Maybe you’ve found a workout you love and do every chance you get. But are you building muscle and heart health, or putting yourself at risk for injury? Even experienced exercisers can develop habits that do more harm than good. By reviewing your routine and making a few changes, you can create a safer workout plan for a stronger, healthier you.
Start Strong to Finish Stronger
Always warm up and cool down. A pre-workout warmup gives you more energy. And an after-workout cooldown followed by stretching can help your muscles recover faster — and improve your range of motion.
– Warm up: Before cardio, walk briskly for a few minutes or march in place (swinging your arms and lifting your knees as high as you can with your toes pointed) for 40 seconds. Before calisthenics or weightlifting, do 10 reps each of pushups, high knee lifts, and squats.
– Cool down: Walk until your heart rate returns to normal.
– Stretch: Ease into each stretch and hold for about 30 seconds. Don’t bounce.
Brave the Elements Wisely
When exercising outside, consider things like protective gear and a workout buddy. They can help you enjoy a comfortable, safe workout.
– Wear supportive shoes and clothing that’s bright and easy to see, breathable, and moisture-wicking (to prevent chafing).
– Don’t forget appropriate safety gear, like a bike helmet.
– In the daytime, wear water-resistant sunscreen (even if it’s cloudy), sunglasses with UV protection, and a brimmed hat.
– If you’re exercising in the dark, bring a light with you and consider inviting a friend or bringing your dog.
Concentrate on Proper Form
You want to work your muscles — not stress your joints or spine. So remember to check in on your form. If you’re at a gym, have a trainer show you how to use the equipment. Or ask an instructor for tips before their class. If you’re working out at home, you can find online videos and instructions on how to do a squat correctly, for example. Make sure to rely on sources you trust — like certified instructors and trainers, online classes from local fitness studios, or health magazines. And if something hurts, always stop and ask for help.
Pro tip: A strong core can support better form and prevent injuries during daily activities, including exercise. But core power isn’t just about your abs. Strengthening your shoulders, chest, back, and buttocks will also help you build a stronger core and increase stability.
Build Strength Right
When done correctly, strength training is an important part of a healthy exercise routine. Stronger muscles can help you avoid injuries by stabilizing your bones, connective tissues, and joints. And that can lower your risk of osteoporosis and prevent potentially dangerous falls. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced weightlifter, you should always:
– Ask someone to spot you when you’re lifting weights over your head or chest.
– Exhale on whichever motion requires more effort. Don’t hold your breath.
– Keep a steady pace. You should be able to complete a full range of motion without a break. Your last rep should be difficult but not make you break form.
Switch It Up
Doing the same workout every day can stress your body, leading to inflammation and injury. If you’re a runner, try swapping in
yoga or a hike one day a week. If you love lifting weights, be sure to change which muscles you’re working. Alternate days between your arms, back, chest, and legs so each muscle group gets 2 days of rest. And try to work simple mobility exercises like stretching and walking into your routine to protect your range of motion.
Also, don’t forget to take breaks! Give yourself a day off each week. But try to make it an active rest day. Sore muscles will recover faster when they’re moving, so you can still go for a walk, garden, or have a dance party with your family.
Listen to Your Body
Have a sore joint? It’s usually a sign of bad form. Let it heal and have a trainer correct your form for the future. Nursing an injury? Meet with a physical therapist to learn which exercises to avoid or safe ways to rebuild strength. If you’re sick, it’s best to skip your workout.
If you’re fatigued but don’t want to miss a workout, start at a slow pace and low intensity. You’ll either gain the energy to step it up to your normal intensity, or you’ll realize you need to take the day off. Get some rest, eat a healthy meal, and as always, keep hydrating.
You’re built to move. Aim for 30 minutes of activity a day, 5 days a week.