Whether you are a workout rookie or jumping back into it after a hiatus, if you have been inactive for a period of time, the potential for injury is far greater, Jillian Michaels, foremost fitness expert and creator of The Fitness App, tells Byrdie. Luckily, there are a few surefire strategies that will help you prevent any training injuries. If you adhere to these eight strategies, your chances of injury while training will be greatly reduced, and the effectiveness of your workouts will be exponential.
Talk to Your Doctor
It might sound unnecessary, but Michaels suggests putting a call into your MD prior to starting a new workout. “If you have any underlying health conditions or previous injuries, make sure to discuss your fitness plans with him or her to ensure no modifications are necessary,” she says.
Properly Gear Up
Having the right workout gear goes a long way when it comes to preventing injury, according to Michaels. “Having the proper shoes at the very least is important as they should be providing proper support during your workout,” she explains. Stay away from any trendy footwear, such as barefoot shoes, “unless you are a more advanced athlete, who has been conditioned for it, and is being guided by an exercise professional on how to gradually incorporate these types of trends,” she suggests. “Keep it simple and smart with your attire.”
Train at Your Fitness Level
Don’t think of your fitness journey as a race, but more of a marathon—if you go too hard, too fast, you might end up injured. “The very first question I ask anyone I work with is what their fitness level is. I even programmed my app—The Fitness App—to ask users this question when they first sign in,” Michaels points out. “And forget your ego—there is simply no room for that in fitness.” Are you a first timer, beginner, intermediate, or advanced athlete? “You have to choose a program (no matter what the modality) that is built for your fitness level,” she instructs. She uses the example of her app. For beginners, she offers a “Just Walk” program as well as a “Fitness For Beginners” program, which gradually teaches you all the fundamentals of resistance training while building a strong foundation of strength, flexibility, cardiovascular conditioning, and coordination.
Craig Tifford, MD, a Yale Medicine orthopedic surgeon specializing in sports medicine, suggests starting with lower weights and working your way up. “You should never work out with more weight than you are accustomed to,” he explains. “Always start slowly and wean into any new exercise/activity.”
Michaels also says that just because you used to be an experienced athlete doesn’t mean you should start where you left off. “Even if you were an all-American swimmer or D1 athlete in college, but you haven’t trained in 10 years, you need to act accordingly,” she adds. “You must start out slowly and gradually progress yourself in two-week increments to train efficiently and avoid injury.”
Don't Overdo It
Slow and steady wins the race when it comes to avoiding injury. “So often people get inspired and think more is more, which simply isn’t true,” explains Michaels. “I recommend not training each muscle group intensely more than twice a week and program active recovery and resting recovery days into your training regimen.” She suggests the following training split to avoid overworking specific muscle groups.
- Monday: push Muscles and abs (chest, shoulders, triceps, upper and lower abs, quads)
- Tuesday: pull Muscles, obliques, intercostals, glutes (back, biceps, hamstrings, glutes, obliques, intercostals)
- Wednesday: rest day or light cardio
- Thursday: push muscles and abs (chest, shoulders, triceps, upper and lower abs, quads)
- Friday: pull Muscles, obliques, intercostals, glutes (back, biceps, hamstrings, glutes, obliques, intercostals)
- Saturday: rest day or light cardio
- Sunday: rest day
According to scientific studies, drinking the proper amount of water can help keep injuries at bay. “Always stay well hydrated on the days you exercise, even after you have finished,” Tifford suggests.
Get Expert Advice
If you don’t know anything about fitness, don’t shy away from getting some expert advice, instructs Michaels. “There’s a reason there are running coaches, yoga teachers, powerlifting coaches, and nutritionists: to give people the information they need so the choices they make yield safe, powerful, positive results,” she says. And, even if you are on a tight budget, you can still reap the benefits of a fitness specialist. “There are so many options to be trained by an expert, be it on FaceTime with a trainer or on an app,” she points out. Simply pick the type of workout you like and the level of workout you need and then look for the corresponding program. “Do your homework on the expert. Be sure they have the proper credentials to be teaching the program, and check for reviews on them or their workout to see if it’s been well received.”
Don't Skip Your Warm-Up
It might seem like a waste of time to start your workout with a light warm-up, but it could be the one thing that saves you from an injury later on. “You just gotta do it,” asserts Michaels. “Warming up literally warms the body up from the inside out and prepares your entire body for training.” Not only does it help prepare muscles, ligaments, tendons, and joints for movement, it also mentally focuses you and ramps up circulation to get oxygen to the muscles. “Do a five-minute cardio warm-up and then go slow on your first set of each exercise with light weight through a full range of motion, so you get a dynamic stretch in as well,” Michaels suggests.
A cool-down is just as important as a warm-up when it comes to injury prevention. “It’s simply a five- to 10-minute period of reduced intensity at the end of your workout,” Michaels says. Generally, the cool-down period consists of walking, static stretching, and myofascial release (foam rolling). “Always stretch at the completion of your workout/activity,” adds Tifford. The goal according to Michaels: “To allow your heart rate and blood pressure to lower gradually, to keep blood from pooling in your extremities, to lessen stiffness, and to improve mobility.”