Ask Stew: What Have You Found to Be the Best Way to Prevent Injuries?

(U.S. Air Force/Staff Sgt. Anthony Hyatt)

If you have spent years or decades in sports and physical activities, and then many years with a career in the military (or other tactical profession), you may have some aches and pains reappearing and always nagging you.

Instead of having the nagging pains grow, try making some changes to your training. The changes below can be life-changing if you follow with some consistency. Check out today's email question from a veteran feeling the "rewards" of a life well-lived:

Hi Stew. Have you had any significant injuries? What have you found to be the best way to prevent or recover from injuries? I am now over 40 and feeling the aches and pains of prior athletics and military career. Thanks for any insight. Kevin.

Kevin -- absolutely. The first half of my life was riddled with the typical injuries that occur from multiple contact sports (football, wrestling, rugby). Most of these, however, were more traumatic injuries, as opposed to training injuries.

Bruises, bone breaks and countless joint sprains and muscle pulls all make training and competing more difficult throughout the athletic years. Eventually, you learn a few things about taking care of yourself, especially as you make the transition from an athletic life into a military life.

Playing with pain is a skill many athletes take into their military careers, and for the most part, it enables them to endure many boot camps, schools and even special ops selections. But it all comes with a price.

The aches, pains and surgeries of the past have a way of reintroducing themselves as you age into your late 30s and early 40s. It sounds like you are at that ripe age when you need to make some changes to your training. There are several things I did that enabled me to reduce injuries significantly, prevent them and recover quicker.

See the list below and start adding them to your life. The sooner, the better.

Training Choreography

Get on a training system that allows for you to maintain your strengths and improve upon your weaknesses throughout the year. Don't think of a workout as a workout of the day. Think of a workout as part of an annual training system.

For instance, my personal system is called Seasonal Tactical Fitness Periodization. I created this because I was in a similar situation. I was burned out, in pain and not seeing the results I used to see during my teens and 20s. The seasons dictate the elements of fitness we focus to improve upon and the ones they maintain. For example: (See Tactical Athlete Training)

Spring: March-June: Calisthenics and cardio workouts. Run and swim progression.

Summer: July-September: Calisthenics and cardio workouts (high volume). Run max and swim progression.

Fall: October-December: Calisthenics with weights and decrease in reps, along with running. More non-impact cardio workouts added. Ruck and swim with fins.

Winter: December-March: Warmup with calisthenics and heavier weights. Cooldown with running with more non-impact cardio workouts as well. Ruck and swim with fins.

Train Hard But Also Smarter

After 40, I came up with a new training mantra, "80% is the new 100%." This does not mean do not train hard, run fast or lift heavy; it just means have a few notches of effort on the reins pulling you back just a little bit.

Here is why: The only times in the last 20 years of training that I did injure myself (outside of contact injuries) were from running too fast (hamstring/hip flexor), lifting too heavy (shoulder/lower back), running too much (knee/overuse joint pain) and doing too many repetitions of calisthenics (tendinitis).

Not trying the last rep of a heavy set or putting 100% into a sprint has been the difference in preventing nagging injuries that cut into training time. Keep the ego away from your training sessions.

Mobility Day

The addition of a training day devoted to non-impact cardio (bike, elliptical, swimming), stretching, massage and foam rolling has been completely life-changing. At age 45, I considered not running anymore as my hips and knees were not feeling right during a summer peak running cycle.

I also added aqua-jogging, treading and dynamic stretches in chest-deep water, along other pool skills. These took Mobility Day to new levels of pain reduction, injury recovery and prevention. If you do nothing in this article but add a mobility day once a week, you will see a big difference in not only how you feel, but how you perform later in the week as well.

Take your pick of the three options or embrace them all and see the type of results you are asking about from your question. Mobility, flexibility and/or more non-impact cardio activity, mixed into a training system will be the best options for you to start addressing the unavoidable aches and pains of aging after a life well lived.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you're looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to

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