How to Prevent Injuries When Exercising

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: June 2023

Regular exercise is essential for maintaining a healthy lifestyle. But it is just as important to stay safe while working out in order to prevent injuries. Every year in the United States, millions of people are injured due to physical activity.1,2

How people get injured

The most common exercise-related injuries are:2,3

  • Back pain
  • Pulled muscles
  • Sprains and/or strains
  • Joint pain
  • Neck pain

Data show that these injuries are commonly associated with exercise (and using exercise equipment), bicycling, and playing sports. Injuries can also happen when you:1-3

  • Push your body too hard and/or too quickly
  • Do not warm up properly beforehand
  • Overuse a specific muscle or area of your body
  • Repeat the same movements for an extended period of time
  • Do not have proper form

How to protect yourself

You can keep yourself safe while exercising by:1

  • Focusing on low-impact exercises
  • Improving your balance
  • Warming up before each workout
  • Cooling down after each workout
  • Stretching
  • Using appropriate safety gear

Whether they are a seasoned athlete or a true beginner, everyone can heed this advice.1

Low-impact exercises

Low-impact exercises are great because they are easy on the joints while still having benefits for your body. Examples of low-impact exercises include:1,4

  • Walking
  • Swimming
  • Riding a stationary bike
  • Elliptical training

These activities provide cardiovascular benefits without putting a lot of stress or strain on your body. Low-impact exercises are a great starting point for people just beginning to be physically active. They are also great for people who are:1,4

  • Older
  • Recovering from an injury
  • Living with joint issues
  • Living with limited mobility or a disability

Balance

Balance is crucial for injury prevention, especially as we age. Exercises that target balance, like yoga and tai chi, can help improve stability and coordination.5

Activities like standing on one leg or using a balance board can help you strengthen the muscles responsible for maintaining balance. If you are able, slowly challenge yourself by increasing the difficulty and duration of these exercises over time.5

Warmup and cooldown

You should always warm up and cool down before and after exercising. Walking is an incredible way to warm up. Start slowly, then gradually increase your pace. This increases your heart rate, loosens up your muscles, and prepares your body for exercise.1

Cooling down after exercise is just as important. Five to 10 minutes is all you need to gradually return your body to its normal state. Cooling down helps lower your heart rate, prevent dizziness or fainting, and promote muscle recovery. Again, walking is a terrific cool-down option.1

Stretching

Stretching is often overlooked, but it is crucial for preventing injuries. And a bonus is that it helps to improve overall flexibility. Improved flexibility enhances your range of motion, reduces muscle imbalances, and promotes better posture.1,6

There are 2 kinds of stretching:1,6

  • Dynamic – Increases your body’s range of motion
  • Static – Helps improve flexibility and cool down your muscles

Dynamic stretches get the body ready for activity. They should be done before exercising. Examples include arm circles or leg swings.1,6

Static stretches should be done after your workout, when your muscles have had a chance to warm up. Examples include hamstring or quadriceps stretches. Try to hold each stretch for 30 seconds and breathe deeply while doing so.1,6

Stretching should not be painful. You should feel some mild tension while stretching, but it should not hurt. If stretching causes pain, back off.1,6

If you have a chronic condition or an injury, you may need to modify certain stretches. Consider making an appointment with a physical therapist to learn what stretches would be safest and most effective for you.6

Appropriate safety gear

Depending on the activity you are doing, you may need safety gear to protect you from injury. This gear might include:1

  • Helmet
  • Knee pads
  • Elbow pads
  • Shin guards
  • Safety goggles
  • Mouth guard

For example, it is important to wear a helmet while bicycling and safety goggles while playing raquetball. Always make sure your safety gear is the right gear for the activity you are doing. And make sure it fits you properly.1

Listen to your body

Taking certain precautions can greatly reduce the risk of injury during workouts. First and foremost, always listen to your body and respect its limits. Pushing yourself too hard or ignoring pain signals can lead to injuries.1

Remember, staying safe and injury-free is key to achieving your fitness goals and enjoying a lifetime of wellness. If you live with a chronic condition or disability, a physical therapist can help you find ways to stay active while staying safe.

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