5 Tips to Prevent Injuries When You Exercise

5 Tips to Prevent Injuries When You Exercise

5 Tips to Prevent Injuries When You Exercise Blog featured image

Strength training is an extremely effective method for improving health and making our bodies more resistant to injury.

Unfortunately, people are often injured during exercise, leading them to quit and lose the benefits that exercise can provide.

In fact, according to an analysis of Consumer Product Safety Commission data from MedicareAdvantage.com, at-home exercise injuries that resulted in a visit to the emergency room increased by more than 48% from 2019 to 2020, likely due to people increasing at-home exercise during Covid shutdown. And nearly 30% of all exercise-related injuries suffered in the home were among people aged 65 and older.

In this article, we’ll talk about common exercise-related injuries and how you can prevent injury by exercising safely.

Consistent exercise is one of the healthiest habits we can have. Unfortunately, the majority of people don’t exercise enough to reap the health benefits (Harris et al., 2011). Some of the common reasons for not exercising include exercise being “painful” and a fear of getting injured (Justine et al., 2013).

This is concerning because exercise is actually extremely safe when executed properly. However, it’s understandable because poor exercise practices are common, which have led to an increase in exercise injuries over the past few decades (Jones, Christensen, & Young, 2015).

There are a few common injuries that people suffer during exercise. Thankfully, these are easily avoided with a few simple approaches.

a person is holding their injured knee

Common Injuries​

According to one long-term study, about 64% of exercise injuries occur in one of three areas of the body (Kerr, Collins, & Cornstock, 2010).

  • The most commonly injured area is the shoulders/neck region. About 1 in 4 injuries affect this area.
  • The lower back (21%) and the hands (18.6%) are also frequently injured.

Common Causes of Exercise Injuries

The vast majority of injuries that occur in the gym happen in 1 of 6 ways (Gray & Finch, 2015).

These are the six (in no particular order):

  1. Tripping/falling while using motorized equipment (e.g. treadmill).
  2. Tripping/falling elsewhere in the gym (e.g. walking around the gym or during a group exercise class).
  3. Making contact with a wall or other equipment.
  4. Being crushed by dropped equipment.
  5. Awkward/improper landing during exercises (e.g. jumping exercises, during a group exercise class).
  6. Overexertion/overuse/excessively strenuous movements.

In this study, which tracked injuries in fitness facilities over a 14-year period, the six categories above included 90% of injuries.

As you can see, accidents and poorly-executed exercises underlie all of these injuries. Thankfully, these are all easily avoided with a few safe exercise practices.

5 Tips for Safe Exercise

1. Use machines instead of free weights

Want to avoid getting crushed by weights? Want to avoid hurting your back in an effort to lift weight?

In the aforementioned 14-year study, 55% of exercise injuries involved free weight exercises (Gray & Finch, 2015). A simple way to cut out a large injury risk is to use machines instead of free weights.

Machines mimic free weight movements, achieve comparable outcomes, and eliminate the risk of being injured by falling weights.

2. Choose low-impact exercises instead of high-impact activities

Most exercise injuries take place during free weight exercises…but where do the rest of the injuries take place?

Virtually all of the other injuries take place during high-impact activities: group aerobics classes, boxing, running on the treadmill, and jumping exercises.

These activities include two opportunities for injury. First, there’s high stress on the joints (knee, hip, lower back) when the impact is made. This impact includes landing from a step or jump. Second, if the landing isn’t proper, an ankle or wrist could be sprained.

Low-impact activities include movements where joints don’t suffer from limbs accelerating into the ground or an object.

Slow-motion strength training is a low-impact exercise. For example, in the leg press, the feet remain in contact with the footplate and the knee joint is never locked out – allowing the muscles to bear the majority of weight instead of the joint.

Walking and cycling are also low-impact activities, where joints are experiencing minimal stress.

3. Move slowly and at a consistent pace.

Injuries occur when there is too much force placed on the joints. Force, as you might recall from high school physics, equals mass times acceleration.

If you move at a constant speed, acceleration is minimal, keeping force at a lower and safer amount.

Imagine running as fast as you can at a wall– there’s a lot of acceleration and force behind you. That collision will surely hurt and result in injury.

Now imagine placing your hands on the wall and pushing against it with 25% strength, then 50% strength, then 100% strength. There’s practically no acceleration and the force against the wall can be controlled and abandoned at any time.

There is no collision, and certainly no injury.

This is a vital reason why we lift using slow speeds at The Perfect Workout. 10 seconds up and 10 seconds down!

4. Prioritize form over weight.

When strength training, the weights that you lift should be challenging at the start and finish… nearly impossible by the end of the set. However, the weights shouldn’t be impossible with good form at the start.

Common causes of injury when trying to “max out” (using the most weight you can lift for one rep) or losing proper form when lifting very heavy weight loads (ExRx.net, n.d.).

This is where the keen eye and coaching of a Personal Trainer are beneficial. They can select an appropriate resistance for each individual and coach you through nuances to achieve perfect form. They can also tell when form is breaking and help safely stop an exercise before you risk injury with improper form.

5. Train muscles in a balanced fashion.

A number of shoulder injuries, lower back pain, and muscle imbalances can come from training muscles unevenly (ExRx.net, n.d.). Examples of this are training your chest more than your back, training your quads more than your hamstrings, or training your biceps more than your triceps.

To avoid this, train all major muscle groups to an even amount.

In a traditional slow-motion workout, like what you get at The Perfect Workout, we can exercise every major muscle group every session.

trainer showing a male client his progress on the compound row

Key Takeaways

Exercise should strengthen your body, not damage it. Unfortunately, exercise injuries have increased over the past few decades. These are especially common in the neck, shoulders, lower back, and hands.

Thankfully, injuries can be avoided with a few simple practices.

  • Choose machines over free weights.
  • Use low-impact exercises and activities.
  • Strength train with a consistent pace and a challenging but not impossible weight.
  • Practice good form.
  • Train your muscles evenly, avoiding an excessive amount of exercise for one particular muscle group.

Of course, if you are not sure how to execute these tips, speak with one of our Personal Trainers who will guide you through a very safe and effective exercise program.

  • ExRx.net. (n.d.). Weight training injury risk factors. Retrieved from http://www.exrx.net/WeightTraining/RiskFactors.html
  • Gray, S.E. & Finch, C.F. (2015). The causes of injuries sustained at fitness facilities presenting to Victorian emergency departments – identifying the main culprits. Injury Epidemiology, 2(1), 6.
  • Harris, C.D., Watson, K.B., Carlson, S.A., Fulton, J.E., & Dorn, J.M. (2011). Adult participation in aerobic and muscle-strengthening physical activities — United States, 2011. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 62(17), 326-330.
  • Jones, C.S., Christensen, C., & Young, M. (2015). Weight training injury trends. The Physician and Sportsmedicine, 28(7), 61-72.
  • Justine, M., Azizan, A., Hassan, V., Salleh, Z., & Manaf, H. (2013). Barriers to participation in physical activity and exercise among middle-aged and elderly individuals. Singapore Medicine Journal, 54(10), 581-586.
  • Kerr, Z.Y., Collins, C.L., & Comstock, R.D. (2010). Epidemiology of weight training-related injuries presenting to United States emergency departments. American Journal of Sports Medicine, 38(4), 765-771.