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Fitness Articles  ›  Exercise Basics

Exercise Safety Tips for Beginners

Ready, Set, Exercise!

-- By Dean Anderson, Fitness Expert
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And always remember the golden rule of exercise safety: start slowly, and build up the intensity and duration of your exercise gradually. Trying to make up for lost time, or go from couch potato to exercise maven overnight, is a prescription for problems.

Getting Started: The Right Gear
Many injuries and setbacks occur because people don’t take the time to get themselves well-equipped for their exercise. Make sure you:
  • Wear shoes that fit well and are capable of providing the right kind of support for your activity and body type. If you’re a runner or walker, get your feet and gait analyzed, and get the right type of shoe for you—this service is usually provided free by stores that specialize in running shoes. Read "If the Shoe Fits, Wear It!"
  • Wear appropriate exercise clothing. Fabrics that absorb sweat and remove it from your skin are best; loose-fitting, light weight cotton is also fine. Women should wear supportive sports bras. But no one should EVER wear rubber or plastic suits or belts—these prevent your body from dissipating heat properly and can lead to serious health risks from overheating and dehydration.
  • Use protective gear: helmets for biking or high-contact sports; knee and elbow pads for skating; reflective clothing and/or lights for evening exercise; sunglasses, sunscreen, and hats for outdoor exercise.
  • Avoid things like ankle and wrist weights. They can alter your normal movement patterns and increase the risk of injury. If you must add weight to your workout, a weighted vest helps distribute weight more evenly and allows you to move more freely and normally than weights attached to your extremities.
When to Stop: Warning Signs
A certain amount of discomfort during exercise is normal and inevitable—after all, you are challenging your body to do more than it is accustomed to. And you can expect to have some sore muscles after a vigorous workout; often the soreness doesn’t show up until a day or two later, especially with strength training.

But pain and other symptoms that occur during exercise can be warning signs that something is wrong. You should stop exercising right away if you:
  • Have pain or pressure in the left or middle part of your chest, or in the left side of your neck, left shoulder or left arm
  • Feel dizzy or sick
  • Break out in a cold sweat
  • Have muscle cramps
  • Feel sharp pain in your joints, feet, ankles, or bones
  • Notice that your heart starts racing or beating irregularly
If you start to experience these problems during high intensity aerobic exercise, it is best to immediately slow down. Allow your heart rate to drop gradually before stopping completely, since an abrupt stop can cause problems with blood circulation and fainting. However, in cases of severe and sudden pain, stop immediately, seek help, and follow up with your doctor.
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About The Author

Dean Anderson Dean Anderson
Dean Anderson has master's degrees in human services (behavioral psychology/stress management) and liberal studies. His interest in healthy living began at the age of 50 when he confronted his own morbid obesity and health issues. He joined SparkPeople and lost 150 pounds and regained his health. Dean has earned a personal training certification from ACE and received training as a lifestyle and weight management consultant. See all of Dean's articles.

Member Comments

  • Thanks for the article. Good info
    - 6/28/2013 4:24:41 PM
  • NANUOF3
    Trying hard to lose weight. Can't really exercise yet, just diagnosed with left bundle branch blockage in my heart. Put myself on a strict diet and do a lot of 5-10 minute exercises. Wish me luck. This is my first week and feeling some better and clothes are already fitting a tad looser. - 1/16/2013 9:03:27 PM
  • LGECOL55
    I just had the OK from my Doctor to join the local gym since they have my seizures under control. I live alone, they don't want me exercising by my self. The gym is very nervous,
    and I know when to stop by body signals. I do not pass out, but have right side weakness with my seizures. Do I just plain not exercise or give it a try.
    lgecol55 - 10/5/2012 6:01:23 PM
  • Good article. This helps me alot, because I have an appointment at curves. I asked a few questions on the phone, now I have more. I am not sure it is right for me , but this gives me the info. I needed . I have some problems that limits me I hope they have a program that fits my needs. Thanks for this article. - 9/8/2012 9:58:58 AM
  • MOLLFOX
    Great article, thanks for sharing! - 5/23/2012 11:31:56 AM
  • thank for the article on exercise i just join the ymca try to go every day .but not all way do.but just wont you to know i did read the article and they did help out thank you - 5/5/2012 9:04:01 PM
  • You neglected to mention NASM as one of the nationally recognized certifying agencies. - 1/18/2012 10:19:05 AM
  • Just a "thumbs up" to Anne's comments about Chair Exercises. I use a walker & thought I was doomed as far as ever being able to do cardio exercises, but started with "Stronger Seniors" dvds & with the help of those (& tracking my portions of food), I've lost 25 lbs in the last 3 months sans injury. Given my starting weight of 310 lbs, in no way could I support the full weight of my body & exercise while standing without hurting myself. So, Chair Exercises are definitely the way to go! - 6/25/2011 6:00:30 PM
  • Timely advice now that the weather has turned and people feel the need to get out and exercise.

    It is important to point out that not everyone can start with traditional exercise. If you are in a special population (overweight or obese, elderly, diabetic or arthritic), modified exercise could be a good starting point.

    Chair Exercise and water exercise are non-impact options that will get you on the path to consistent exercise without the risk of injury. Since chair and water exercise is a bit easier than some other forms of fitness activities, you will be more likely to stay with your goals and not feel that "I'm too old" or "I'm too sick", or "I'm too heavy."

    Of course, speak with your health care professional before beginning any exercise program if you have been inactive for a while.

    It's never too late to start feeling better, both physically and emotionally. Action does not guarantee happiness, but there can be no happiness without action.

    Write out your goals and start moving. Today!

    Stay strong
    Anne Pringle Burnell
    - 6/23/2011 10:46:17 AM
  • I have cold sweats whenever I exercise and a very uncomfortable pressure between the eyes and in the back of my neck near the occipital. Its rather uncomfortable. Why is cold sweats in the list of concern? - 1/18/2011 11:54:37 AM
  • Hi, I like the article. I tried the links for PARQ and received nothing. I then went to google.com and typed in PARQ and was able to find a pdf of the sheet.

    Also, for those who think they can start and exercise program quickly from nothing and not see a doctor - your body isn't ready for it and you may have hidden health issues that you do not know about. Exercising for health is great until you have a heart attack (etc) because your body isn't ready for the intense program. Taking care of yourself also means to start with the best foot forward - see your health professional! Happy Holidays - 11/29/2010 1:21:30 PM
  • I like the articles and there are many. I haven't been able to find any on breathing during exercises. I seem to always end up doing the reverse breathing from what the exercise calls for. Does it matter when I exhale or inhale? - 8/24/2010 1:56:55 PM
  • MOM210
    Leanne26, no the point is not for your heart to RACE. There is a difference in increasing your heart rate to a level that gets you in your target heart rate and having a racing heart. Sometimes your heart can race and it'll be ok but a Doctor has to determine that because if you feel nauseous after a workout, that's a bad sign. If you feel tired that's ok. But, there are types of heart racing that can kill you. Check with your doctor to be sure. - 2/7/2010 6:58:04 AM
  • K_RENEE
    thanks for the link to the PARQ - 1/26/2010 5:50:06 PM
  • Take it from me, pay attention to the warning to take it slow initially and trying to go from couch potato to exercise maven overnight is a great way to have issues. Nice and slow at first. Best way to develop habits that will last while not putting yourself at great risk. - 7/22/2009 9:26:05 AM
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