How to Avoid Exercise Injuries
Learn the 4 common exercise mistakes that cause injuries and the 3 tips you need to stay safe and injury-free when you work out.
Here at Get-Fit Guy, you can learn how to exercise with an ankle or foot injury, exercise with a knee injury, exercise with a low back injury, exercise with a shoulder injury, exercise in the water when you’re injured, and make your exercise injuries less sore. But with all this talk about injuries, it seems prudent to learn how to avoid getting a pesky exercise injury in the first place.
How to Avoid Exercise Injuries
In this article you’ll learn the 4 common exercise mistakes that cause injuries, how to keep your body injury-free, and 3 tips on how to stay safe when you work out.
Exercise Mistake #1: Seat Height Not Properly Set
In the article “How to Use Weightlifting Machines” I give an introduction to seat height, and mention that before getting started, you need to make sure each machine’s seat is at the right setting for you. That will not only improve the comfort and effectiveness of your exercises, but it will also keep you from injuring your shoulders or lower back.
If the seat is too low on a weight machine, you will arch your back and risk straining your lower back muscles. If the seat is too high, you will risk injuring your shoulders.
If the seat is too low on a bicycle, you can hurt the front of your knees; and if the seat is too high, you can hurt your hips or the sides of your knees.
Here is how to adjust seat height: on a weight machine, line the handles up so that they approximately draw a straight line through your shoulder joint. On a bicycle, adjust the seat so that there is a slight, approximately 30 degree bend in your knees at the bottom of the pedal stroke.
Exercise Mistake #2: Lifting Too Much Weight
Low back strains, shoulder pain, neck injuries and abdominal injuries are often the result of simply lifting too much weight. In the article, “How to Tell If You’re Working Out Hard Enough,” I mention the rule of three. Here’s how it works: if you can get to the goal number of repetitions for the exercise you are performing, and you can do three or more repetitions over and above your goal number while still maintaining good form, then you should increase weight. If you cannot get within three repetitions without sacrificing good form, you should decrease weight. This rule works especially well for workouts in which you’re lifting a weight 10-15 times, which is the typical repetition range for most fitness routines.
When you’re doing especially heavy sets that use the low back muscles (such as deadlifts or squats), you may benefit from the use of a weight lifting belt. But most people do not lift a heavy enough weight to justify the use of these belts and would benefit more from building up the body’s natural belt--the abdominal and lower back stabilizing muscles.
Exercise Mistake #3: Bad Exercise Form
Often, when you see an exercise or workout in a magazine--or even hear a movement described in a podcast--it’s easy to perform it the way you think it should be done, but instead make small mistakes that can eventually cause injuries. Take the squat, for example. Though it may seem intuitive to simply “sit down and stand up,” there are a host of mechanical errors that can be made, such as the knees jutting over the toes, the back excessively arching, or the thighs bowing in.
The best solution is to have someone with a trained eye watch you perform more advanced movements. That may mean that you hire a personal trainer or more experienced friend to observe you doing your exercises and make comments about your form. I’ve personally been weight training for over a decade but still occasionally ask a partner to assess my form so that I’m not making small mistakes that add up. There are also great resources online with video demonstrations, including exrx.net and my own website’s free exercise video database.
Exercise Mistake #4: Exercising In A Fatigued State
[[AdMiddle]Arriving at the gym or heading out for an exercise session when you’re stressed or low on sleep is a quick way to get injured. A loss of focus and inability to recruit muscles properly can occur in a stress or fatigued state. If you’re low on sleep or high on stress, you don’t need to completely skip your workout, but may want to consider performing a light aerobic session rather than a more advanced weight training session.
3 Safe Workout Tips
Safe Workout Tip #1: Breathing
One common exercise injury is a hernia, which can result from excessive build-up of internal pressure from holding your breath during an exercise. In the article “How to Use Weightlifting Machines,” I explain that you should exhale when you exert. During the most difficult phase of a movement, simply breathe out and release those internal pressures.
Safe Workout Tip #2: Warm-up & Cool-Down
When you don’t warm up properly, your muscles are like cold rubber bands--more likely to snap when you stretch them. And when you don’t cool down after a workout, you can place excessive stress on your heart as blood pools in the muscles and also risk excessive soreness. So include a warm-up and cool-down, and of course, a perfect resource for you is my article “How to Warm Up and Cool Down.”
Safe Workout Tip #3: Flexibility
You don’t have to be a super-stretchy Gumby to avoid injuries, and, as a matter of fact, excessive flexibility could actually make you more prone to moving a joint into a high injury risk range-of-motion. However, lack of flexibility tends to be a bigger problem in most people. The specific muscles that can cause injuries when tight include your hip flexors, hamstrings, low back, and shoulders. By making sure that you keep these muscles flexible by stretching them for 6-20 seconds on a daily or twice-a-day basis, you’ll ensure they’re less shortened and less likely to be strained when you’re exercising.
Follow the tips in this article, and you’ll ensure a less risky and more comfortable workout. Speaking of comfort, next week, I’ll be telling you how to avoid muscle cramps and what to do if you do get one.