Can “Prehab” Make You A Safer Athlete?

Although fitness trends come and go, there’s one new school of thought that’s taking the workout world by storm: prehabilitation.

Prehab is — you probably guessed it — a recent invention in the field of sports medicine that is devised to prevent rather than treat common sports-related injuries. The thinking is that, since most gym injuries come down to the same common problems, they can be avoided by doing the rehab exercises you would be doing for those problems before you injure yourself rather than after.

By anticipating areas of stress on the body and the potential risks associated with certain exercises, you can effectively strength-train your body in a specific way to avoid getting those injuries in the first place. But how exactly does prehab work, and what exactly is it designed to treat? Let’s break down the basics of prehab below.

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Facing the “repetitive use” problem of working out

Every person’s body is specifically to used to the way that they work out. Bodybuilders, runners, cross-country skiers, ballerinas, etc. — all these people are going to have dramatically different bodies and ways of staying in shape because all of these sports have different demands.

Prehabilitation recognizes that your body is used to whatever you regularly put it through, and it seeks to cover those gaps by training you outside of your comfort zone. For example, if you’re a bodybuilder who lifts weights regularly, squats, does barbell presses, all the standards, your muscles are used to that pattern. They become tight when they’re asked to move in a different way.

So, a prehab routine for a bodybuilder would involve other parts of the body that aren’t used as much, so they aren’t weaker in comparison, and therefore less prone to injury. The most common injury among bodybuilders by far is back strains or tears, so a prehab routine would likely involve stretching and exercising your back before you work out every single time, so that it gets just as strong as your arms, legs, and chest.

Prehab can decrease recovery time if you’re already injured

Prehab is also useful for those who have repeatedly sustained the same injury, which is fairly common. If you’re about to have surgery to replace a joint, fix a herniated disc, or any other common problem, starting prehab exercises before surgery even occurs can speed recovery time and also prevent further injury to the affected area. Doing prehab for about a month or two before a major surgery can dramatically reduce recovery time. Obviously, which exercises you should be doing are specific to which injury you’ve sustained, so do your research about managing this safely.

How is prehab different from warming up before a workout?

Michael Lau, Craig Lindell, and Arash Maghsoodi, all licensed physical therapists, spoke to GQ about the difference between prehab and a basic warm-up: “Yes, the concept includes the stretching you do at the gym. But also, if you sit in a desk chair all day, do you pay attention to how you sit, especially as morning turns to evening? …Treat your body as an interconnected system and use the feedback it sends to figure out how to react.” Prehab is about having the awareness inside and outside of the gym that everything you do with your body is training it for what happens next.

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