Eager to hit the gym? Make sure you’re taking the right steps to exercise safely! Many injuries that occur during exercise are related to improper form and overuse that results from doing too much too fast. Wearing the wrong attire, skipping your warmup, and forgetting to fuel your body for movement can also have suboptimal consequences. The good news? We’ve put together a list of our physical therapist’s favorite tips to keep you safe during your workouts.
Wear appropriate clothing and shoes.
Before you step foot into a gym or embark on your next run, make sure you are wearing clothing and footwear you are comfortable in – but also safe in! Flip flops, slide-on sneakers, and other shoes that can easily fall off are not safe to work out in. You want a shoe that is comfortably secure to your foot, provides you with the appropriate amount of arch support, and has enough room for your toes to spread out at the toe box. If you’re unsure what type of footwear is best for your body and the activity you want to participate in, consult with a physical therapist.
Get to know your equipment.
It’s great to try new exercises, but take some time to get to know the equipment you will be using before diving right in – it’s important to be familiar with what you are using! Look for a QR code to scan or instructions on the machine for insight about its use or consult with a trainer. Additionally, if you’re using resistance bands always check for tears in the material and that the band is securely anchored before starting your reps.
Hydrate and fuel your body for success.
Ever start a workout and feel your stomach start to growl? Your body needs fuel to create energy. While you don’t want to eat a huge meal right before physical activity, you do want to give your body something to work with so that you can make the most of your exercise time. Large meals should be eaten 3-4 hours before exercise, but small snacks are typically fine to eat beforehand and sometimes even throughout depending on the type of snack and exercise. Without proper fuel and nutrition, you can feel sluggish, tired, and unable to get through a full workout. The same goes for hydration. It’s important to stay hydrated both throughout the day and during exercise. Bring a water bottle with you and remember to take sips during rest breaks to keep you hydrated. If you plan to exercise for longer than 60 minutes, opt for electrolyte-enhanced water or coconut water to maintain an electrolyte balance.
Don’t skip the warmup!
While it might be tempting to jump right into your workout, skipping the warm-up is not great for your muscles and overall body. Even a small warmup at the beginning of your exercise routine prepares the muscles and cardiovascular system for the more intense work to come. This is important for injury prevention and even performance.
Progress at your own pace.
One of the most common ways to injure yourself is to progress too quickly when it comes to both strength and cardiovascular training. Our bodies need time to adapt, get stronger, and build endurance. Boosting exercise intensity without appropriate timing can cause overuse and stress injuries. The general rule of thumb is to only increase exercise intensity by 5-10% each week. It’s also best to only change one variable at a time. For example, if you are progressing the distance you are running, avoid increasing your speed or changing the incline/terrain at the same time. When it comes to strength training, it is recommended to follow the 2 by 2 rule. This rule suggests that if you can perform 2 extra repetitions of an exercise on 2 sets without losing form then you can safely progress the exercise. It is okay, and desired, for the last few reps to feel more challenging as long as you maintain proper form and can complete the movement successfully. Gradually increasing different variables of your workout is referred to as progressive overload. For more information on these variables and how to apply them to your routine, check out our blog, Strength Gains Explained by a PT.
Add a cooldown and stretch warm muscles.
Now that you’ve finished, you’re tired and probably ready to grab a snack. However, save time at the end of your workout to cool down and stretch your muscles. The best time to stretch a muscle is after it has been warmed up with exercise. At the end of a workout, you can perform static stretching and work on muscle flexibility. It is important though to cool down first with a light walk or gentle mobility exercises to gradually return the body to a state of lower intensity and then rest.
Don’t forget to add active rest days into your workout routine. For more information on how to do so, check out our article, Rest and Recovery to Optimize Your Health Goals.
Check your form with a licensed physical therapist.
Lastly, a physical therapist will be your best friend when it comes to developing a safe and customized exercise program. Licensed physical therapists are highly skilled and educated in human movement and exercise principles. They can critique your form, offer exercise modifications, and safely progress you throughout your fitness journey – taking into account your entire medical history. Additionally, they’ll help identify areas for you to improve upon to prevent future injuries and maximize your health goals. Looking to work with a physical therapist but don’t want to go to a clinic? Download the OneStep app today to be connected with a licensed physical therapist for a free consultation.
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Eating and exercise: 5 tips to maximize your workouts. Mayo Clinic. Updated December 2021. Accessed June 1, 2022.