Competition: a good way to get hurt

Looking back on the physical injuries I have had in my life, I see a recurring pattern. Almost every time I was injured, it was because I was competing. I was trying to outdo some other person, showing off, or most often doing competitive sports. I do not believe that competition is all bad, and I think that by competing I was able to keep in great physical shape as a child, but I think the pattern is alarming.

The often unchallenged assumption is that people should compromise their body to gain an advantage in sports, weight lifting, and other physical activities. I want to challenge it! I think that you should perform below the threshold of hurting yourself. I remember playing soccer in high school, I would keep playing even if I slightly hurt my ankle. Now, I attribute this to the recklessness of youth and bad coaching. I feel like I would have been much better off if I trained hard enough to increase my skills and body strength to well above the level I expected to need to be at and then perform with a nice margin of error.

At the same time I was playing high school soccer, I was also on a park district team. On this team, I was in better shape than most of the other players. I was playing two different soccer games. One at the edge of my limits and one with a healthy margin of error. Also, since it seemed comparatively easy, I felt less need to be competitive.

This sounds like a great way to operate, but I have not figured out how to do it consistently. Whenever I am competing, I find myself pushing myself to the edge of my limits. I feel no problem following this advice in my own personal exercising though. As long as there is no person I am trying to catch or no record to beat, I am safely able to maintain my margin of error.

Competition is not the only source of injuries. Sometimes you can randomly be injured by bad luck, or another person might be reckless enough to injure you even when you are safely below your limits. For me though, I feel competition is the most common time I have been injured in the past, and I think it makes sense that you are more likely to be injured when you are trying to perform at your maximum ability.

Lately, I have followed some fairly strict protocol to avoid injury. I avoid team competitive sports, I cautiously and never automatically increase the difficulty of my efforts, I avoid comparing myself to others, and I listen to my body. If I ever feel any pain, I take it very seriously.

This plan can be a bit lonely because you do not have someone to encourage you or to antagonize you. Your motivation has to come from different places. If you are not very competitive, it is probably extreme overkill. But for me, I feel like it is an easy rule to follow that leads to a reduction in injuries.

It is worth it to challenge your assumptions about trying hard. Are you compromising your body for the sake of extra gains? Is it really worth it? What if it leads you to a big injury that means you cannot do the activity you love again? I try to organize my activities based on avoiding injury. Another strategy is to train harder that you need to. Another strategy might be to practice not caring about the results of competitions. Anyway, avoiding injury should be a chief concern and not one that is superseded by competition.

published 2015-04-24

Questions or Feedback? Email or tweet @ryantm.