Done improperly, exercise can lead to injury. Even minor injuries can keep us out of the gym for days or weeks, which can break our momentum and dampen motivation. Major injuries can keep us on the shelf for months, and worse, can lead to expensive surgeries and rehabilitation. There’s a reason that there is a great demand for physical therapy jobs: too many people don’t take care when they exercise.
Want to start or continue an exercise program and avoid the trainer’s or therapist’s table? Follow these simple steps and you’ll limit the chances of sustaining an injury.
1. Warm up
Any exercise veteran, amateur or professional, will never encourage you to perform intense workouts without first warming up. Yet it’s a phase of a workout that so many people skip. Jumping into intense exercise with cold muscles can lead to many complications, including muscle strains and tears. All this can be avoided by spending just five minutes warming up.
Warm ups needn’t be complicated. The idea is to get all body parts moving and limber while raising the heart rate and breaking a light sweat. The following activities can help warm you up before you get to the big workout:
- Jumping rope
- Bodyweight exercises such as lunges and push-ups
- Foam roller
- Elliptical machine with arms
- Jumping jacks
Starting small and then working into a bigger workout routine can prevent injuries that stall your workouts.
2. Start light
When you pick up a new project, you start at the beginning and work towards your goals. The same principles apply to working out. Yet so many people want to start somewhere in the middle. They want to run fast on the treadmill, or they want to lift heavy weights. This can result in burnout at best, and injury at worst.
All exercise programs should start at the beginning. For a running program, this means walking at a fast pace before finally breaking into a jog. For lifting weights it means starting with a weight you can perform with ease. You might not feel as though you went through an intense workout afterwards, but that’s OK. The point is to acclimate your body so that when you do perform intense workouts you are well prepared.
Jumping into a heavy exercise program can shock the body. That’s the last thing you want. By starting light, either by jogging slowly or lifting light weights, you can brace your body for when you ramp up the intensity. This way when you do lift heavy weights your body knows what to expect.
3. Get rest
Another pitfall for beginner exercisers is the thought that exercise occurs every day. For veterans this might be true, but for beginners rest is necessary. The body needs to recover from one workout before it can handle another. This means taking at least one day off between workouts at the beginning. It might be difficult psychologically; you have a goal and want to reach it quickly. But doing too much at the start will only slow you down and lead to injury.
Getting rest also means getting enough sleep. While our bodies are recovering from workouts even while we’re awake, it’s during sleep that our bodies recover most rapidly. Getting less than six hours of sleep means we’re not giving our bodies ample time to recover. It’s best to get a full eight hours of sleep at the beginning of any new exercise program. That sleep window gives the body a chance to heal and prepare for the next workout.
As the body acclimates itself to exercise, you can start working out on back-to-back days, and perhaps sleep slightly less at night. But be careful: even seasoned veterans need plenty of rest to recover from workouts. If in doubt, play it safe. Rest up and get ready for a workout tomorrow.
4. Get help
Have you ever considered hiring a personal trainer? It might seem like an expensive outlay, but for beginning exercisers it’s a worthy investment. That is, hiring a personal trainer is an investment in your health and your safety. You might not always need one, but at the beginning a trainer can benefit you in many ways.
Trainers can ensure that you warm up before a workout, that you start lightand don’t overexert yourself, and that you get enough rest between workouts. They can also design workout plans that fit your goals, and that you can perform without overly straining yourself. They can help motivate you when you feel sluggish. Yet none of these is the most important role a trainer serves.
Trainers ensure that you are observing proper form. So many exercise injuries occur because the exerciser uses improper form. A rounded back, stiff knees, or any other number of imperfections can lead to severe injury. A trainer works directly with you, ensuring that you understand how to properly perform each exercise. That benefits you immediately, and also in the long term. After working with the trainer you will know how to properly perform exercises in the future, so you can avoid injury even when working without a trainer.
Exercise can do our bodies immense good, but injuries can take all that away. With a little care, and perhaps a few dollars, we can take proven steps to avoiding the injuries that keep us out of the gym.