An honest guide to remaining injury free

So you have decided to start an exercise regime.  If you’ve had a long period since you last had a bout of exercise, your body (and mind) will be out of practice. A new found desire to exercise can be for many reasons, but often occurs when someone either starts to put on a few pounds or decides that it’s time to use exercise to become more healthy.  Both are good reasons to exercise. If you’re really lucky, you exercise because you couldn’t imagine life without it – once it becomes routine, it becomes a part of who you are.  Some have this natural ability and some just need to work a little harder to reap the rewards of exercise and keeping fit and healthy.

As a health care professional, I see a lot of athletes and recreational sports people coming to my clinic with injuries.  The majority of the injuries I see are, unfortunately, from overuse or incorrect training – especially in those new to exercise. I’ve listed below a quick check list to follow when starting exercise:

1.      Ease into exercise
This may seem obvious, but how many of us have donned the new trainers and rushed off the gym, used every bit of equipment, lifted heavy weights and then woken up the next day hardly able to walk down the stairs.  Although a little stiffness is to be expected, excessive overuse of your muscles can predispose you to injury.  Remind yourself that if injury strikes you could be stopped from doing any training for 6-8 weeks or more – so starting slow gives you plenty of time to progress and enjoy your new found enthusiasm.

2.      Work to a 6 week programme
A 6 week programme which will gradually lead to progression in your length and intensity of workout is the best way to start out. These days it is pretty easy to find a good workout regime training schedule either on the internet or at the gym by a good trainer.  Allow your body at least 6 weeks to adapt to exercise.

3.      Work out sensibly and at your own rate
Some injuries are caused by overuse and this is sometimes when people compete during their initial workouts with people in their class or club.  To compete is great as a sports person but please wait until you are fit enough to take on others.  Moderation is the key when you initially start training.  Build up gradually and sensibly and you will soon be competing with the rest and hopefully leaving them for dust! To start with, only challenge yourself

4.     If an exercise causes pain, stop!
There is a difference between pain and a little discomfort – we all know it, but many of us decide to continue regardless. For example, if while doing squats you get a sharp pain shooting down the back of your leg, then that is an indication you need to stop. But if your muscles are tired and straining to complete a rep, then that is good!  Your body is a fantastic moderator of exercise. If you listen to it you will hear when it thinks you are over doing it.  You just need to listen!

5.     Technique is EVERYTHING
Many injuries involve poor technique when training.  Remember you are better to do 1 good repetition than 8 poor repetitions.  When using free weights, don’t be tempted to lift the heaviest you can.  This often involves a lot of swinging and momentum.  You will gain more and be less likely to get injured by lifting a lighter weight with more focus and control. You might think you look cool with the big weights, but lift them wrong and people will stare! If you are unsure about correct free weight training, start with the resistance weight machines in the gym and have the confidence to ask for further instructions from a trainer regarding the free weights – it’s what they’re paid to do. Here’s a couple of our favourites:

6.      Remember your rest days
It is all too tempting when you start exercise to train every day.  Remember your body needs time to recover and this time is as important as your work out time.  Taking rest days will actually enhance your training and reduce your risk of injury.

7.      Ensure your equipment is fit for purpose
Equipment can be anything from trainers to tennis racquets, dumbbells to bicycles.  Many injuries are caused by ill-fitting equipment.  Make sure trainers are fit for purpose: not too old, suitable for your foot mechanics and certainly don’t wear any that you have cleaned by putting through the washing machine! If you are using larger equipment like a bicycle, make sure you have an expert fit it to you.  Even little thing like the cleat fittings on pedals needs to be straight or you will predispose yourself to possible knee and ankle problems.

8.      ENJOY your exercise
Exercise is a fantastic way to raise endorphin levels – that’s the chemical that gives you that feel good feeling.  It will help you stay healthier and best of all you will often get to meet lots of likeminded people.  Feeling good about yourself is good for your self esteem and reduces stress levels.  Stress has a huge effect on the body’s physiology and is often listed as a problem that can predispose you to certain pathologies.  So enjoying your exercise should also help your health and wellbeing.

9.      IF you do get injured…
At the first sign of injury, get some advice from a qualified health professional.  Do not conform to the old fashioned theory of “no pain, no gain” When you get a niggle listen to your body.  Take a few days rest and see if the pain subsides.  Remember if you don’t rest up straight away you could find you cause the injury to worsen and you may be off for weeks rather than days.

10.     RICE
RICE does not mean you have to get cooking after your workout.  Instead R.I.C.E stands for Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation.  RICE is useful if you have sustained a minor injury such as a muscle tear or ligament sprain.

Always seek further medical advice if you are unable to weight bear on the injury or unsure in any way as to the severity of the injury.  The faster you can get a diagnosis the faster you can begin your journey of recovery.

So enjoy your exercise. In fact, you should grow to love it so much you can’t imagine life without it.  Cross train when you can to train different areas of the body and to ensure you don’t suffer from overuse.


Helen Bullen is the Senior Osteopath and owner of Fine Fettle MHC
For further advice on injury prevention or treatment contact
Helen is a qualified Osteopath with a specific interest in sports injury and injury prevention in athletes.  Her clients range from National League Volleyball players, Iron man competitors to 5K runners.
Feature Photo Credit: 130918-F-GY993-257 by Flickr user Torch Magazine, adapted and used under a Creative Commons


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