Six ways to avoid injury when exercising

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It’s that time of year when we’re itching to get outside and move more. Have you ever been so excited to get back in the workout saddle, only to set yourself back with an injury early on? Could it have been avoidable?

“Are there certain ways to go about exercising to lessen your chances of injury?” you ask. 100 percent yes. I have six trusty tips to help you kick-start your journey with fitness while making sure an injury won’t get in your way:

1. Perform a proper warm-up. When you start your car in the winter, you let it run for at least a few minutes before expecting it to really perform on the road. The same rings true for our bodies with exercise. Warmups are about gradually steering more of your total blood flow (i.e., oxygen) to your skeletal muscles to allow for better performance during activity. The more intense a workout is, the more vital a role a proper warm-up will play. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. In fact, the best warm-ups tend to be specific to the activity you are doing. (Unlike a passive warm-up such as a sauna, this method provides a rehearsal of the activity or event.)

Here are a few examples:
• Jog or run: Walk for a few minutes before you jog or run. Perhaps add some light calisthenics such as marches and butt kickers.
• Weight lifting: Walk for a bit and then do some non-weighted moves that mimic what you’ll be doing with weights (i.e., partial squats, shoulder/arm circles and presses, shoulder blade squeezes, marches, butt kickers).
• Online video workout: Most of these exercises will have a little warm-up built into them; they are often lighter versions of the moves/exercises that will be done in the workout.

“What about stretching?” you ask. Contrary to popular belief, current research has shown that solely doing static stretching before exercise will not properly warm you up. In fact, stretching after is the ideal time. This is when the muscles are warm, pliable and ready to give you their best in terms of flexibility.

2. Maintain correct technique. I often find that folks get injured when they are trying something new and don’t truly know how to properly perform the exercise. If it doesn’t feel right, you probably aren’t doing it correctly. Listen to your body (your body will tell you!) and don’t push through when something feels off. Instead, consult someone you trust to help guide you along (your local physical therapist, personal trainer, athletic trainer, or fitness instructor). Using a mirror to give you feedback is another great tool to use when starting out. It will give you immediate feedback that you otherwise may not otherwise pick up on.

3. Avoid becoming overfatigued. I tell my patients and clients all the time that they know their body better than anyone else. Research also shows that overtraining and fatigue can set you up for injury. There are two types of fatigue to be aware of: general fatigue and within-workout fatigue. General fatigue (i.e., lack of sleep, overtraining, illness/immunity, stress) can put you at risk for injury with exercise. Therefore, it’s essential to ease into activity slowly. Fatigue that comes on during a workout is natural; however, it’s important (unless you are a skilled athlete or professional) to not push beyond your limits. When this type of muscle fatigue sets in and you decide to push beyond this, you’ll notice an immediate drop in your performance, technique and form. This then lends itself to putting undue and unnatural stress and load on tissues that are not ready and prepared for it, resulting in tissue irritation and potential injury. So, make sure to listen to your body.

4. Avoid overuse of one area. Greek philosopher Aesop once said, “It is possible to have too much of a good thing.” We all know the goal of the professional athlete is to perform the best at “their” sport. However, research shows that including alternative forms of fitness/activity can actually allow for decreased injury in sport. The same is true for most of us in general fitness. It’s pretty intuitive that if you do the same thing for every workout, you’ll be using the same muscles. This repetitive impact can put undue stress on those tissues and inevitably lead to injury.

As I like to say, “Variety is the spice of life…and also of fitness!” Cross-training is a way to approach your activity by exercising in a variety of ways. For example, include cycling, the elliptical, and strength training in one week, instead of doing just one of these day after day.

In my online fitness group, we have several workouts available for people to choose from and encourage that variety (i.e., tabata/HIIT, strength/sculpt, yoga, pilates, kickboxing, dance). These different exercise disciplines can help spread the load and potentially reduce repetitive strain type injuries. Plus, it helps with boredom and exercise adherence that, in turn, can help you crush your fitness goals!

5. Progress slowly. You are now in a rhythm with your exercise and feel like you’re ready for the next step. So often, we get so excited and jump too quickly to the next level. Instead, using a slow, unexciting and graded approach to activity increase is what is recommended if you want to prevent injury. The F.I.T.T. Principle is a great guide. F.I.T.T. stands for Frequency, Intensity, Time & Type. I advise increasing one of these parameters at a time versus all at once. So, if you’ve been exercising twice a week, maybe you decide to increase to three times a week. Or if you’ve been lifting with 3-pound dumbbells, you may increase to 5-pound ones next. If you are completing one mile now while walking or running, don’t try and jump to five miles. Instead, increase a minute or two at a time. Thus, this gradual approach will help you get F.I.T.T. in the safest way!

6. Get stronger. Lastly, we have the whole “house built on a strong foundation” thing. Basically, the stronger you become, the more durable you are. Just like the house built on a solid foundation is much less likely to be affected by heavy storms, the more durable your bodily foundation is, the less likely you will be affected by injury and pain.

With these six tips, you’ll be well-equipped to mastering your workouts, preventing unwanted injuries and setbacks, and continuing to progress toward your 2021 fitness goals. You got this!

Kickstart Group
Since the start of the year, 30West has offered an online Kickstart Group that features access to pre-recorded video workouts each month, a supportive community, live Q&A discussions, and much more. It is open to all people, all fitness levels. You can find this group on Facebook under “30West **All-Access** Kickstart Group.” If you have questions, email Jen at

Jen Gigliotti is a doctor of physical therapy with Big Stone Therapies, an ACE-certified group fitness instructor, and co-owner of 30West Fitness & Recreation in Chisholm. This column appears once per month.

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