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7 Ways to Hurt Yourself at the Gym

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Updated July 01, 2014

The gym offers so much variety when it comes to exercise, it's tempting to jump in and try it all. But, there are some common mistakes exercisers make that may end up hurting more than helping. Learn how to avoid injury and get the most of out your workouts with these simple tips.

1. Doing Too Much Too Soon

Man clutching shoulder in pain at the gym
Louis-Paul St-Onge/E+/Getty Images

If you're getting started with exercise, it's tempting to try to make up for lost time by doing everything at once. The problem? You wake up the next morning and realize you need a crane to get out of bed. Some soreness is normal but if you can't function, you went too far. Tips for getting started:

  • Ease into cardio. Start with 10-20 minutes of exercise, 3 days at a moderate intensity, gradually adding time as you build endurance.
  • Keep it simple. Even if you used to lift weights, your body needs time to adapt. Start with 8-10 exercises and do 1 set of 10-12 reps for the first week or so.
  • Rest. If you feel sore, give yourself extra recovery days. You may need a few weeks of consistent exercise to build a strong foundation.

2. Holding Onto the Treadmill for Dear Life

Beginners may need to hold onto the rails at first, but be careful: You risk injuring yourself. Holding on puts your body in an unnatural position that could strain the shoulders. It can also affect posture and reduce the calories burned.
  • If it's a habit, wean yourself off by taking your hands off every other minute, increasing that time each week.
  • If you're holding on so you don't fall off, slow down. Going too fast defeats the purpose.
  • If you feel shaky, try taking one hand away and once that feels comfortable, take the other hand away as well.

Keep in mind that it's not just the treadmill. Avoiding the rails on any machine will help you improve balance, burn more calories and move in a more natural way.

3. Using Bad Form

Using bad form doesn't just compromise your workouts, it also puts your body at risk, possibly leading to pain or injuries. Bad form comes in many shapes and sizes, but a few common mistakes:

  • Straining the knees. When doing squats or lunges, keep the knees behind the toes. Pushing the knees forward puts pressure on the joints and could cause injury. To avoid this, learn proper form for squats and lunges or work with a professional.
  • Rounding the back. When bending over for an exercise, such as dumbbell rows, keep the back flat or slightly arched to protect the back from injury. To make it easier, bend the knees or raise up until you can keep the back flat.

In general, good form ensures you're getting the most out of each exercise.

4. Lifting Too Heavy

It can be tough choosing the right weights so if you don't have a spotter nearby, it's better to go too light than too heavy. Lifting weights that are too heavy can lead to:
  • Strained or torn muscles
  • Losing control of the weight and dropping it
  • Swinging the weight to complete the exercise, which reduces the effectiveness of the exercise and could lead to injury
  • Using bad form to get the weights up, which could put your back, shoulders or knees at risk for injury

Learn more about safe weightlifting techniques and how to choose weights.

5. Bouncing When You Stretch

There are different ways to stretch the body. The most common is static stretching, which involes holding stretches for a period of time to increase flexibility. But, one thing you want to avoid is bouncing while you stretch.

When you bounce, you force the muscles beyond their normal range of motion, which can lead to strained muscles or tendons. This is especially true when the muscles are cold and less pliable. To avoid injury:

  • Warm up before you stretch or save the stretches for after your workout
  • Ease into the stretch, only going as far as your flexibility allows. Stretching should never cause pain.
  • Make stretching a regular part of your routine to maintain flexibility

More about flexibility and stretching.

6. Doing the Same Thing Over and Over

If you've been doing the same routine for months or years, you're putting stress on the same muscles, joints and connective tissue every time you exercise. This could lead to an overuse injury as well as burnout and boredom. Some common overuse injuries include tendonitis, shin splints and stress fractures.

To avoid overuse injuries:

  • Try cross-training. Try activities that use different muscles and movements. For example, If you run, try something low or no impact like swimming.
  • Change your routine. Shake things up by changing your workout schedule, trying new moves or changing your method of training.
  • Work with a trainer. A pro can show you different ways to strengthen and stretch the body to help protect it from injury.

7. Skipping Your Warm Up

If you're short on time, you may be tempted to skip the warm up and jump right into your workout. But the warm up is one of the most important parts of your exercise routine. By easing into exercise with light movement, you can gradually raise your heart rate, increase oxygen to the body and increase blood flow to the muscles. Not only will that make the transition to exercise more comfortable, it also prevents injuries by increasing the elasticity of the muscles.

Always allow an extra 5-10 minutes before the workout and warm up with a little light cardio.

Learn more about warming up.

Sources

Safran MR, Seaber AV, Garrett WE Jr. "Warm-up and muscular injury prevention. An update." Sports Med. 1989 Oct;8(4):239-49.

 

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