Work up a sweat safely with these expert-backed tips

Perhaps, like millions of Americans, you set a New Year’s resolution to exercise more often. Kudos! You are taking a step in the right direction toward having a healthier lifestyle. But before diving into a new exercise regimen, it is essential to be prepared to prevent injury.

In 2017 alone, more than 526,000 people in the U.S. injured themselves while doing personal exercise, according to the National Safety Council (NSC). Kirstie Pomaranski, program manager for the Healthy Lifestyles Program at Inova Well, says it’s common for people to injure themselves when they first begin exercising.    

“When people are not sure how to get started, they often use machines or do exercises improperly, which can cause wear and tear on muscles, ligaments and joints,” Pomaranski says. Below, she offers seven pieces of advice for preventing injuries while exercising — both inside and outside of the gym.  

1. Check-in with your physician before getting started.
It is important to touch base with your healthcare provider before starting physical activity for the first time, especially if you are recovering from an injury or illness. “Make sure you consult with your physician before you start any exercise program,” Pomaranski says.

2. Take a break from technology.
Hunching over our electronic devices all day wreaks havoc on our posture, which can put us at more risk for exercise-related injuries. “Many people aren’t aware of their posture and the way they carry themselves,” Pomaranski says. Fortunately, poor posture can be corrected by working with a personal trainer and massage therapist. 

3. If you sit all day, get up and stretch often.  
Stretching is especially important for people who work desk jobs. “If you’re sitting for prolonged periods, your hip flexors are tight, your glutes get weak, your pectoral muscles are tight, and your back muscles get overstretched,” Pomaranski says. The damage caused by sitting for too long can exacerbate gym-related injuries.

4. Wear comfortable shoes that fit correctly.
Pomaranski says ill-fitting shoes, especially high heels, can cause more damage than people realize. Wearing shoes that don’t fit well can weaken the foot muscles and collapse arches of the foot, which can have a ripple effect, leading to both knee and hip pain.

5. Learn how to use equipment properly.
Countless people injure themselves by improperly using gym equipment, relates Pomaranski. “User error is a big component of injury — not knowing the proper settings and not knowing the tempo they should be working at,” she says. If you’re unsure how to properly lift weights or use machines at the gym, ask staff members at your gym or meet with a personal trainer for guidance. 

6. Continue moving outside of the gym’s walls.
Although it’s crucial to rest between vigorous workouts to let your muscles recover, it’s equally as important to continue moving, preferably with a brisk 30- or 45-minute walk each day.

“It’s important to have vigorous activity, but balance it with something continual,” Pomaranski says. “What you do during the time you’re not at the gym is just as important as what you do during the time you are at the gym.”

7. Consider a program tailored to your needs.
If you’re just getting started and aren’t sure where to begin — or if you’re bouncing back from an injury or illness — consider meeting with a personal trainer who can give you the guidance and assessments needed to safely and effectively start a new exercise regimen.


Sports Injury? Inova Sports Medicine’s team of experts will develop a personalized plan to help you recover.

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