Many studies have shown the overwhelming health benefits of exercise. There's always the risk of injury, however, whether you're a weekend warrior or a master athlete. But if you take precautions, you can greatly reduce the risk. These nine guidelines will help protect you.
Set goals that you not only know you can achieve, but that are very specific, not vague. So, for example, opt for a goal such as “I’ll plan to cycle 20 miles this week.” Don't set unclear goals such as “I really should try to get more exercise this week.”
The most common cause of injury is exercising too agressively—the "too much, too soon" syndrome. Start any new exercise at a relatively low intensity and gradually increase your level of exertion over a number of weeks. Use the 10 percent rule: In general, don’t increase your training load—the length or frequency of workouts, the intensity or the distance—by more than 10 percent a week.
“No pain, no gain” is a myth. If you have continuing pain during an exercise, stop and don’t continue unless you can do so painlessly. (If the pain occurs in the chest or neck area, contact your doctor immediately.) General muscle soreness after exercise is another matter: It usually indicates that you are not warming up sufficiently or are exercising too long or strenuously.
Try to stay in control of your movements—if you can’t, slow down and exercise at a more moderate pace. Rapid, jerky movements can set the stage for injury. Also, as you move your limbs, keep your muscles contracted and move them as if you are pushing against some resistance.
Poor form and posture during exercise can result in injury. Keep your back aligned (with your abdominal muscles contracted, your buttocks tucked in and your knees aligned over your feet). This is particularly important in any activity where you are jumping or reaching overhead.
"Ballistic” stretching—where you bounce in and out of a stretching position—can increase the chance of muscle tears and muscle soreness. Instead, perform static stretches, in which you gradually stretch through a muscle’s full range of movement until you feel resistance. This helps to loosen muscles without straining them.
Wearing improper footwear or worn-out shoes can place added stress on your hips, knees, ankles and feet—the body parts where up to 90 percent of all sports injuries occur. Choose shoes suited to your activity and replace them before they wear out.
Avoid high-impact aerobics. Most aerobics instructors and many aerobics students suffer injuries to their shins, calves, lower back, ankles and knees as a result of the repetitive, jarring movements of some of the aerobics routines they perform. You may want to stick to the marching or gliding movements of low-impact aerobics instead of the jolting, up-and-down motion of typical aerobics.
Keep yourself well hydrated: replace fluids lost through sweating. This is particularly important in hot weather, when you can easily lose more than a quart of water in an hour through sweating. Neglecting to compensate for fluid loss can cause lethargy and nausea, interfering with your performance. Even if you don’t feel thirsty, it’s important to drink at regular intervals when exercising. Your thirst may be satisfied long before you have replenished lost fluids.