-ho and suffering for it later by a strained back or a jacked shoulder.  Squash the ego and take it slow.

Listen to your body

A few months ago, I started seriously incorporating deadlifts into my workouts.  I went pretty light on the weights (following the last rule I covered) and began lifting.  During my 2nd set I felt a slight pain in my lower back.  I thought to myself, “Ah it isn’t too bad.  Plus the weight is light and my form is good.  I can finish this set.”  On the very next rep, my back tweaked and I was left hurting for weeks.  Nothing so serious that I had to see a doctor, but it definitely kept me from doing any more deadlifts for quite a while.  I should have listened to the cues my body was giving me, but I let my ego get in the way.  Don’t do that!

Rob, I hope that answers your question and gives you some ideas to use during your workouts.  Best of luck in your training!

Got questions?  Leave them in the comments section or send me an email and I will do my best to answer them! 


4 thoughts on “Injury Prevention

  1. Lots of good advice here. I would add that mental fatigue (due to stress, lack of sleep, food sensitivities, etc.) is also a risk factor. Your hand-eye/foot-eye coordination and overall judgement will definitely suffer. I know I’ve done some pretty silly things in training when I allowed myself to become over-tired.

  2. Hey Jacob, I feel honored you took my question that serious. My main issue in Martial Arts is that you don´t control the movements performed by your opponent, which can injure you even if you did everything well. You probably know this problem as well.

    Great advise! It will really help me for the future.
    Implying stretching after my workouts is something I should try. Currently I only have “rest” and “food” in my mind after a workout. Additionally I am not flexible at all, what significantly decreases my performance.

    Thanks for the post and best luck in your Martial Arts career!

    • Hey Rob, glad I could help.

      As far as receiving injuries from others (sparring partners or opponents), there’s not much you can do besides mitigation. When training with a partner, wear full sparring gear (mouthguard, gloves, cup, etc) and wear as much protective gear as is allowed when competing. Also train with people you know and trust who won’t take it too far in a sparring session.

      The 2 main things I’ve found to avoid any serious injuries during a competition is maximize your ROM (while retaining your strength throughout the entire ROM), and just toughening up from regular training. When I first started competing, I’d take quite a few knocks to the shins (kicks colliding in midair). At first the pain was terrible, but after years of competing it no longer phases me. The same can be done for the rest of your body to a degree….wouldn’t try toughening up your head by letting someone wail on it though.

      Try a myriad of core exercises to toughen up your body (I actually have a post with a few exercises I like; “No More Crunches”) and do neck bridges to help from being knocked out.

      Damn…I could have written a second post on this stuff alone! 🙂

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