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A young woman stretching her leg. Stretching is a key part of injury prevention.

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7 Injury Prevention Tips to Keep on Your Radar, According to Fitness Experts

Three experts share their advice for staying as healthy as possible before, during, and after workouts.

By Blake BakkilaNovember 15, 2023

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As you tackle every fitness goal big or small, the last thing likely on your mind is getting injured. But sometimes, it happens: Someone spends months training for a marathon and twists their ankle weeks before race day, a beginner doesn’t properly warm up before lifting weights and pulls a muscle…the list goes on. Whether you’re an experienced athlete or just getting into fitness, exercise-related injuries can happen. The good news, however, is that there are several tried-and-true injury prevention tips to mitigate risks.

We spoke with a Peloton instructor and two physical therapists about what fitness beginners and experienced athletes alike should know about injury prevention. Below, check out their advice on how to achieve your goals and fend off exercise injuries.

What Is Injury Prevention in Fitness?

Injury prevention is all about setting your body up for success without causing pain or an extensive recovery time after working out. Staying healthy and strong is essential to feeling and performing your best, and there are two different types of sports injuries you want to avoid: traumatic and non-traumatic.

“One of the main causes of non-traumatic sports-related injuries are training errors,” says Karen C. Westervelt, PT, PhD, a clinical associate professor and integrative health educational program director at the University of Vermont. “Training errors include poor technique, doing too much too fast, not taking adequate time for recovery, always doing the same workout, and not cross-training.”

With these primary concepts in mind, we'll focus on non-traumatic injuries (such as injuries to your muscles and tendons) and how to help prevent them during future workouts.

Common Causes of Exercise Injuries

Depending on your fitness level and experience, some sports injuries may be more common than others. The exercise or sport you’re participating in is also a big factor, notes Charlotte Weidenbach, Peloton instructor and doctor.

Here are a few common causes of exercise injuries to watch out for:

1. Doing Too Much Too Soon

Beginners often want to see results quickly and might expect too much too quickly during a workout. “Our bodies are very good at responding to the work we ask of them, but they need time,” Westervelt says. “Asking a muscle to do more work than it is ready to do can result in muscle strain.” 

Ligament strains are also common among beginners who are attempting exercises that are too complex or strenuous, adds Elijah Hazzard, PT, DPT, clinical director at All Star Physical Therapy Desert Hot Springs.

“In these instances, instead of using their muscles to perform any given exercise and to stabilize each joint in complex movements, the exercise novice will unknowingly use their connective tissues to help with performing the exercise,” Hazzard explains. “This will lead to excess strain on a certain ligament and before you know it, a nagging ligament sprain will be around, and will not go away without adequate rest.”

2. Improper Form

Other injuries often associated with beginners result from poor form or technique. “For example, cyclists who do not have their seat at the right height when riding often experience patellofemoral knee pain,” Westervelt says, referencing pain felt at the front of the knee. That’s why it’s crucial to properly and safely set up equipment, follow instructor cues and guidance, and focus on your form, no matter which exercise you’re doing.

3. Overuse

Whether you’re constantly training for a specific fitness goal or you simply love a new exercise and want to do it over and over again, overuse is possible when you don’t rest or recover enough. For both novice athletes and seasoned gym veterans alike, it’s important to find an appropriate balance and ease into a routine.

For instance, let’s say someone has recently gotten into running and just wants to keep going. “Exercisers new to running may love the new 5K training they have started, but they do not balance the running program they have started with commensurate strength or resistance training,” Hazzard says. "This new exerciser is at risk for patellar tendonitis injury at the knee, or posterior tibialis tendonitis injury at the ankle.”

4. Muscle Imbalance

Exercise injuries can also result from muscle imbalances. “Your body and your mind benefit from adding some variety to your workout,” Westervelt explains. “Doing the same workout repeatedly can result in some muscles getting very strong and others not being used as much. This can create an imbalance in strength across the joint which can contribute to injury and pain.”

5. Insufficient Warm-Ups and Stretches

When you don’t take the time to properly warm up or stretch, you increase your risk of overuse, muscle imbalance, and poor technique, Dr. Charlotte explains. “A specific, precise, and adequate warm-up and stretching routine can decrease your risk of all those things,” she says.

No matter your exercise level, fitness injuries are common—but fortunately, sometimes they can be preventable, too. By understanding these key injury causes, you can be more aware of what can happen when you overdo it during a workout or fail to rest up after a tough exercise session. But are there any ways to try and prevent these causes from happening in the first place?

A sweaty man smiling and drinking water after a workout outside. Hydration is a key part of injury prevention.

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7 Tips for Preventing Injuries During Workouts

“Preventing injuries is multifactorial, and there is no way to completely prevent injury—but there are some things you can do to help stay injury-free,” Westervelt says. Here are some important injury prevention tips to keep in mind, according to our experts:

1. Perform Dynamic Warm-Ups

Injury prevention starts before your sweat sesh begins and continues after it’s done. “The importance of warming up can't be overstated,” Dr. Charlotte emphasizes, noting that your warm-up should include active, dynamic stretching and cater to the workout you have planned. (On the Peloton App, you can find curated warm-up, cooldown, and stretch classes designed to complement specific workouts.)

2. Cool Down and Stretch 

After you’re done exercising, you may feel tempted to sprint to the shower—but first, take the time to properly cool down and knock out some static stretches. The exact stretches you should do depend on your body’s needs, your fitness goals, and your workout, but if you’re not sure where to begin, Westervelt notes the importance of stretching your quads, hamstrings, and erector spinae.

3. Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate 

Make sure you’re drinking enough water to properly perform your exercise, Hazzard points out. Staying appropriately hydrated is key for supporting your fluid balance, lubricating your joints, and generally fueling your body.

4. Check Your Form

“Whenever possible, have someone watch your form,” Hazzard advises. “Having a trusted, experienced workout partner, trainer, or rehab professional to review your movement helps a ton. And if you are an experienced exerciser yourself, you can record yourself and critique your own form.”

5. Switch up Your Routine

Mixing up your fitness routine and not repeating the same exercise over and over again will benefit you in the long run. “Move in a different way every day,” Hazzard recommends, highlighting the importance of proper balance and recovery for injury prevention.

6. Listen to Your Body

Pushing yourself comfortably and within reason can be a good thing, but you don't want to overdo it—which is why it’s key to know your limits. This may take some time, and more experienced athletes may have a better understanding of this than beginners, but “if it feels like you are not doing something right, you likely are not,” Hazzard says. “The best thing to do in this situation is trying to perform a simpler or less strenuous version of the exercise you are trying to complete.

7. Know When to Stop

The most important thing to remember, according to Dr. Charlotte? Stop when it’s painful. She notes that it’s crucial not to ignore any harmful pain (the kind that goes beyond run-of-the-mill workout tiredness), even if your ambition tries to convince you otherwise. In these cases, continuing to work out “will just hurt your progress in the long run,” Dr. Charlotte explains. “It’s better to get checked out by an expert earlier on, rather than when it’s too late and the damage has become chronic.”

These are a handful of things to keep in mind for injury prevention, but everyone is different. That’s why the final tip is essential: If something doesn’t feel right, stop the exercise. And of course, visit a physical therapist or your doctor to talk about any concerns and get professionally examined, Dr. Charlotte says.

The Takeaway

There’s no way to prevent injuries completely, but there are a few injury prevention best practices you can follow to try and stay as healthy as possible. Because everyone exercises differently, injury prevention tips vary by your experience level, preferred exercises, and performance goals. You can help lower your sports injury risks by focusing on the proper technique and form, staying hydrated, having a solid understanding of your limits, and making time for a solid warm-up and cooldown. And when in doubt, see a professional and remember that you need to rest up and recover in between workouts.

This content is for informational and educational purposes only and does not constitute individualized advice. It is not intended to replace professional medical evaluation, diagnosis, or treatment. Seek the advice of your physician for questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition. If you are having a medical emergency, call your physician or 911 immediately.

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