The word prehab may sound like something reserved for athletes, but it’s actually something we all should be doing, regardless of fitness level or training goals. While the exact protocols may take different forms from one individual to the next, the ultimate goal of prehab remains the same—to improve the body’s overall function. Todd Durkin, M.A., C.S.C.S., owner of Fitness Quest 10 and author of The IMPACT Body Plan, defines prehab as any and all exercises, practices and routines—including optimal sleep, nutrition and supplementation, exercises and recovery strategies—that prevent one from getting injured and needing rehabilitation, while also allowing individuals to move more efficiently so that they feel their very best.
At the center of prehab is a focus on enhancing core function, something that helps to mitigate the muscle imbalances and postural deviations that increase one’s risk of injury when external loads—whether it be equipment used while working out in the gym or things we encounter in everyday life—are applied to movements. Muscle imbalances can alter normal functions in the body, changing both the way joints are loaded and the mechanics of our movements. This can trigger compensations throughout the entire body, which can cause dysfunction in other areas because the body is one kinetic chain. “Sixty-five percent of injuries are due to overuse and muscle imbalances, but by adding a few basic exercises into a daily fitness routine many injuries can be prevented,” says Shana Martin, Master Trainer for ACE® and TRX®. “While many believe prehab exercises are only for athletes, overuse injuries and muscle imbalances are more likely to come from an even more dangerous playing field—spending long hours sitting at a desk.”
Martin emphasizes that prehab should focus on stability and mobility training for the entire body, with additional focus on injury-prone areas such as the shoulders, core and hips. Durkin, who works with both average exercisers and elite athletes alike, believes that spending 10 to 20 minutes performing myofascial release (using a foam roller or massage stick) along with corrective exercises and an assortment of mobility-focused movements for the feet, ankles, hips, thoracic spine, chest and shoulders can be quite beneficial. Incorporating these exercises into a dynamic warm-up following foam rolling, says Durkin, can help properly prepare the body for whatever activity is about to occur.
Once joint and postural integrity is gained or restored, the focus can then shift to movement-based training, specifically centered around the five primary movement patterns—bend and lift movements (such as squats); single-leg movements (such as lunges); pushing movements (such as push-ups); pulling movements (such as rows); and rotational movements (such as woodchops). These movements not only apply to what we do in the gym, but they translate to the things we do in everyday life, from climbing up the stairs at work and carrying a heavy bag of groceries to the car, to lowering a child into a crib to take a nap. Developing efficient movement patterns will ultimately decrease the likelihood of pain and injury.
For those who are facing surgical intervention for an existing injury, prehab can help prepare the body to be in the best possible shape prior to the procedure to maximize the rehabilitative process and minimize any functional loss during the early part of the recovery process, shares Anthony Carey, M.A., C.S.C.S., ACE-AHFS, founder of Function First in San Diego and inventor of the Core-Tex™. “Often individuals will have conditions associated with orthopedic and/or cardiorespiratory issues present that are not the direct reasons for the surgical intervention. Addressing these conditions prior to a procedure minimizes the detrimental effects on the rehabilitation process, while also enabling the supporting structures adjacent to the involved area to be functionally maximized to aid in daily activities during the rehabilitation process,” says Carey, who authored the bestselling book, The Pain-Free Program: A Proven Method to Relieve Back, Neck, Shoulder and Joint Pain. For those with a pending procedure it may be most beneficial to work with a qualified fitness professional who can develop a specific strategic program tailored around the individual’s current fitness level and specific needs.
Regardless of your training goals, current fitness level, activities you engage in or pre-existing conditions you may have, prehab should be a part of your routine to help you maximize your workouts and remain injury-free, all of which will enable you to live your happiest, healthiest, fittest life.