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How to Avoid Injury When Starting An Exercise Program

lifting weights with fitness instructor

You have decided to embark on an exercise program to whip your body into shape or take your fitness to the next level. Anxious to start seeing great results, you jump into your new routine without taking the proper steps. The next thing you know, you have suffered a workout injury and your plans to get healthy are suddenly on hold. We want to make sure that does not happen to you! Here are some tips and suggestions on how to keep the body safe and free of injury while you get stronger.

  1. Get a routine physical – See your doctor before beginning a new exercise program to make sure you know your body and its limitations. If you have undiagnosed heart disease or other conditions, you should adjust your workout regimen accordingly.
  2. Work with a certified personal trainer – If you are not sure how to start an exercise program or progress to the next level of anaerobic/aerobic exertion safely, a personal trainer is the perfect option. They can customize an exercise program for your body and individual goals that will allow you to progress gradually and safely
  3. Warm-up correctly – Make sure you are warming up your body to increase your body's core temperature, blood flow to the working muscles, and also to mentally prepare yourself for the workout ahead. A good warm-up should be at least 5-10 minutes of aerobic/endurance exercise done at a lower intensity than the workout (or event or sport) that emphasizes the muscles you will use. A practical recommendation is to do a whole-body exercise (rowing machine, elliptical machine, etc.) for 5-10 min before starting your workout.

    Stretching is not a good warm-up. Most people don't do this, but flexibility exercises should be done after a good warm-up or at the end of an exercise session. Stretching is still helpful, but properly preparing your muscles for a workout should be the first thing you do. Slowly build the intensity of your warm-up to match that of the actual workout.
  4. Cross Train – Your body will thank you when you change up your routine by engaging in different activities. This will not only help you avoid hitting a plateau with your workouts, it will give your muscles a much needed break from the same routine day in and day out. Plus, not only will your body benefit from diversifying your exercise routine, but so will your metabolism. Studies show that switching up your daily exercises can increase your fat-burning.
  5. Gradually increase time and intensity – When beginning an exercise program, many people have lots of enthusiasm initially and go too hard, too soon. Just because you could do a specific exercise 10 or 20 years ago, doesn't mean you can exercise with the same speed and energy today. Be realistic about your training and focus on what your body will allow, not what you use to do. "Too much, too soon" is the number one reason why injuries occur.
  6. Listen to your body – If you experience any sharp pain, weakness or light headedness during exercise, take note! This is your body’s warning that something is wrong and you should stop exercising. Pushing through pain is a sure way to develop a severe or chronic injury. If you don’t feel well, take some time off until you feel better.
  7. Wear proper workout attire – If you have to think about how long ago you purchased a new pair of running shoes, then it is definitely time to head to the store. Going to a specialty store for expert advice on what shoes you should be wearing is the first step because they can gauge what shoe fits best with your arch, gait and body weight. Many injuries come from wearing worn out shoes without any support.
  8. Eat a balanced diet and hydrate – What you eat and drink is just as important as your workout. Not only will carbohydrates give you energy for your workout, they will replenish those glycogen stores for your recovery and for the next workout. Protein after your workout is just as important as this will help repair those muscles you just broke down. Work with a sports nutritionist to understand when, how much, and what foods you should be eating to keep you healthy and energized for your workouts.
  9. Add strength training and core work to your routine – Having a strong fit body is a great way to keep the injuries away. If your muscles are balanced with a strong core then your body will not wear down or have to compensate for being weak or tight.
  10. Allow your body time to rest and recover – Your body will give you signals, so you know when to back off. If that knee is feeling a little achy, your soreness lasts for more than the recommended 24 to 48 hours, or you are just plain tired, then it is time to look over your exercise routine. Rest and recovery might be what your body is looking for. Make sure you take those rest days as your body is making actual gains during this time.

By including these activities when you are starting your new exercise program, you can avoid many workout injuries. Common afflictions you may suffer include patellar tendinitis (also known as jumper’s knee), planter fasciitis or heel pain, Achilles tendinitis which causes pain in the back of the leg, and many others. If pain persists after your workouts, consult a physician before it gets worse. Good luck with your exercise goals!

Kevin Shaw, MD
Reconstructive Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine

References:
Active: 8 Tips to Avoid Injuries While Exercising
Kristin Gustafson, Rasmussen College

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