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Have you ever injured your shoulder or back by loading your barbell with too much weight and failing to properly execute the move? Did an inversion-gone-wrong in yoga or Pilates leave you with a muscle strain? How about shinsplints or a sprained ankle from running? Let’s face it: Gym-related injuries happen. But can they be avoided?
“It depends on the scenario. All too often, we find ourselves trying to ‘look good’ for a special occasion, event, milestone or photo shoot in a short matter of time,” says Gianna Fae Vassilakos, a certified holistic nutrition coach, master personal trainer, reiki practitioner, NPC bikini competitor and plant-based foodie who helps her clients find balance — mind, body and spirit. “The ‘all-or-nothing’ mentality can severely raise the likelihood of injury, especially if you don’t know what you’re doing. The level of activity also plays a major part. The more aggressive the workout, the higher the chances of injury.”
If you’re going to the gym and casually riding a stationary bike while browsing social media, you’re a lot less likely to get injured, considering you’re not enduring a strenuous workout — but you aren’t likely to make any gains, either.
So what’s a fitness junkie to do in order to strike the right balance and avoid training mistakes? Well, you can start by avoiding the following pitfalls with Vassilakos’ tips for safer workouts.
How to Prevent Common Training Mistakes
You simply cannot push past your physical limitations every single day. Daily high-intensity workouts without a break will leave you with stressed muscles and joints, lethargy and an increased chance of serious injury.
Prevention: Avoid burnout by cross-training and taking at least one day off from training per week (e.g., back and chest Monday with light cardio, run Tuesday, weight-train legs Wednesday, Spin class Thursday, rest Friday, etc.). If you find yourself constantly tired, battling chronic muscle tension and/or struggling to sleep through the night, take a day to yourself. Always make sure to get at least seven to eight hours of sleep per night so your body can fully recover and build lean muscle.
2. Improper Footwear
Whether you’re a runner, Olympic weightlifter or spin enthusiast, proper footwear keeps you comfortable and safeguards you from injuries. Improper footwear can cause blisters, tendonitis, plantar fasciitis, iliotibial band syndrome and a host of other issues.
Prevention: Go to a podiatrist, physical therapist or even a specialty shoe store to examine your gait (the way you walk), which will give you a better understanding of the type of sneaker you should be wearing in and out of the gym. Runners should change their sneakers every 300 to 500 miles. Save your fashion kicks for brunch dates and streetwear, but make sure you have a supportive pair dedicated to the gym.
3. Not Enough Rest Time Between Reps
The way you rest will have a dramatic impact on your body, while too little time off can leave you susceptible to injury. Depending on how heavy and how much weight you’re lifting, rest periods are going to differ in between reps and sets.
Prevention: For fat-loss and endurance workouts, rest periods should last about 30 seconds or less in between reps. Adding plyometrics such as jump squats, jump lunges or even jumping jacks can enhance your progress. For muscle gain, you should be resting anywhere from 30 to 90 seconds between sets. For strength training, your muscles will need a decent amount of time to recover in order to repeat. Take about three to five minutes between sets, but that doesn’t mean go ahead and scroll your Instagram feed. Take a sip of water, and make sure to breathe properly, allowing your heart rate to slow down.
4. Bad Form
When it comes to training, you need the right setup to prevent muscle strain and target the correct muscle groups.
Prevention: Many new and even existing gym-goers run into mishaps when they don’t know the fundamentals of training. If you’re not confident in a move, ask a skilled professional — such as a certified personal trainer — to assist. As a beginner, take advantage of your free personal training consultation, try a class if offered and don’t be scared to ask questions. Group classes are great, but keep in mind that it’s harder to get the one-on-one attention you may need from the instructor. Never be afraid to modify and take it slow.
5. Not Warming Up
Many times, we’re rushing through the day, trying to get from one thing to the next at lightning speed. When regularly running to and from the gym, it’s easy to justify skipping warm-ups and jumping right into your workouts.
Prevention: Before training, always make sure to do a proper warm-up, such as dynamic stretching. Try a warm-up, including leg swings, knee to chest, walking lunge to twist or crab walks with a resistance band to improve body awareness and fire up your muscles.
6. Incorrect Weight
Curious about trying a new workout you saw in a magazine, on social media or by the chick with amazing abs at the gym? Make sure you’re grabbing the correct weight for yourself and not simply copying what other people are doing.
Prevention: Check in with your body, and yourself. If need be, gradually work your way up to increase your weight or reps. Don’t worry about what everyone else is lifting and focus on your own strength. If you can breeze through 12 to 16 reps without fatigue or failure, go ahead and up your weight for the next set.
7. Pushing Through Pain
When training while injured, you’re only prolonging your recovery time and risking compounding the injury.
Prevention: It’s tough to work toward a fitness goal with an injury, but practice patience and do what you can without going overboard. Go to physical therapy, de-stress, rest and consider taking applicable supplements to support recovery. Once you’re fully healed, you’ll be able to get back into your routine with adequate strength and determination.
Not drinking enough water sets you up for failure. When you’re exercising, especially in high heat and humidity, you have a greater chance of experiencing heat exhaustion and dehydration. Dehydration can cause many avoidable strains, spasms and cramps that will affect the quality of your workout.
Prevention: Don’t underestimate the power of H2O. Your body is made up of mostly water, so make sure to sip before, during and after your workout. For beginners, try hitting a ½ gallon of water per day and gradually work your way up to a full gallon.
If you avoid these training mistakes, you’ll make the most of your workouts and up your odds of staying injury-free. “Your fitness journey should be enjoyable and not rushed for a short-term goal,” Vassilakos says. “Listen to your body, embrace balance, practice self-care and take rest days when necessary. It’s one thing to push past your limit, but it’s another to actually know your limit. Allow your mind and muscles to connect, which allows you to evolve from the inside out.”