You’ve made the commitment to start treating your body better, which includes getting off the couch and working out. That’s great news, but don’t make the mistake of casually slipping on your running shoes and thinking you can just pick up where you left off the last time you engaged in a regular fitness routine. Whether it has been a few months or a decade since you last saw the inside of a gym, it’s in your best interest to take the following precautions to avoid sidelining yourself with an injury.
Warm Up and Stretch
Engaging in about 10 minutes of light cardio before your workout delivers blood and nutrients to the muscles. This can help you avoid muscle tears during the most intense phases of your exercise routine. Good warm-up exercises include a brisk walk, jumping jacks, or jogging in place. After your muscles are thoroughly warmed up, you need to stretch them to increase flexibility, which is another key factor in preventing injury. A personal trainer can teach you how to safely stretch all of your major muscle groups, and you should perform these stretches both after warming up and after your main workout.
Proper hydration is essential to cool your body, prevent muscle cramping and keep blood circulating properly for optimal athletic performance. While everyone’s hydration needs are different, the general rule is to consume two to three liters of water every day. This includes drinking water before, during, and after your workout. A good way to gauge if you are meeting your water needs is to take a look at your urine. If it’s clear, you’re hydrated, but if it’s dark yellow, you need to increase your water intake.
Fuel Your Body
Proper nutrition, both before and after exercise, can also help you avoid injury. The body needs glycogen, which is derived from carbohydrates, for energy during exercise. Without readily available glycogen, muscle failure can occur during a workout and lead to extensive tissue tears. This is why it is important to eat a snack containing both complex and simple carbohydrates prior to exercising. The complex carb will give you steady energy for the duration of your workout, and the simple carb will give you a kick of energy up front. Good pre-exercise snacks include whole wheat toast with peanut butter and banana, yogurt with granola, and oatmeal with blueberries. Your post-workout snack is equally important and should contain protein to help your muscles recover from the small tears that occur during muscle building. Good choices are a protein shake, a hard-boiled egg, and grilled chicken with vegetables.
Most importantly, it is imperative that you consider your age, fitness level, and the current state of health before embarking on a new exercise routine. For example, if you have a knee problem, you’re just asking for trouble if you decide to take up running. Instead, you may want to consider an exercise that doesn’t cause heavy joint impact, such as riding a stationary bike. Furthermore, your newfound enthusiasm for getting in shape may tempt you to go overboard at first, but pushing yourself too hard pretty much guarantees an injury. Start slowly, stop if a particular exercise causes you pain and be sure to get plenty of rest between workouts. Consulting with both your physician and a certified trainer will help you choose a regimen that meets your unique needs and minimizes your risk of injury.