Recently, my workplace started up an informal running club of sorts. In an effort to get fit and shift a few pounds, a motley crew of my workmates took to the streets of London every Tuesday and Thursday lunch. But just this morning, I heard that two out of the three of them were out for the count with injuries. One had sprained his ankle, and the other had a calf injury.
In a weird coincidence, a friend of mine joined me for a HIIT class this evening and, while doing negative pull-ups, injured her shoulder. It got me thinking, why is it that people who have just started exercising seem to injure themselves more than others?
Nobody starts working out to injure themselves. Indeed, many of us exercise for the health benefits and to make ourselves, perhaps, less injury prone. Half of all Brits have suffered an injury whilst working out and it’s so common that it even has its own moniker – ‘gym-jury.’
So how do you avoid having your own gym-jury? Here are some handy tips on how to avoid injuring yourself when getting fit.
Warm up and cool down
I’ll stick my hand up and admit to not initially loving warm ups and cool downs, but they are very important. When you warm up, you’re basically getting your body ready for the workout ahead. That doesn’t just mean increased blood flow to your muscles, but it also preps you mentally. Focus and properly primed muscles will help you avoid injury when doing your main workout.
Similarly, cooling down helps to lower your heart rate back to its normal level. This, in turn, prevents dizziness. It also helps clear your body of the lactic acid that has built up in your muscles during your workout.
This has been given a whole separate section to your warm up and cool down because it is so important – and also something you should do when not working out. Stretching helps increase your body’s mobility. If done before a workout, it warms up your muscles, tendons and ligaments. It can also be a nice relaxing exercise to do and can stretch out areas that have been under strain throughout the week. If you do a lot of workouts and repetitive movements, you should be stretching regularly to prevent your muscles and tendons from getting too tight. Consider doing some yoga or pilates if you really want to take your stretching to the next level.
If you’re an enthusiastic runner, consider incorporating some strength training into your weekly routine. If you’re a weightlifter, do some yoga or pilates. Whatever your passion, make sure you mix up your routine. This will work your muscles in different ways and build up overall strength and balance within your body – and that helps prevent injury.
This is especially relevant when you are trying something new for the first time, or you’re completely new to the gym. If you’re doing a group exercise class then let the instructor know before the class that you are new. That will help them keep an eye on your form and technique and correct your where needed. If you’re new to the gym, consider doing an induction or PT session. Many gyms and personal trainers will offer this for free. If you’re really serious about getting fit, then a course of personal training sessions is probably worth considering. Personal trainers are specially trained to help identify poor technique and correct your form – therefore preventing future injury.
The most important thing to do when you first start out is to understand that your fitness journey isn’t a race. Listen to your body and stop when your body tells you that you are taking on too much, too soon. Consistency is what creates those changes in strength and body shape that you desire. So start off slow, learn the correct technique first and then build up your skill over time. In injury prevention, slow and steady really does win the race.