New Year’s resolutions can bring exciting new fitness goals and a healthier lifestyle through the new year. However, if not done correctly, your new gym routine can also bring sports-related injuries.
We have all experienced the fresh excitement and motivation that is felt at the start of a new fitness routine. However, all too often that determination turns to disappointment when you find, after only a few trips to the gym, you can’t seem to roll out of bed in the morning and that pain in your lower back is a little more persistent.
You can protect your knees, back and joints as you hit the gym in the new year with a few simple tips.
- Wear the right gear
One of the easiest ways you can proactively prevent strain or injury is by ensuring proper fit on your workout clothes and footwear. Avoid clothes that are overly tight that may restrict movement or baggy gym gear that may get caught up in the gym equipment. Choosing the right footwear can also make or break your workout. Old or improperly fitting shoes can result in less support and improper body mechanics which can affect the alignment of your feet, knees, hips and back, resulting in potential for injury over time.
- Start slow
While it can be tempting to jump right into your new workout routine, it’s best to start slowly and gradually increase frequency and intensity. When you begin to work muscle groups that haven’t been used in some time, you may be more prone to wear and tear of your joints and tendons until you build up strength and resistance. Set small goals for yourself at first and increase over time until you’re able to reach your overall fitness objectives.
Make sure you’re setting aside time to stretch before and after your new routine. Stretching keeps your muscles long, lean, and flexible, and this flexibility helps to prevent pulled muscles, undue strain or damage to the muscles and ligaments that protect your bones and joints.
When stretching, try to hold the pose for around 30 seconds. Don’t bounce or rock in the position, as this can contribute to injury. You should feel a little resistance, but you should never experience pain.
Need some help getting started? Try these stretches for better flexibility and reduced tightness.
- Listen to your body
Sticking to your workout routine is important, but above all you have to listen to your body. If you notice that an exercise or movement causes excessive discomfort, don’t try to push past the pain. You can almost always modify an exercise to meet your specific needs without enduring pain. Consult with a physical therapist or a sports physician if pain persists and its limiting your desired activities.
- Strengthen your core
Your core is the epicenter of your body and it’s made up of your chest, abs, hips and back. A strong core can support your posture, movement and overall sense of balance. This can help to stabilize you as you move through your workouts and reduce the risk of injury from a fall or from improper alignment.
- Cross train
Try not to focus on the same type of exercise or area of your body every time you go to the gym. It can be easy to fall into a workout routine rut, but by rotating through different activities you are less likely to cause injury through overuse. Choosing different areas of focus can also help keep you engaged and prevent a loss of interest in your gym routine as you take your new resolution throughout the new year.
- Look for low impact
If you know you have existing joint issues, try some low impact workouts to avoid putting extra pressure on your knees, ankles, hips and lower back. Swimming, elliptical and light to moderate weight resistance training are all great options to get your heart rate up while keeping the impact on your joints low.
- Prioritize rest
Don’t skip your rest days! While exercising, your muscle fibers develop small tears. This is seen most frequently with resistance training or lifting weights and it’s perfectly normal. The breaking and rebuilding of these muscle tissues helps you to build and develop muscle tone. However, your body needs time to repair these tears between workouts. Planning rest days in your fitness routine and allowing for adequate sleep allows your muscles, nerves, bones and connective tissues the time they need to rebuild and prepare to carry you through your next workout.
Daily, intense workouts can easily result in injury. While everyone should try to engage in some form of light exercise every day, it is important to listen to your body and limit days of strenuous/heavy exercise to 3-5 days per week depending on your tolerance.
- Ask for help
If you feel like you are struggling with a certain workout or noticing pain in a specific area, speak to your doctor or work with a licensed athletic trainer or physical therapist to help you identify and to modify your movements, which may be causing you undue pain.
Overall, being mindful of your body’s specific needs and limitations can not only help you avoid injury but will also help you to get a more complete and productive work out to meet your new fitness goals. Always speak to your physician before beginning a new diet or exercise routine, especially if you have pre-existing medical concerns. Then, have fun and get healthy in the new year!
Learn more about sports injury prevention and physical medicine and rehabilitation at Ochsner.