5 tips to avoid injury during exercise

Avoid getting injured while getting in shape.

Before you set foot in the gym, you need to know the dangers that lurk there. Exercise provides numerous benefits to your health and lifestyle, but it can also cause major lifelong injuries if not taken seriously.

Injuries can arise through several different means. As Dr. Bill Moore Smith of UT Erlanger Institute for Sports and Health explains, “Sometimes it’s a matter of doing the right thing too much. Sometimes it’s a matter of doing an exercise wrong. Sometimes it’s a matter of choosing the wrong activity for your body and physical conditioning.”

Here are 5 tips to help you avoid the most common fitness injuries:

1. Know your limits.

Having an understanding of your body and its weak points will help you design a workout to protect yourself.

For example, if you have weak or bad wrists, you may want to avoid lifting heavy weights or dumbbells. Fortunately, there are almost always alternate exercises you can do when working out — without aggravating your weaknesses or injuries. Take the knee for example, rather than running or doing leg presses, try a stationary bike or an elliptical machine.

2. Learn proper technique.

When lifting weights, there is almost always a “wrong” and “right” way. Something as simple as bending your knees a little can make all the difference in the world.

The best way to learn proper technique is to ask a professional. Most gyms have trainers on staff with the knowledge you need to work out safely. You can also share your weak points with them so they can help you find alternative routines or varying techniques.

Once you’ve learned proper technique, keep it at the front of your mind during exercise. Getting distracted can lead to sloppy execution. Oftentimes, people who find themselves walking or running too far back on a treadmill have been distracted by their phones or music players. And all it takes is one careless moment to succumb to an injury.

3. Stretch and warm up.

Whatever the activity, you’re less likely to get injured if you warm up first. When properly performed, stretching will make sure your muscles are warm, loose, and neurologically alert — their most flexible and injury-resistant state.

In addition to keeping you safer, stretching throughout the workout can help build muscle by promoting muscular circulation and increasing flexibility. A post-workout stretch will also help you avoid soreness during the days that follow.

4. Mix it up.

While it is good to strain your body every once in a while, it can be harmful to do so continuously. Your body needs rest, which is why many trainers recommend taking a “rest day” — a day or two of little to no muscle exertion — during the week. If you want to exercise daily, just change up your routine by engaging different areas of the body. If you do a heavy upper body workout on Monday, focus on your legs on Tuesday. Do cardio on Wednesday. This way you are giving muscles some time to rebuild before tearing them apart again.

5. Be yourself!

Your gender and age should play a role in your workout routine. While you may think you can work at the pace you did 10 years ago, chances are you’re putting yourself at additional risk for injury. As we age, our bodies take longer to recover and therefore need more recovery time. This doesn’t mean you should give up fitness as you age; it’s just the opposite. However, you do need to tailor your routine to match your age and abilities.

Gender is also a factor in many injuries. Women may want to be extra cautious when participating in activities that could put a “twisting motion” strain on their ACL (basketball, skiing, tennis, racquetball, etc.), as women are at greater risk for ACL injuries. Men, on the other hand, are more likely to get injured during activities that require multiple or diagonal planes of motion (yoga, cycling, Pilates, etc.).

This doesn’t mean that you have to cut out certain exercises because of your gender. It just means you may want to do some additional stretching and warming up beforehand.

Dr. Bill Moore Smith, MD is board certified in both Sports Medicine and Family Medicine. If you’re starting a new exercise regime or have experienced a fitness injury, talk with your doctor or make an appointment with Dr. Bill Moore Smith