Maybe you’ve found a workout you love and do every chance you get. But are you building muscle and heart health, or are you putting yourself at risk for injury? Even seasoned exercisers can fall into habits that do more harm than good. By reexamining your regimen and making a few simple tweaks, you can fine-tune a safer workout routine for a stronger, healthier you.
1. Start strong to finish stronger
Always warm up and cool down. A pre-workout warmup gives you more energy for the task ahead, and an after-workout cooldown followed immediately by stretching can help your muscles recover faster — and even improve your range of motion. Some general guidelines:
Warm up: Before cardio, walk briskly for a few minutes or march in place (swing your arms and lift your knees as high as you can with your toes pointed) for a count of 40. Before calisthenics or weightlifting, do 10 reps each of pushups, high-knee lifts, and squats.
Cool down: Walk until your heart rate returns to normal.
Stretch: Ease into each stretch and hold for about 30 seconds. Don’t bounce.
2. Brave the elements wisely
Protective gear and workout buddies may sound like child’s play, but when you’re exercising outdoors, they’re both serious safety tips to consider. Here are a few common-sense precautions for an injury-free, comfortable, and safe workout:
- Wear bright (to be seen) and breathable, moisture-wicking (to prevent chafing) clothes and supportive shoes.
- Don’t forget the right safety gear for your activity, like a bike helmet.
- In the daytime, wear water-resistant sunscreen, sunglasses with UV protection, and a brimmed hat.
- If you’re heading out after dark, bring a light with you, and consider inviting a friend or bringing your dog.
3. Concentrate on proper form
You want to work your muscles — not stress your joints or spine — so don’t hesitate to check in on your form. Have a trainer show you how to use the equipment. Ask an instructor for tips before their class. And if something hurts, always stop and ask for help.
Pro tip: A strong core helps support better form and can prevent injuries during your daily activities, including exercise. But core power isn’t just about your abs. Strengthening your shoulders, chest, back, and buttocks will also help you build a stronger core and stability.
4. Build strength right
When done correctly, strength training is an important part of a healthy exercise routine. Stronger muscles can help you avoid injury by reinforcing your bones, connective tissues, and joints, which will lower your risk of osteoporosis and prevent potentially dangerous falls. Whether you’re a beginner or experienced weightlifter, you should always:
- Ask someone to spot you when you’re lifting weights over your head or chest.
- Exhale on whichever motion requires more effort. Don’t hold your breath.
- Keep a steady pace. You should be able to complete a full range of motion without any break, and your last rep should be difficult but not make you break form.
5. Switch it up
Doing the same workout every day can unnecessarily stress your body, leading to inflammation and injury. If you’re a regular runner, try swapping in a group class or a hike one day a week. If you love lifting weights, be sure to switch up which muscles you’re working. Alternate days between your arms, back, chest, and legs so each muscle group gets 2 days of rest. As a bonus, the more variety in your workouts, the better results you’ll see.
And don’t forget to take breaks! Give yourself a day or 2 off each week — just try to make them active rest days. Sore muscles will recover even faster when they’re moving, so on your days off, warm up and then go for a walk or gentle hike, do yoga, or try foam rolling.
6. Listen to your body
Have a sore joint? It’s usually a sign of bad form during a repetitive motion. Let it heal and have a trainer correct your form for the future. Nursing an injury? Meet with a physical therapist to learn which exercises to avoid or appropriate options for rebuilding strength. If you’re sick, consider skipping the gym altogether.
If you’re feeling fatigued but don’t want to skip a workout, start at a slow pace and low intensity. You’ll either gain the energy to step it up to your normal intensity, or you’ll realize you need to take the day off — and that’s OK! Get some rest, eat a healthy meal, and as always, keep hydrating.
You’re built to move. Aim for 30 minutes of activity a day, 5 days a week. Do you have an ache, pain, or injury that’s preventing you from exercising as much as you should? Are you looking to start a whole new exercise program? If you’re a current Kaiser Permanente member, log in at kp.org/wa to make an appointment with your doctor to discuss all your options.
“6 tips for avoiding injury-causing exercise mistakes,” Kaiser Permanente Thrive Together, Jun 14, 2019.
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