7 Ways to Prevent Exercise Injury

East Indian woman streching
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According to a 2014 study from the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, 19.4 percent of gym enthusiasts are injured during CrossFit training, while 79.3 percent of track and field athletes experience injuries ranging from stress fractures and tendinitis to muscles tears and shin splints.

While exercise injuries are common when first starting out, there are seven simple things you can do to help avoid them.

1. Have a Routine Physical

It is always a good idea to see your doctor for a fitness test before starting an exercise program. Any new activity can place stress on your body, particularly your joints and cardiovascular system. A six-minute treadmill test, for example, can help determine the limitations you can place on your heart and direct the appropriate exercise routine based on your cardiovascular fitness.

2. Get a Personal Trainer

If you just don't know where to begin, find a personal trainer who can get you started safely and help structure a fitness plan based on a clear set of goals (such as weight loss, muscle building, or aerobic fitness). A qualified trainer can help you avoid many of the bad habits that affect even the best of athletes, allowing you to concentrate on form rather than weight to achieve the best results. A few hour-long sessions may be all that you need.

3. Start Slowly and Increase Gradually

When first starting out, it is not unusual for people to throw themselves into training with an intensity that is not only unsustainable but harmful. Start with moderate exercise of around 20 minutes thrice weekly and gradually build upon this baseline week on week. You can also determine your baseline intensity level by using a system called the perceived exertion scale which gauges your physiological response to exercise.

4. Warm Up Before Exercise

It's surprising how many people will jump straight into weight training or a treadmill run without bothering to stretch or get their muscles warmed up. Even if you're in excellent condition, your muscles and tendons will be tight when you first arrive at the gym. If you don't warm up, you risk injury if you accidentally overextend or twist a joint the wrong way. A proper warm-up goes a long way to preventing this and requires no more than a little stretching, walking, or working the muscles with extremely low weights or resistance bands.

5. Don't Work Out on Empty

You're going to be burning calories and building sweat while exercising, so why go in with an empty tank? While you don't want to exercise immediately after a big meal, eating two hours before with the right foods can ensure you have ample fuel for a workout. The same applies to hydration. Try to drink 16 ounces of water two hours before working out and take additional sips throughout to replace any lost fluids.

6. Dress for Your Sport

Many sports injuries occur because of the lack of proper equipment, including clothes and shoes. Whichever activity you're engaged in, be sure that you are equipped with the clothing and footwear appropriate to that sport. There's a reason, for instance, why biking shorts are padded or certain clothes are designed to wick sweat.

You don't have to spend a fortune to get the "right" brand, just something that provides ample protection against impact, strain, or overheating. If you're uncertain what to get, speak with a trainer who can point you in the right direction.

7. Listen to Your Body

"No pain, no gain" was probably the worst fitness mantra ever created. While a workout can definitely be hard, it should never veer into pain. If you feel pain of any sort, including a cramp or a sudden tweak, back off and give it a rest. You can lower your weights or move to another muscle group until your body is better equipped to handle the stress.

Moreover, if you are sick with a cold or flu, don't place additional stress on your body. Exercise, by its very nature, triggers an immune response as your muscles are taxed by exercise. If your immune system is low, you'll likely make yourself sicker by working out. In the end, ​overtraining can be just as harmful to your body as not training enough. Treat your body kindly, and let it rest when it needs to.

7 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  5. Ormsbee MJ, Bach CW, Baur DA. Pre-exercise nutrition: the role of macronutrients, modified starches and supplements on metabolism and endurance performance. Nutrients. 2014;6(5):1782-808. doi:10.3390/nu6051782

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By Elizabeth Quinn, MS
Elizabeth Quinn is an exercise physiologist, sports medicine writer, and fitness consultant for corporate wellness and rehabilitation clinics.