It seems every time you listen to a sports report you hear that some top athlete is nursing an injury. And anyone who is active regularly has likely been sidelined with an ache on occasion. But did you know that most workout-related injuries are preventable? “The key is to exercise in a safe way,” says Nicholas A. DiNubile, M.D. clinical assistant professor in the department of surgery at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.
“You can prevent injury if you use your intelligence and judgment.” For example, before deciding upon an exercise program, you should consider who you are, your previous injuries, your physical strengths and weaknesses and your habits. Here, Dr. DiNubile, an orthopedic consultant for the Philadelphia 76ers and a member of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, offers 10 ways to injury-proof your workout:
1. Warm-Up. Start your workout a few minutes early to “get your body prepared,” says Dr. DiNubile. Walk, jog in place or do jumping jacks to warm up the muscles you’ll be using. Then, stretch. “By gradually easing into your activity, you can decrease your potential for injury by 75 to 80 percent,” says Dr. DiNubile.
2. Use proper form. Slow, controlled movements are often best. If you are uncertain about your form, ask a trainer for advice.
3. Take lessons. Learning the proper technique can prevent overuse injuries.
4. Invest in the proper equipment. Buy proper athletic shoes; wear a helmet if you cycle; use helmet, wrist and knee guards if you in-line skate; make sure your skis fit. Wear reflective gear if you plan to run after sunset.
5. Follow the 10 percent rule. Don’t increase the frequency, intensity or duration of your activity by more than 10 percent per week. Even then, take it slowly. Rapidly increasing your activity results in overuse injuries.
6. Strive for balance. “You should aim for a balance between aerobic and nonaerobic exercise,” says Dr. DiNubile. While there should be a cardio component to every exercise program, you should also incorporate strength training, to build muscular strength and minimize injuries, as well as flexibility training.
7. Don’t be afraid to take time off. If you’ve pushed yourself, you may need to schedule a few days off to let your body recover. Or you may need “relative rest.” If you’re trying a new activity, you should allow time for your body to recover and adapt to it to avoid an overtraining injury. For example, if you’re a runner who has suddenly upped your mileage, swim or walk on certain days. That way, you’ll maintain your cardio fitness without overstressing your muscles and joints.
8. Fuel up. Don’t work out on an empty stomach. Instead eat a small meal or snack beforehand. Also, drink plenty of water before, during and after your workout.
9. Cross-Train. Doing a variety of activities each week minimizes wear and tear on any one muscle group or joint.
10. Listen to your body. It will let you know when something isn’t right. For example, “if you repeatedly experience pain in one area, that isn’t good,” cautions Dr. DiNubile. Consult an orthopedist who can recommend a course of action that will help you recover and return to your sport.