7 Most Common Training Injuries, What Causes Them and How to Avoid Them

One of the great inequities of the active lifestyle -- particularly with regard to weight training -- is that it takes so long to gain even small amounts of muscle, and so little time to lose it again. This is especially true when the down-time is the result of injury.

How to Avoid Common Training and Workout Related Injuries SidebarHow quickly can you lose muscle and strength? In a recent study, researchers found that just one week of bed rest for otherwise healthy, well-trained young males resulted in an average loss of 3.1 lbs of muscle mass (1 Dirks). Another study showed that active young men lost 28% of strength and 17 ounces of leg muscle mass after two weeks of immobilization with a cast (2 Vigils).

Of course, you don't have to be completely immobilized to experience swift reductions in muscle mass and strength. Simple common training injuries can force you to modify your regimen, removing certain exercises and making your workouts less productive. (These modifications can also sometimes lead to further injuries, as you try to compensate for the initial injury.)

The frustrating thing is, most common workout injuries are easily avoidable if you're properly prepared, maintain proper form, know the warning signs of a worsening condition, and adhere to sensible training volume. Here are the causes of common but painful weight-training-related injuries and simple techniques for avoiding them.

1. Rotator Cuff / Shoulder Inpingement Syndrome

This type of injury, most often associated with movements in which leverage is lost and weight isn't properly supported, involves a rupture of the superior labrum anterior and posterior in the shoulder girdle. In the gym, it is most commonly linked to exercises like overhead barbell presses, lateral raises and reverse flyes. Although the most severe form of this injury is a tear, a less severe condition called Shoulder Impingement Syndrome (in which an inflammation occurs around the tendons at the rotator cuff) can also be quite painful.

Warning Signs
Any sort of subtle popping or clicking you can feel in connective tissue during movements, especially lateral or overhead movements. Recurring pain, especially when lifting items over your head. Advanced signs might include grating or cracking sounds or feelings when moving your arm, trouble sleeping on the affected side and finally noticeable muscle weakness.

By and large, the majority of these injuries are caused by bad form and using too much weight. If you find that you're resorting to momentum (swinging your back or shoulders) to complete reps in overhead movements such as lateral raises or flyes, you're putting yourself at risk. Use a weight you can control over the complete range of motion with proper technique. Resist the impulse to over-extend the arc of your movements to the point where the weight is not correctly supported.

2. Plantar Fasciitis

Plantar Fasciitis is most often associated with runners, but it can be caused by any sort of high-impact stress to the plantar fascia, a strong fibrous ligament that runs from your heel to the ball of your foot and your toes. This includes weightlifting that puts heavy stress on your feet, such as squats, deadlifts and standing barbell curls and overhead presses. It can also be caused by simply standing on your feet for excessively long periods of time during a typical day. Medical professionals estimate that one in every ten people will develop plantar fasciitis at some point in their life.

Warning Signs
Plantar fasciitis is characterized by a sharp, tight painful sensation at the base of the heel like stepping on a nail. The pain can vary from moderate to excruciating. Early signs of plantar fasciitis might include persistent pain in the arch of your foot, stiffness, or a tight Achilles tendon. Eventually you'll experience swelling around your heel and then chronic heel pain.

Over-training and overuse can lead to plantar fasciitis. Also the wrong choice of footwear. We spend a lot of time in gyms and we've seen some of the most inappropriate footwear imaginable. Flat-soled boat shoes. Crocs. Sandals. People running barefoot on treadmills. It's excruciating just to watch. Any sort of weightlifting done while standing on your feet requires a steady, sturdy base with proper heel and arch support. Get yourself a proper pair of cross trainers.

Footwear is even more important to runners. We strongly suggest that you go in person to a store that specializes in athletic footwear. These establishments have trained professionals, often with access to diagnostic equipment that can assess your stride and your weight distribution, and will match you with the ideal shoe.

Also, it is important to know that running is not for anyone. If running long distances on hard surfaces is causing you heel pain, try rolling your foot on a golf ball, icing the injured area, and stretching and strengthening your calf muscles. If that doesn't work, then there are plenty of aerobic exercise alternatives that involve less impacts such as swimming or elliptical training.

3. Pinched Nerve

A pinched nerve is caused when too much pressure is applied to a nerve by surrounding structures, such as bones, cartilage, muscles or tendons. It's a common condition in the neck and back, and can cause pain, numbness or a tingly sensation to radiate outward along the area served by the nerve.

Warning Signs
If you have a frequent feeling that a limb, hand or foot has "fallen asleep," or if you're experiencing paresthesia (that tingling or "pins and needles" sensation), you could be in the early stages of suffering a pinched nerve. Eventually those symptoms will give way to a sharp or burning pain and muscle weakness in the affected area. These are all signs that you are experiencing swelling of connective tissue or muscle, or an out-of-position bone such as a spinal disc. Indeed, a pinched nerve can be a precursor to a much more serious condition, like a herniated disc.

A pinched nerve serves as the perfect opportunity to present an argument against the popular notion of "working through the pain." Swelling or a shifted spinal disc is not going to get better if you ignore it. Rest is the prescription. If the swelling doesn't go down (i.e. the pinched nerve pain persists after several days) a visit to your doctor for analysis and probably an x-ray is well indicated.

To prevent the onset of this condition, pay proper attention to form when you're working out. If you're placing the brunt of the resistance on your bones or spine (as opposed to your muscles), you're doing it wrong. Try to avoid curling or swaying your back during movements by tightening your abdomen and not lifting weights that are too heavy for you. Vary your workouts and remember that a few days' rest or a change of pace are both ideal components of a productive training program.

4. Patellar Tendonitis

Your patella is your kneecap and patellar tendinitis is an injury that affects the tendon that anchors your kneecap to your shinbone. This condition is most often associated with running and jumping, but can arise from weight training as well. This is especially true of exercises that put excessive strain on the knees, such as hack squats, deadlifts, lunges, and barbell squats. These activities can cause tiny tears in the tendon that accumulate faster than your body can repair them.

Warning Signs
Pain in the knee, plain and simple. At first, you'll experience discomfort when beginning your workout and after an especially intense training period. Eventually the pain worsens until common daily tasks like climbing stairs or even getting out of a chair become difficult.

There are no exercises for which proper form is more essential than the deadlift and squat. Your chances of injury are much higher here than anywhere else on the gym floor. In terms of your knees, keep them in correct alignment with your hips and ankles. Any lateral movement of the knees during a squat is to be avoided. Also, don't overdo depth in your squats. Friends like to give each other grief about shallow squats, but for the most part, your hips should drop just slightly below your knees and no further. Also, as always, use a weight you can control in both the positive and negative halves of the lift.

Another factor that can lead to patellar tendonitis is muscular imbalance. If some muscles in your legs are much stronger than others, the stronger muscles may pull harder on your patellar tendon. A proper "leg day" should include targeted movements to strengthen your quads, hamstrings, calves and abductors.

5. Back Strains

Unlike many of the injuries on this list, a painful back strain is not usually the result of repetitive, long-term stresses. It is often the result of a single unmindful moment. It can arise from a single poor rep at the end of a series of standing barbell curls in which you let your back sway out of position. It can be caused by a bent-over row in which your back is not angled or supported correctly. Or you can unthinkingly reach past someone to pick up or replace a dumbbell or kettlebell in the rack and feel that sudden sharp twinge in your back. The result is the same -- a painful strain that will literally effect just about any exercise or activity you can think of.

Warning Signs
Pretty much none. You were okay a second ago, and now your high-stepping off the gym floor, kneading your throbbing lower back and looking at some significant down time.

As we've said, be mindful and in the moment. Pay attention to what you're doing. As people have been telling you all your life, when lifting, bend your knees to lift and keep your spine straight. Also, consider a secure, sturdy weightlifting belt. We see less and less of these in gyms these days and we have no idea why.

Finally, stay away from machines that theoretically target the back and obliques but provide little or no benefit, like back extension or seated ab rotation machines. Subjecting the spine to vigorous twisting and lunging while keeping the hips in a static sitting position is a recipe for disaster.

6. IT Band Syndrome

The IT band (or iliotibial band) is a long band of connective tissue that runs from hip to knee on the outside of your leg. When it's tight or inflamed, it can cause a chronic ache along the outside of your knee. IT Band Syndrome is commonly associated with runners, but it can affect weight trainers as well, as the actual inflammation results from the IT band rubbing over the thighbone, which occurs when you bend and straighten your knee.

Warning Signs
Before any pain is even present, you may notice a clicking sensation where the IT band rubs against the knee, indicating tightness. Eventually, you'll sense a warmth or redness around the knee which will worsen into chronic pain when running or exercising.

Though it might seem that your knee is the cause of ITBS, this condition actually originates from weak gluteal muscles, which destabilize the long tendon in your thigh. Glutes are very often the weakest link in a fitness enthusiast's physique, so there's plenty you can do to strengthen this area and prevent ITBS.

Weighted squats, lunges, and barbell hip thrusts all target the glutes to some extent. Simple side leg raises and side shuffles (steps to the right and left) with or without resistance bands also work, or you can employ a stability or exercise ball to do side hip bridges and hip thrusts.

Also, again, proper preparation is key. Warm up and stretch prior to exercise and get yourself a high-quality pair of shoes specific to the activity at hand.

7. Elbow Tendonitis

Elbow tendonitis (or "tennis elbow") is a pernicious chronic condition for weight trainers because it involves gripping. Gym warriors do a lot of gripping. Characterized by inflammation in the elbow tendons that connect to your forearm joint, elbow tendonitis arises from the repeated contraction of the forearm muscles used to straighten and raise your hand and wrist. Gradually, as in other forms of tendonitis, little tears begin to appear in the tendon and its strength and flexibility are impaired.

Warning Signs
The warning signs of elbow tendonitis are pretty straightforward. Pain when gripping or lifting an object or when rotating the wrist. Weakness or tingling in your arm or hand. Elbow stiffness and reduced range of motion. Eventually you'll experience pain or a dull, aching sensation that radiates from the elbow down into the forearm.

Many people with this condition resort to applying ice or a cold pack to the affected area, which is an effective short-term treatment for swelling. Tennis players are often advised to switch to a racquet with a larger diameter grip. Weightlifters can emulate this by sliding circular foam pads around barbell and dumbbell grips, or wearing lifting gloves. Lifting gloves that provide sturdy wrist support are an even better idea.

To prevent the onset of elbow tendinitis, make an effort to build overall wrist strength by doing finger stretches and wrist flexor stretches or by doing exercises that don't involve gripping at all, like push-ups or resistance band movements.


The old axiom is true: An ounce of prevention equals a pound of cure. Proper equipment, pre-exercise stretching, correct form, and the self-awareness necessary to avoid exacerbating an already-present injury will keep you on the path to overall wellness and pave the way to peak workout productivity.

Scientific References

1 Dirks ML, Wall BT, van de Valk B, Holloway TM, Holloway GP, Chabowski A, Goossens GH, van Loon LJ. One Week of Bed Rest Leads to Substantial Muscle Atrophy and Induces Whole-Body Insulin Resistance in the Absence of Skeletal Muscle Lipid Accumulation. Diabetes. 2016 Oct;65(10):2862-75. doi: 10.2337/db15-1661. Epub 2016 Jun 29.

2 Vigels A, Gram M, Wiuff C, Andersen JL, Helge JW, Dela F. Six weeks' aerobic retraining after two weeks' immobilization restores leg lean mass and aerobic capacity but does not fully rehabilitate leg strength in young and older men. J Rehabil Med. 2015 Jun;47(6):552-60.

The articles featured herein are for informational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice. Specific medical advice should only be obtained from a licensed health care professional. No liability is assumed by ProSource for any information herein.