Invest in quality athletic shoes
Athletic shoes support proper alignment and cushion impact during activity helping to protect against injury. Your shoes should be replaced every 350 to 550 miles, or every three to six months. If you perform a specific type of exercise two to three times a week, buy a sport-specific shoe. Cross trainers are ideal if you do a wide variety of activities, but consider walking shoes, running shoes, or hiking boots if your workouts are more focused. (See Athletic Shoes: A Buyer’s Guide)
Make rest days a priority
Research shows that exercising more than 250 minutes per week results in clinically significant weight loss, but you shouldn’t skip rest days to meet that goal. The body uses rest days to recover and repair itself, which results in improved fitness. Skip rest days and you put yourself at risk for overuse injuries. Use one to two days per week to rest completely or enjoy leisure activities like a slow walk after dinner or working in the garden.
Get proper guidance
Using proper exercise form can reduce risk of injury and make your workouts more effective. Don’t jump into a new program without some guidance. Ask for instruction on how to use weight machines and use mirrors to evaluate your form. Seek alternatives for exercises that aggravate problems like knee or lower back pain. Safely executing your exercises will protect you from unnecessary injuries that can slow your progress.
Balance your training
Muscle strength imbalances occur when one muscle group gets more training than an opposing or supporting muscle group. Over time these imbalances in strength can lead to injuries. For example, runners often have hamstring weakness that leads to muscle strains. Also, overworking the abdominals without including lower back exercises may result in back pain. Choose a variety of exercises that give attention to all muscle groups. Don’t completely skip an exercise if you’ve come to dislike it. Seek out an alternative that will adequately strengthen the same muscle.
Engaging in the same activities over and over can improve your exercise performance, but it’s important to add variety to your routine. Activities that require repetitive movements (running, swimming) can lead to overuse injuries, such as shin splints and tendinitis. Cross training is a simple way to incorporate new movements while continuing to build your fitness level. If you are training for an event, such as road race, that requires you to engage in a repetitive activity, try adding high-intensity interval training (HIIT), hiking, group exercise classes, or water sports to reduce risk of injury.
Maintaining flexibility reduces injury by allowing the joints to move through a full range of motion. Flexibility training does not have to be restricted to stretching before and after an exercise session. In fact, research reviews have concluded that there is not significant evidence to support that stretching before or after your workout will decrease injury risk during that workout. What is important is incorporating flexibility training into your overall program. For some, this is easily done with full body stretches after a workout, but others may choose activities such as yoga, Pilates or martial arts to increase joint flexibility and to reduce exercise injury.