Hello, New Year; hello, personal resolutions! For many of us, that includes making a concrete commitment to dedicate more time and energy to working out regularly at home or in the gym. While all this hype is the exact energy influx you’ll need to make lasting health and fitness changes, too much enthusiasm can lead to overextending yourself and can cause injuries that can keep you out of the gym entirely.
Here are five tips to prevent workout injuries and keep you on track for your fitness goals well into 2014.
1. Work with a trainer. Professional fitness trainers are not only there for motivation but also to keep an eye on your form and make sure you aren’t overloading your muscles. Lots of injuries occur from stacking too many weights or improper use of workout equipment. A trainer will correct your form and adjust the intensity of your workout to make sure that you’re seeing progress without overshooting the mark. Lots of athletic clubs and in-home personal trainers offer reduced-price specials at the beginning of the year, so take advantage of these and start working out with a pro.
2. Always do warm-ups and stretches before your workout. Your body is a fine-tuned machine, and as such, can easily slip out of alignment. You wouldn’t jump in your car and peel out of your driveway at 60mph, so don’t try to do that with your body. Take the extra time and effort to warm up (even if it’s an extra 20 minutes) before each work out, stretching your muscles gently. Plus, this additional time is the perfect opportunity to get mentally centered and focus your thoughts on your body and your upcoming workout. It’s a great chance to let your problems drift away (just for the next hour or so!) while you focus on yourself.
3. Wear the right kind of gear. The correct shoes, sports bras, and wrist or knee braces can make a huge impact on preventing injuries. Your body is your most precious resource so make the investment in the right type of workout gear to protect yourself from unnecessary shin splints, back and neck strains, or joint overextensions.
4. Take it easy. Don’t suddenly take on more than you’re accustomed to. Work up to higher levels of repetitions over time. If exercising a certain part of your body really hurts—especially while you’re in the middle of your workout—stop! Don’t push yourself further than your body can go. After a workout, you should feel sore (“the good kind of sore”—your body will let you know what that is) but you should never feel sharp or stabbing pains during your workout. If that’s the case, back off.
5. Set reasonable goals. The bottom line is: there’s no such thing as a true “get fit quick” workout. Regular exercise is a lifestyle shift that promotes your overall health and must be done consistently to see lasting changes. If you’re trying to drop pounds quickly or tone up your body in a rush, you’re much more likely to injure yourself in the process.
Injuries are a fast way to derail your fitness goals and sour you on working out altogether. With a little time and attention to taking care of your body before, during, and after your workouts, you can tone up without the risk of breaking down.