New Year, New You: 5 Common Mistakes That Cause Injury at the Gym

Believe it or not, a busy season for physical therapists or rehab specialists involves those who make a resolution to get back into the gym. Although this is a great resolution, we know as therapists that as soon as people get back into the gym for a few weeks the injuries that come with them will follow. 

Whether you are motivated to get stronger, lose weight, or lead a healthier lifestyle, there is a good way to start getting into a routine and a not so good way. 

I want to discuss the most common things I see that lead to injury when people get back into a workout routine. 

1. Not taking enough rest breaks

Many take a ‘right out of the gate’ approach where you are committed to getting a workout every day. This does not allow proper rest breaks allowing muscle tissue to heal and build properly as it is supposed to. Try to build a day or two of rest during your week to allow your body to recover.

2. Using too much weight too soon

Many people do not grade or increase their workouts properly and jump to a weightlifting routine they are not ready for. Be sure to check your form and body mechanics with each exercise you do. It is common that your body will figure out what we call ‘compensations’ within movement patterns. This describes when your body can perform a workout but is using incorrect posture, muscle movements, or incorrect core patterns. This can definitely lead to injury and should be identified by someone who is trained to do so. 

3. Ignoring aches and pains

You are a few weeks into your new routine and you start feeling some soreness here and there. Maybe a twinge every once in a while. Although this could be nothing, many people end up in our clinic with an injury that could have very easily been prevented had they not ignored those early signs. There is a difference between what many describe as a typical post workout ‘soreness’, sometimes referred to as DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness), and pain that could lead to something more serious. Be sure to listen to what your body is telling you- numbness, tingling, spasms, throbbing, or stiffness are typically signs that something is not right. 

4. Only doing cardio

Cardio exercises such as the bike, elliptical, or treadmill can be excellent tools to improve your fitness. The term ‘cardio’ refers to the system it challenges most: the cardiovascular system. It helps with your body’s ability to use aerobic muscle function to improve your endurance; how efficiently your heart can pump blood to the muscles.  This doesn’t necessarily mean you are doing the best exercise to build muscle, strengthen tendons, and improve core strength. This lies with resistive or weight training. When done properly, these exercises will lead you to keeping a balanced and healthy body. 

5. No warm ups or cool downs

So, you are waking up early or staying late after work to get your routine done and time is of the essence. When talking to clients, I find the most common way people think to expedite their workouts is to skip the warm up or cool down. This is, by far in my opinion, the easiest way to risk injury. A typical warm up can consist of anything to prep your body for an exercise routine: this can include some light challenge cardio, dynamic stretching, or even making sure you are hydrated. A cool down is what is performed after a workout to return to a resting state. I typically encourage clients to perform some light stretching or range of motion exercises to limit muscle tightness. Taking the time to do both of these key pieces of a workout will mitigate many risks of injury and keep you moving steadily towards your goals.

Physical therapists are not just for helping the injured but also are capable of helping prevent injury as well. If you are worried about how to get into a correct routine, want to identify compensation patterns, or even want to know how to warm up and cool down for your workout, make an appointment with someone who can progress you safely into the new year. 

No matter your goal, make your health the priority, not the scale. We want you to feel great no matter what you are doing. Hopefully those New Year’s Resolutions end up in success, but if an injury does occur or you simply want to avoid the potential for injury, come see us and let us help restore what moves you!

By: Dr. Bri McCormick PT, DPT

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