How to Avoid Injury When You're Getting Back into Being Active
When you’re starting a new exercise routine or just getting back into being active, it’s common to focus on results. You want to accomplish your goals as quickly as possible — who doesn’t? But it’s important to remember that fitness is a long game. And in order to play it, you need to avoid exercise injury.
What Are Common Causes for Exercise Injuries?
Enthusiasm can be a double-edged sword. It may help with motivation and consistency, but it could also lead to doing too much too soon. Denise DeRosa, PT, DPT, owner of Milestones in Motion Physical Therapy Wellness, has seen patients “perform too much cardio or strength training before their system is ready to accept this load.”
To avoid exercise injury, you need to tailor your aerobic conditioning and resistance training to your current level of fitness, she explains. “By doing too much resistance, a patient may compensate with other muscles, overtrain, or overwork the muscles,” she says. All of this can eventually lead to injury.
Improper form is also a common culprit, says Mike Masi PT, DPT. “With every exercise, even bodyweight movements, athletes should consider learning and using proper form,” he says. “While it is true that the human body is resilient, you may still sustain an injury when loading patterns that are not performed correctly.”
What you wear should also be a consideration, says Karena Wu, PT, DPT, owner of ActiveCare Physical Therapy. “Wear running shoes with good cushion for shock absorption versus bringing out old, stiff, less cushioned shoes, which can also be dangerous because you can slip,” she says.
Warm-Up and Cooldown Tips to Avoid Exercise Injury
If you want to avoid exercise injury, a proper warm-up is essential. “Warming up helps to awaken neuromuscular pathways and activate the ‘mind-muscle connection’,” explains Dr. Mark Sando, MD, a sports medicine-trained orthopedic surgeon with Orthopaedic Medical Group of Tampa Bay. “This helps to ready the body for the stress to come and gets the muscles firing correctly to help maintain form and decrease injury.”
An adequate cooldown is also important. “Proper cooldown allows the heart rate to come down in a controlled fashion and allows for proper flushing of lactic acid out of the muscles, which can help prevent delayed onset muscle soreness,” says Sando. “Stretching is critical after a proper cooldown to allow for improved recovery as well.”
Here are some tips for getting the most out of your warm-up and cooldown.
- Use dynamic stretching to warm up. Dynamic movements that emulate your workout (e.g., jogging to warm up for a long run) gradually raise your body temperature and increase blood flow. “In the warm-up, you should get your heart rate within 20 beats per minute of your target heart rate,” says DeRosa.
- Save static stretching for your cooldown. “You ideally want to stretch the muscles that you just worked on,” says Alex Tauberg, DC, owner of Tauberg Chiropractic & Rehabilitation. “This helps them to relax back into an elongated state. In general, when stretching you should aim to hold a stretch for 30 seconds to one minute.”
- Walk before you sit. “After an intense workout, it is a good idea to walk around for a few minutes with your hands on your head or your hips to allow your body to reset as you start to regulate your blood flow and get your heart rate down,” says Masi. Leaning over or slouching may restrict your ribs and diaphragm, which ultimately restricts oxygen consumption.
5 Stretches You Can Do to Avoid Exercise Injury
To avoid exercise injury, it’s best to tailor your stretching to your workout. However, these stretches are relevant to most forms of exercise.
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart, knees slightly bent, and hands on hips.
- Move your hips in a clockwise circle (forward, right, back, left), making larger circles as your muscles warm up.
- Continue for 30 seconds, and then repeat in the opposite direction.
- Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart and your arms at your sides.
- Keeping your chest lifted, shoulders back, core braced, and back flat, take a large step forward with your right foot, bending your knees and lowering your body until your right thigh is parallel to the floor and both knees are bent 90 degrees.
- Bring your left foot forward to return to a standing position.
- Lunge forward again, this time with your left foot. Continue alternating legs, performing equal reps on both.
Standing quad stretch
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart, using a chair or wall for balance if necessary.
- Keeping your chest lifted and core braced, bend your right knee and lift your foot behind you, grabbing the top of it with your hand.
- Actively press against your hand to feel the stretch in your thigh and hip flexor.
- Release your leg slowly, and repeat on your other side.
Standing forward stretch
- Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart, arms at your sides.
- Keeping your knees slightly bent and your core braced, hinge forward at your hips and reach for your toes (don’t worry if you can’t touch them — just lower your torso as far as you can).
- Hold for 30 seconds, release and then perform one more.
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart, your shoulders relaxed, and your arms at your sides.
- Slowly roll your shoulders in a circle (forward, up, back, and down).
- After 30 seconds, reverse direction.
Choosing the Right Exercise For Your Skill Level
To avoid exercise injury, go slowly and don’t overcomplicate things. “Start with the basics, like jogging, rowing, bodyweight squats, and push-ups,” says Masi. “If you have good form on those and can perform those exercises well, you can increase volume, intensity, and weight — but not all of those things at once!”
It may also be helpful to seek out guidance through a certified personal trainer or an expert-designed fitness plan. Openfit offers a variety of programs for all levels of fitness. Created by a team of fitness professionals, each workout prioritizes both results and safety. These are some great Openfit options for beginners:
Openfit’s certified trainers lead these live walking classes, each one set to energizing, DJ-curated playlists.
This three-week program starts with the basics. You’ll get a great workout while gaining the knowledge and confidence for more advanced Pilates classes.
This four-week program offers the structure and motivation you need to get started or get back on track.
The Biggest Loser trainer Jen Widerstrom created a program just for beginners and those with a lot of weight to lose. Her program focuses on low-impact moves, so it’s doable for anyone. And you’ll feel successful from day one, ensuring you stick with it.
Why Using the Right Form Is Important
Using improper form while exercising can lead to muscle compensations, which can result in injury. For example, when you round your lower back during a deadlift, you use your back muscles, not your legs, to lift the weight off the ground.
Over time, this can cause back pain and more serious injuries. Learning proper form for all types of exercises, from running to weightlifting, is key to avoiding exercise injury.