How to Injure Yourself at the Gym

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By: , SparkPeople Blogger
11/5/2012 10:00 AM   :  13 comments   :  25,675 Views

Although I’ve been a fitness coach for years, I will admit that I don’t always practice what I preach.  I don’t stretch quite as much as I should, and as a result, I’ve sustained frustrating injuries that could easily have been avoided. 
 
Whether you’re new to exercise or a workout veteran, we all make workout mistakes from time to time.  While some can be harmless—where the only consequence is burning fewer calories—others can lead to serious problems. Here are four common fitness mistakes that can lead to serious injury if you don't catch them early. 

1.  You Think a Little Pain is Normal 
You start to notice pain in your leg while walking on the treadmill one day.  You have a race coming up and can't be sidelined by an injury! And you figure that aches and discomforts are a normal part of exercising, so you push through it.  During your next workout, the pain is a little worse but you continue on.  Eventually the pain becomes significant enough that it’s affecting your workouts and everyday activities, so you schedule a doctor’s appointment to get it checked out.  How did it happen?

Although exercise is sometimes uncomfortable, it should never be painful.  Pain is a signal from your body that something is wrong.  Don’t assume that pain is normal because you’re out of shape or because you push yourself during a workout.  The idea of “no pain, no gain” simply isn’t true when it comes to exercise.  Pain can be a sign of an injury that needs to be addressed, and if you pay attention to it early on, you can make adjustments to your workouts and avoid a serious injury that may sideline you for weeks or months at a time.  Going easy when you feel like you need a break or resting when you have prolonged soreness or sharp pain doesn’t mean you’re weak; it means you’re smart and paying attention to your body. (Learn the difference between normal muscle soreness and serious pain.)

2.  You Work Out Too Much
You decide to make healthy changes in your life.  You commit to an exercise routine, full of energy and motivation.  Although experts advise newbie exercisers to start out with just 10 or 20 minutes at a time, you decide that in order to see results, it’s important to push yourself from day one.  To get "better results," you start out with 45 minutes. After a couple weeks you figure, "90 minutes is better, right?" So you do even more.  That much exercise might be OK for a while, but eventually the daily grind will start to wear on you—both physically and mentally.  You start to have aches and pains in places that never hurt before.  All of a sudden, you’re sidelined with an injury and it seems like your exercise streak is over before it even started.  What went wrong? 

Although you might have the motivation to push yourself through long and intense workouts, everyone should give his or her body time to adapt to a new workout regime—and allow for rest and recovery.That’s how you improve your fitness level in a safe way.Also keep in mind that you don’t need to do hours of cardio each day in order to see results.The quality of your workouts is just as (if not more) important than the quantity.Try not to compare yourself to others.  There is always going to be someone else who can lift more weight or walk further or faster than you.  What matters most is that you’re challenging yourself based on what your body can handle, and you’re doing it in a safe way that keeps you exercising long-term.

3.  You Do the Same Workout Religiously 
You’re a creature of habit, and once you find an activity you enjoy, you tend to stick with it.  It’s great to find things you like to do, because then you’re more likely to be consistent with your exercise routine.   But doing the same activity, in the same way, day in and day out can lead to overuse injuries .  Performing the same movement patterns daily puts a lot of stress on specific muscles and joints, which can lead to irritation and injury.  It can also create a muscle imbalances (when one muscle is stronger than the opposing muscle), which increases your risk of future problems.   How do you avoid this?

The solution is to add regular cross-training to your routine.  Instead of doing the same routine all the time, try some lower-impact activities such as biking or swimming a few times a week.  (And don’t forget the regular strength training!)  By adding variety to your routine, you’ll save yourself the frustration of having to totally stop the activities you love because of injury. 

4.  Your Form Isn't Perfect
You were wowed by the amazing benefits of kettlebells, so decide to pick one up at the store and try a kettlebell workout at home. It sure doesn't look that hard—and can't be that much different than using dumbbells, right?  So you find a workout on YouTube and start swinging away only to suffer from back pain after a few days. What went wrong? 

Whether you’ve been exercising for 10 days or 10 years, it’s important to know how to do exercises properly.In fact, proper—even perfect—form is essential to working the muscles you're trying to target and keeping the body aligned and stable. Without it, you are a ticking time bomb for a workout-related injury. This is especially true in more complicated workouts that have a higher injury risk, such as kettlebells, plyometrics, Crossfit, or even free weight exercises, especially when you're trying new things for the first time. Although no one likes to admit they are uncoordinated or don't have good "rhythm," (also known as kinesthetic awareness), these are the very individuals who are high-risk for workout related injury when speed, momentum and heavy weights are involved. If that sounds like you—or you're trying a new form of exercise that you have not received individualized instruction for—there’s nothing wrong with asking for help.  Often, an outsider (fitness buddy, personal trainer, group instructor) has a better view of how you’re performing the exercise and can make suggestions on how to improve your form and prevent injury, especially when it comes to strength training.  If you exercise alone, use a mirror to check your form during your workout. 
 
By avoiding these common workout mistakes, you’ll increase your chances of staying healthy and preventing injury.  In return, your body will thank you by pushing further and reaching goals you might never have thought were possible!
 
Are you guilty of any of these common mistakes? Did you ever learn the hard way that you were making mistakes during your workouts?


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Comments

  • 13
    I love it when a professional helps me improve my form with weight lifting. Good form follow function...which means lift lighter and use good form. - 1/18/2014   9:26:17 AM
  • WHETZEL130
    12
    In response to KLEMIE, just curious to see what advise the Neurologist gave you. I got the same pain on the top of my foot about 6 mos. after starting an exercise program. Saw a Podiatrist who gave me the same diagnosis and a series of shots in my foot. Now after another 6 mos., I feel the pain coming back - 11/12/2012   10:51:15 AM
  • 11
    Whenever I walk for more than 5 minutes, I get pain in the top of my foot. I thought it was my weight, or that I needed better shoes. When I was seeing a neurologist for a long time back issue, he discovered that I have neuropathy. - 11/6/2012   8:41:23 PM
  • CLAYLADY001
    10
    I work out at home with an elliptical machine and I work out everyday 7 days a week. What I do is foot rotations for counting instead of using the machines functions.Right now I am doing about 125 rotations each night and I am losing weight.Actually I take about a three or four count break at about 50 rotations,then 3 seconds at 60 ,80 and when I get up to 100 take another 3 or 4 second break then press on to the finish.I have been working on the elliptical with no warm up exercises for about three or four months now and so far only suffer muscle strain but no real pain am upping my count every week just a little and I am seeing good results on the scale!!I will be seventy this Feb.and am starting to really feel good about what I am doing !I do look forward to working out in a Gym maybe next year. - 11/6/2012   12:37:58 PM
  • 9
    I started my workout program nine weeks ago, going from mostly sedentary to three times a week of cardio/weights/strength training. The two things that I learned right away were: I have to start every workout with 5-10 minutes of stretching before hopping on the elliptical, and be very mindful about my form to prevent straining my back. Now, I make sure my back is planted on the floor (or on the ball, bench or machines) before I start lifting. My muscles are still sore from increasing weights and reps, but not as sore as they were two months ago... and no problems with my back. I'm seeing progress with consistency because I'm not sidelined with sciatica. - 11/6/2012   10:50:26 AM
  • 8
    Well I am guilty of this as I have had to really slow down. I have found that by slowing down I am still losing the weight.

    One thing is for sure, I wish I had seen this before. - 11/6/2012   6:00:59 AM
  • 7
    Good info. Thanks - 11/6/2012   12:49:12 AM
  • 6
    I love doing Yoga. Priscilla Patrick has a great web site at YOGAONE(dot)com. - 11/6/2012   12:32:43 AM
  • 5
    The older I get, the more imperative adequate stretching becomes. This body needs to be able to stretch to maintain a certain level of flexibility! - 11/5/2012   10:49:09 PM
  • SP_COACH_NANCY
    4
    Oh boy, something I have had to learn the hard way myself...THANKS for sharing Coach Jen and for the reminder to take it easy. - 11/5/2012   4:14:40 PM
  • 3
    I too was surprised warming up wasn't #1 on that list.
    I stretch for 5-10 minutes before a workout every time (well, the first time I went to start running, I did not and found out why I should the hard way), and do a brisk 5 minute warm up walk before running as well as a 5 minute cool down at the end. I don't have sore muscles the next day, even I try something new or challenge myself further. Fingers crossed anyway. - 11/5/2012   1:43:58 PM
  • 2
    I am surprised that warming up is not discussed here. - 11/5/2012   11:54:55 AM
  • 1
    I am shocked at the number of people at the gym who do strength with perfect form and then round their backs when racking and re-racking weights. Respect the weight from the moment you pick it up to the moment you put it down! - 11/5/2012   11:50:37 AM

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