Whether you’re a fitness beginner or a gym rat, injuries are a bummer. Often, though, they are preventable. Here are my tips for avoiding injuries during exercise:
Warm up. Jumping right into an activity is the fastest and most common way to injure yourself. Cold muscles are less elastic and more susceptible to pulling and tearing, which can end a workout. Take five to 15 minutes before exercising to do a dynamic warmup, meaning you keep the body moving by walking and performing active (not static) stretches. Static stretching is meant for post-workout, after muscles are warm.
Pace yourself. Train with the body you have, not the body you want. Aim for improvement, but don’t attempt something that is clearly beyond your level. Easing yourself into higher-intensity workouts will be far more beneficial than starting with something too challenging, injuring yourself and then having to take time off to recover.
Mix things up. Doing a variety of exercises can boost your training. Over time, our bodies adapt to repetitive movements, which can lead to injury when we attempt something our muscles aren’t prepared for. Taking a balanced approach to fitness leads to overall improved strength.
Use proper technique. Take the time to learn how to properly perform an exercise, especially in weightlifting. If you’re new to something, learn good form and seek a fitness professional for help. Improper form can cause serious injuries that can halt your progress, even causing long-term injuries.
Hydrate. Dehydration hinders your workout and risks creating a more serious issue. Your body loses lots of fluids and electrolytes through sweating, so be sure to replenish them. Sip from a water bottle before, during and after exercise.
Wear the right shoes. A leading cause of sports injuries is wearing ill-fitted attire for your sport. Research the right type of shoes for your activity. For example, don’t wear running shoes for weightlifting or basketball shoes for long-distance running or walking.
Rest. Rest days allow your body to recover and regenerate, allowing muscles to rebuild. A rest day for every three to five workout days is generally advised. Pushing through on days when you’re worn down may do more harm than good. You’re better off taking an extra rest day to prevent overtraining injuries. A rest day does not necessarily mean no activity. A walk, yoga routine or easy bike ride are good ways to keep the body moving and burning calories.
Listen to your body. It’s great to get out of your comfort zone, but if something hurts, stop. Pain might indicate you are doing the workout wrong or that you’re not ready for that type of activity yet. Learn to recognize the difference between workout “pain” from a challenge versus pain from a genuine injury.
Army veteran Jennifer Campbell is a certified personal trainer with a master’s degree in nutrition education. She is commander of the California American Legion’s 24th District.