By Margaret Harvey, DO
The gym is a great place to build strength and endurance, but it’s important to be mindful of the potential for gym-related injury. Consider these eight tips for staying fit and injury free at the gym.
- Start with a warm up
Don’t challenge cold muscles. Run in place for a few minutes and then stretch, gently and slowly practicing the motions of the exercise to follow. Warming up increases the body temperature, heart and blood flow rates, and loosens up the muscles, tendons, ligaments, and joints to decrease the risk of injury.
- Don’t skip the stretch
Start stretching slowly and carefully until reaching a point of tension. Hold each stretch for 20 seconds, and then slowly and carefully release it. Never stretch to the point of pain, and avoid bouncing on a muscle that is fully stretched. It’s terrific to do stretching exercises at home each day to maintain flexibility.
- Keep a light touch on the handrails
With cardio machines like treadmills and the elliptical trainer, keep your hands resting lightly on the handrails—and avoid a death-grip on the rails. A clinging, hunched position will cause improper spine alignment which can be jarring to your shoulders and elbows. If you need to hang on for your life, the setting is probably too high.
- Cross train
Regularly switching from one activity to another has many benefits over continually performing the same exercise routine. It prevents mental burnout, and since different activities target slightly different muscle groups, the result is a more comprehensive conditioning.
- Focus on muscle groups, not individual muscles
People get hurt when they put too much emphasis on one muscle, e.g. getting huge biceps or lats. A better approach is to target more of your arms or shoulders with moves like the chest press or back row. The best exercises are those that work several muscles at the same time because they build functional strength. Wait at least 48 hours before working the same muscle group again.
- Pay attention to your shoes
If you play a sport more than three times a week, get the right shoes for that activity,” Dr. Harvey says. “For example, running shoes are designed to put your foot and leg into the best position to propel you forward. If they are worn for activities with a lot of side-to-side movement, it can cause the ankle to roll to the side, with the potential for a sprained or even broken ankle. Cross-training shoes are a better choice for sports like tennis or step classes. Regular exercisers should replace their shoes every twelve months, or at the first signs or wear (running shoes should be replaced every 480 to 800 kilometers).”
- Accept your limitations
As we age, our bones lose density and strength, our ligaments and tendons stiffen, we lose circulation, and we generally become more vulnerable to injury. Keep on going to the gym, but use more caution as you get older to protect your body.
- Consider hiring a professional
Using a machine incorrectly or putting on too much resistance is cause for concern and potential injury. Use the mirrors, if available, to monitor your form and technique, and consider signing up with a personal trainer, even for just a couple of sessions, for some sensible tips for injury free routines.
Margaret Harvey, DO, is a sports medicine fellowship trained orthopedic surgeon with Plancher Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine, a general orthopaedics and sports medicine practice with offices in New York City and Greenwich, Connecticut. www.plancherortho.com