A chronically sore lower back. A tweaked ankle. A frozen shoulder. If you carry battle scars associated with your active lifestyle, you’re likely aware of the cruel irony of working out: Exercise can be hazardous to your health.
But it doesn’t have to be that way, says Kate Galliett, NASM-PES, creator of The Unbreakable Body, an injury-prevention program designed to shore up your body’s natural weak points.
Most exercise-related injuries are preventable, she says. By training your body to be durable and resilient, you protect it not only from the rigors of long runs and heavy deadlifts, but also from everyday mishaps.
“You crawl under a desk to fetch a dropped pen at the office, or go up for a lob on the tennis court. That’s when you’re vulnerable to a tweak — or worse. Sometimes you move weird. You need to be ready for it,” Galliett says.
Injury-prevention exercises known as prehabilitation (versus the post-traumatic movement protocol known as rehabilitation) expose your body and brain to novel positions.
By breaking out of habitual movements, your body learns what to do when life or sport throws something new your way. In fact, a 2005 study found that prehab drills could reduce ACL injuries among female soccer players by as much as 88 percent.
Prehab also irons out muscular imbalances, resulting in better posture, improved performance, and more efficient, pain-free movement throughout your day, Galliett says.
“It’s great to feel the burn and work up a sweat,” she says. “But prehabilitation training has a longer-term focus: It may pay off 10 or 20 years down the road, when everyone else is getting stiff and injured, and you’re still going strong.”
Six Pillars of Strength
Stabilizing and strengthening the body starts from the ground up. Workout designer Kate Galliett has identified six key areas of focus that, in most people, lead to healthier movement and better durability.
If one of these areas is weak, it can affect the others, Galliett says. But if all six areas are working well, chances are the rest of your body will, too.
“Each area communicates its level of mobility, control, and strength to the others,” she says. “Unstable feet lead to unstable shoulders. Poor glute strength weakens the core. It’s all related.”
The workout below develops these Six Pillars of Strength.
You can use any or all of these six moves in several ways:
- Before or after a regular workout
- Between sets of exercises during a strength-training workout. (See the “Alternate with” recommendation along with each exercise.)
- At any time throughout your day. (Choose one or two moves that you find challenging and do them for 30 seconds up to 10 times a day — during breaks from work, while waiting in a line, or while watching TV.)
The Prehab Workout
Leg Drop Hands Into Wall
Pillars Worked: Shoulder-blade strength and Torso strength
Reps: 8 to 15
Alternate with: Pull-ups
- Lie with the top of your head about 6 inches from a wall, body perpendicular to the baseboard.
- Press your hands flat against the wall, fingers pointed toward the floor and upper arms parallel.
- Press your lower back into the floor.
- Maintaining this position in your upper body, lift your knees so they form a 90-degree angle with your hips.
- With your lower back pressed firmly into the floor, slowly lower your heels to the floor and back to the starting point.
- To make the movement easier, bend your knees less than 90 degrees so you can touch your heels to the floor closer to your body.
Banded Glute Bridge
Pillars Worked: Glute strength and Hip strength
Reps: 8 to 15
Alternate with: Barbell back squats
- Place a mini-band around your thighs, just above your knees.
- Lie on your back, bend your knees, and place your feet flat on the floor, close to your glutes.
- Brace your abs, press your lower back into the floor, and widen your feet until you feel
tension on the band.
- Maintaining tension on the band, squeeze your glutes, push your heels into the floor, and lift your hips off the floor until they are in line with your knees and shoulders. If you feel strain in your lower back (as opposed to your glutes and hamstrings), don’t raise your hips up as high.
- Lower your hips back to the floor, and repeat.
Pillars Worked: Shoulder-blade strength, Torso strength, Glute strength, Hip strength
Reps: 8 to 15
Alternate with: Overhead press
- Sit with your legs bent and feet flat on the floor, hip width apart. Place your hands flat on the floor behind you, fingers pointing back.
- Squeeze your glutes and flatten your lower back.
- Push into the floor with your feet and hands, lifting your hips until your body forms a straight line from your shoulders to your knees (or as high as you can go in this position).
- Press your chest toward the ceiling.
- Pause, squeezing your glutes, hamstrings, and upper body.
- Reverse the movement, pause, and repeat.
Pillars Worked: Torso strength, Hip strength, and Foot strength
Reps: 8 to 15 per side
Alternate with: Deadlifts or pushups
- Stand on a box or a gym step about 6 inches off the ground or higher.
- Walk to the edge so that your left leg is on the box and the right one is hanging off.
- Place your hands on the tops of your hip bones and press your left foot into the box, until the angle of your hips is level with the floor.
- Standing tall, allow your right hip to sink toward the floor as far as is comfortably possible.
- Reverse the movement, pressing through your left leg to lift the right hip as high as comfortably possible.
Pillars Worked: Shoulder-blade strength, Postural strength, and Torso strength
Reps: 5 to 10
Alternate with: Any core exercise (e.g., plank)
- Stand with your feet just wider than shoulder width, toes turned slightly out.
- Raise arms overhead.
- Fold forward, reaching your fingers to the floor.
- Keeping your hands on the floor and your lower back in its natural arch, drop your hips as close to the floor as you can.
- Lift your chest and head to look at the horizon.
- Raise your arms overhead (or cross your arms over your chest).
- Keeping your torso erect, arms raised, and gaze forward, press through your heels and stand up.
Elbow Plank With Reach-Through
Pillars Worked: Shoulder-blade strength, Postural strength, Torso strength, Glute strength and Hip strength
Reps: 8 to 15
Alternate with: Lateral lunge
- Assume a plank position with forearms on the floor, elbows under your shoulders, and your lats, abs, and glutes engaged. Your body will form a straight line from head to heels.
- Without dipping, swaying, or rotating, lift your left arm off the floor and reach underneath your body, behind your right elbow, as far as possible.
- Return to the plank position and repeat the movement with the opposite side.
- Alternate sides to repeat
Pillars Worked: Postural strength, Shoulder-blade stability
- Lie on your stomach, with your chin resting on the floor and your legs together.
- Extend your arms overhead, thumbs toward the ceiling, to form a “Y” with your torso (about 30 degrees away from your ears).
- Lock your elbows and make fists with your hands.
- Keeping your arms locked, raise your arms toward the ceiling as high as possible.
- Slowly lower your arms to the floor and repeat.
Reps: 15 to 25.
Alternate with: Bent-over rows, TRX rows, or cable rows.
Pillars Worked: Foot strength, Torso strength
- Stand with your feet parallel and shoulder width apart (barefoot if possible).
- Maintaining balance and control throughout the movement, come up onto the balls of your feet, focusing as much of your weight as possible near the base of your big toe.
- Hold for a one-count, and return slowly to the starting position.
- Repeat the movement for the appropriate number of reps, then repeat the exercise with your toes pointed 10 to 20 degrees outward.
Reps: Up to 40 in each position.
Alternate with: Any upper-body exercise