SparkPeople Blogs  •  fitness  •  injury

How to Injure Yourself at the Gym

By , SparkPeople Blogger
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.

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 okay for a while, but eventually the daily grind starts 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. What matters most is that you’re challenging yourself based on what your body can handle, 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 at a high risk for workout-related injuries when speed, momentum and heavy weights are involved. If that sounds like you—or you're trying a new form of exercise for which you have not received individualized instruction—there’s nothing wrong with asking for help. Often, an outsider (fitness buddy, personal trainer, group instructor) will have 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 possible!