10 Must-Follow Strategies for Preventing Injuries While Working Out at Home

Don’t let the lack of gyms hurt you—literally.

Nobody’s saying exercise isn’t good for you—it is. But exercise doesn’t come without risks, namely injuries. While you can get hurt anywhere, even at the gym, injuries at home from at-home workout videos, makeshift cardio sessions, and other gym-free exercises have been trending during the recent stay-at-home orders and gym closures. Case in point: Google searches in May for knee pain were up 471 percent and sprained ankles up 267 percent, according to a study on Brits by fit4thefight.

Don’t blame the exercise: Blame two common mistakes people often make while exercising at home. “These injuries were probably caused by people who weren’t previously exercising and people not exercising at the appropriate intensity, duration, or frequency,” says Mecayla Froerer, director of iFit training and a NASM-certified personal trainer in Logan, Ut., adding that injury doesn’t discriminate. Whether you’re new to exercise or have been exercising for years, injury is always a possibility.

While any activity can cause injury, some exercises do have higher injury rates than others, especially if you’re just learning how to start working out or are getting back into exercise after years of inactivity. They include running, which is stressful on the joints; strength training, in which improper form and weights that are too heavy can strain the muscles; and yoga, as shoulder and wrist injuries are common, says Mimi Secor, DNP, nurse practitioner, author, and health and fitness advocate in Onset, Mass.

So how do you cut that injury risk, especially if you’re logging more sweat sessions at home? Follow these 10 strategies.

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1. Put your feet first

Check those shoes, and if they don’t fit properly or are worn to shreds, get new ones. Ideally, those fitness shoes should be less than six months old, Secor says. And, of course, use shoes designed for the activity you’re doing.

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2. Get to know your equipment

Haven’t used the treadmill in ages (if at all) or don’t know how to set yourself up properly on a bike, whether it’s indoors or out? Prevention starts with acquainting yourself with any equipment that you’re using, Froerer says. Check your user’s manuals (or search for it online if you can’t find a physical copy) or YouTube videos to see how to use your specific piece of equipment.

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3. Safety-proof your indoor environment

Not having enough space or having objects in your way can make injury more likely, Secor says. To that end, make sure you have plenty of space around you to move, especially if you’re using a cardio machine. You can easily fall or trip on that machine and bump into things around you. Then clear the space, which means making sure you don’t have gym equipment, cords, even your kids or pets around you to cause you to trip.

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4. Consider hiring a trainer

This may have been easier before the pandemic, but many trainers offer virtual sessions, which can be a good option. “That trainer can help you learn proper technique for specific exercises, especially if you’re doing strength training,” Secor says.

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5. Do a dynamic warm-up

Regardless of your fitness level, a warm-up with drills that incorporate muscles you’ll be using during your workout is a must. “This will aid in increasing blood flow to those areas, getting you ready to go,” Froerer says. For instance, if you’re running, you might do butt kickers and high knees while walkers might do leg swings or side steps. Spend 10 to 15 minutes doing dynamic moves if you’re running, five to 10 minutes if you’re walking.

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6. Start small

If you’re new to exercise, avoid the urge to go all out. Instead, gradually increase your intensity and duration. Here’s a good rule from Secor: Start with a five- to 15-minute walk and then gradually add five minutes per workout.

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7. Understand the difference between discomfort and pain

Feeling uncomfortable during exercise isn’t uncommon. But pain is different, as it can signal the start of an injury. “Pain is often acute and comes as a sharp or persistent feeling during exercise, a sign that you should stop your workout immediately and see a physician if necessary,” Froerer says. Knowing the difference between the two can help you know when to push harder or when to take time off to recover.

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8. Consider the terrain

Exercising outdoors can be fantastic for the mind as well as the body. Just be aware of the surface you’ll be on, especially if you’re doing a high-impact activity like running. “Different terrain can be easier on your joints,” Froerer says. For instance, if you’re running, a softer surface like a trail might be easier on your body than the road.

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9. Pay attention to your surroundings

Outdoor exercise requires more attention than your indoor workouts, namely because you have traffic, animals, other people, and even weather to consider. Each of these have the potential of causing injury, Froerer says, adding that in this time of physical distancing, respect others by staying at least 6 feet from them. And that music you love listening to as you sweat? Good call, but keep in mind the danger it can pose when riding or cycling outside, as you won’t be able to hear if there’s a problem or safety concern nearby.

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10. Choose a class appropriate for your fitness level

Using a streaming fitness site? While they certainly come with benefits, make sure you’re choosing classes that’s designed for your fitness level, Secor says. Otherwise, if you do a class that your body’s not ready for, you could hurt yourself.

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