How to Increase Exercise Without Getting Injured

I can’t start this post without thanking you from the bottom of my heart for the response to my post on living the life I have imagined.  Your supportive and encouraging comments, emails, tweets, and messages were so appreciated.  I’m pretty sure that was the happiest Monday I’ve ever had!  P8

You also seemed to like the previous post, which covered 7 supplements I’m currently taking.  I’m always looking for your feedback, so if you have any further suggestions, don’t hesitate to let me know!  And while we’re on the topic of supplements, I thought I’d let you know about a “Buy One Get One Free” sale of vitamins and supplements going on at CVS until 1/11/14.  (I have no relationship with CVS and am not getting compensated in any way for this, I just thought I’d share in case you were inspired by the post and want to start taking any supplements!)

OK, onto today’s topic.  It’s the first work week of January, which means that gyms everywhere are packed with newly dedicated exercisers.  If you are one of those, congratulations on making the decision to improve your health!  Unfortunately, the influx of new exercisers in January also comes along with an influx of exercise-related injuries.  Have you ever noticed that many people start their exercise programs with such admirable dedication and enthusiasm, that they end up either burned out or injured within a few weeks?  I want to help you prevent burn out and injury, so here are five tips for increasing your exercise.

how to increase exercise without getting injured

1. Start slowly, and build gradually.

  • Just because your New Year’s Resolution was to start working out does not mean you need to spend hours in the gym every single day.
  • If you’re a beginner, you may want to commit to 30 minutes of moderate activity 2-3 times per week (be specific, like I suggest in my post on how to set New Year’s Resolutions).  Once you’ve achieved that for 3-4 weeks, increase your activity to 3-4 times per week, then build to 40 minutes, and potentially up to an hour.  It’s tempting to dive right in and do everything you can, but try to restrain yourself – your motivation and your body will thank you.

2. Don’t do more than your body can handle.

  • You know your body best, and it’s impossible for me to tell you in a blog post what is too much for your individual body.  But be honest with yourself – if you need to back off, back off.
  • Muscle soreness is usually OK (that means you’re challenging yourself!), but debilitating soreness that lasts for several days and/ or impairs your regular functions is a sign that you outdid yourself.
  • Whenever you feel acute pain (rather than dull soreness), your best bet is to stop.  Did you know that your muscles and lungs actually adapt to an increase in exercise far more quickly than your ligaments and tendons?  That’s why most injuries in exercise beginners are things like sprains, strains, or tendonitis.  It just takes time for ligaments and tendons to get used to exercise, which is why you need to start out slowly and monitor how you’re feeling.

3. Rest and recover.

  • Be sure to incorporate a rest day (or several rest days) into your schedule.  This will help your body recover so you can exercise stronger in the days to come!
  • If you feel any nagging pain, use the RICE method (rest, ice, compression, and elevation).  You can check out my thoughts on compression here.
  • If you want to include some movement on some of your rest days, try going for a brisk walk or doing some yoga or stretching.

4. Vary your exercise program.

  • I’ve posted before about how mixing up your exercise routine is good for anyone, but it’s especially important for beginning exercisers.  If your body isn’t used to exercise, and you perform one repeated motion day after day, you’re more likely to get injured than if you’re building several muscles in your body through diverse exercise.
  • If you’re looking for things to change it up, the possibilities are endless.  If you want to be outdoors, try running, walking, or cycling.  If you want to stay at home, do some home or hotel circuit workouts (there are so many quick ones that you can do with no equipment on my Pinterest boards!), or do some at-home yoga or Barre3.  If you’re headed to the gym, try the elliptical machine, rowing machine, or take a kickboxing, Zumba, spinning, or Body Pump class.  If you’re tight on time, just try to stand up from your desk several times a day and take a 5-minute walk around the office!

5. Check your technique.

  • If you’re weight lifting or performing an exercise that is new to you, please make sure you are using proper form.
  • If you’re at a gym or in a workout class, ask one of the personal trainers or teachers to watch your form.  They’re almost always happy to help!
  • If you’re doing a workout on your own, try doing a Google search for the proper form before starting.  There are several reputable sources out there, and a quick 5-minute video might save you from an injury.

If you do think you may have an injury, I would recommend seeing a doctor, chiropractor, or physical therapist.  If you prefer Doctor Google, I’ve found this symptom checker to be fairly accurate and helpful!

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor or licensed personal trainer.  This post is intended for information and education only.

So tell me in the comments … Have you ever been injured from exercise?  If so, what happened?  What other tips do you have to prevent injury when one is starting to exercise?

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22 Comments

  1. Heather @ Better With Veggies on January 8, 2014 at 10:08 am

    I’ve definitely been injured from exercise in the past, but thankfully it’s been a while since I’ve struggled through that. These are some GREAT tips for people getting started or upping their training volume!
    Heather @ Better With Veggies recently posted…Habits of Joy: Mental and SpiritualMy Profile

    • Megan Lyons on January 10, 2014 at 6:37 pm

      So glad it’s been a while since you’ve been injured (knock on wood!). I was the same way – in my first few years of exercise, I dealt with a few minor injuries, but since then I think I’ve learned more what my body can handle and how to recover. Thanks for sharing this post, Heather!

  2. Michael Anderson on January 8, 2014 at 11:20 am

    Excellent points, Megan!

    After we moved here I joined the local gym mid-year, and the following January had a horde of new people, and found exactly what you say – too many people try to go from 0-100% in a week and end up hurt. I think you covered everything, but here are a few thoughts:
    – Just because you ran track in college 10 years ago doesn’t mean you can hop on the treadmill full-speed. Again, your point of start slow and build is critical.
    – The gym is for fitness, not bragging – it is amazing seeing people who think they should be able to lift a certain amount or are trying to look impressive doing really stupid things. The extra-full gyms don’t help with ego-driven stupidity!
    – Bad math – as you note, you cannot compress time. If eating right and exercising 30-60 minutes will yield about 2lbs weight loss per week and nice gradual fitness improvement … some people think 4 hours of gym time and severe caloric restriction has to be even better. Only if your goal is a trip to the ER. .. 🙂
    Michael Anderson recently posted…My ‘Polar Vortex’ Running Clothes Challenge!My Profile

    • Megan Lyons on January 10, 2014 at 6:40 pm

      You have great points, as always. I completely agree – and I think your sarcastic side is coming out in this comment, which makes me laugh!

  3. Davida @ The Healthy Maven on January 8, 2014 at 12:12 pm

    Great tips! My injuries came from going too hard all the time but slowly things are getting better and I’m hoping to be smarter about things this time. Slow and steady wins the race 😉

    • Megan Lyons on January 10, 2014 at 6:41 pm

      You ARE being smarter, I can tell you that for sure! I love seeing you so in-tune with your body these days. Way to go!

  4. Amy @ Long Drive Journey on January 8, 2014 at 12:51 pm

    Varying your workouts is SO important. I ran for months and did nothing else, and I definitely regret it. However, even though I got injured, now I’m glad that I’ve had to find so many different kinds of exercise. It really makes things more fun!

    • Megan Lyons on January 10, 2014 at 6:45 pm

      I’m glad you’ve found so many other forms of exercise, too, Amy, although I have to admit I’m excited for you to get back to running … safely and cautiously this time!

  5. Lisa @ Running Out Of Wine on January 8, 2014 at 5:26 pm

    These are great tips! I have had several injuries since I started running- plantar fasciitis, achilles, tendonitis, a labral tear in my hip which required surgery, and most recently some low back/piriformis problems that seem to come and go. Unfortunately most people end up learning the hard way to build gradually, vary workouts, rest when needed, etc. I think the worst mentality is thinking that you need to workout every day or setting a goal to workout every single day. Doing that can lead to so many other problems!
    Lisa @ Running Out Of Wine recently posted…Balancing Training and LifeMy Profile

    • Megan Lyons on January 10, 2014 at 6:47 pm

      Thanks for sharing your story, Lisa! The only “major” running injury I’ve had started with my piriformis – and went up to my low back for a while before going down to my IT band and then knee. My foam roller is a life saver – if I slack off for a while, I can still feel the piriformis flare up on a bad day. I think dedicated foam rolling and stretching, combined with learning how my body works and what it can handle, has truly been the key for me. I hope you’ve gotten your share of injuries out of the way and can run/ exercise injury-free from now on!

  6. Chrissy on January 8, 2014 at 9:16 pm

    I’ve VERY bad at #2 and #3, and because I’m not a new exerciser, I tend to push through the sore and tired. Or the current herniated disc I’m coddling. Great reminders!

    • Megan Lyons on January 10, 2014 at 6:51 pm

      I push through the sore and tired often as well, Chrissy, but I think I know my body well enough to know when it’s more than just sore. Sometimes it’s hard to listen, but it’s so worth it. Hoping the herniated disc continues improving!

  7. Arman @ thebigmansworld on January 8, 2014 at 10:08 pm

    I need to stop starting out every comment with ‘this is awesome Megan’ or ‘great tips’- let’s just say from this day forth it’s a given!

    These tips are useful not only for beginners but even seasoned athletes or exercisers- so often we forget to appreciate our bodies and tend to go overboard- I reckon this is why listening to them is so important. I once injured my glutes which prevented me from squatting and deadlifting for a few weeks- it made me realise not to go too heavy too soon!
    Arman @ thebigmansworld recently posted…WIAW- Cleaning out the fridgeMy Profile

    • Megan Lyons on January 10, 2014 at 6:53 pm

      Thank you, Arman!!! Much appreciated. It’s so hard to come back from an injury and not automatically go to where we know we could have been just a few short weeks before, but it’s worth it to be cautious. Here’s to hoping we both listen to our bodies now that we know them well!

  8. Elise @ 9toFit.com on January 9, 2014 at 6:29 am

    A rest day is so important! When I was young and though I was superman, I would never rest.. well I ended up getting two serious stress fractures in my legs and had to be in a boot for 2 months at a time. Rest people! lol
    Elise @ 9toFit.com recently posted…Game Day Food: Healthy Black Bean DipMy Profile

    • Megan Lyons on January 10, 2014 at 6:54 pm

      Oh wow, Elise! 2 stress fractures? That sounds miserable! As sad as it is, sometimes it takes injuries to really teach us the lessons we need to learn. Hope that rest days help you prevent things like that going forward!

  9. Yum Yucky on January 9, 2014 at 10:11 am

    Very good advice. When I first started out (40 pounds heavier at the time), I was running on concrete. My ankles swelled up like hot air balloons from all the weight and pounding. Obviously not the smartest thing I ever did in life.
    Yum Yucky recently posted…Colloidal silver for ear infection, eye infection, pink eye. (how it healed Greedy Baby)My Profile

    • Megan Lyons on January 10, 2014 at 6:56 pm

      Wow, your description makes it sound miserable, Josie! Congrats on losing the 40 pounds!

  10. Tonya@Healthy, Fit, and Frugal on January 9, 2014 at 10:55 am

    Great tips! I do think too many people just jump in and go gung-ho without ramping up. More so that injury is the fact that people just can’t handle that load and then quit all together. I always tell new exercisers to just do something for at least 10 minutes each day until it becomes a habit. Personally, I’m really looking forward to balancing my workouts a little more after my 1/2 marathon. I enjoy running but miss volleyball training so much. Mainly because it’s exercise without feeling like you’re getting exercise!

    • Megan Lyons on January 10, 2014 at 6:59 pm

      Tonya, I totally agree that the gung-ho attitude causes people to end up quitting, and I think your 10 minutes a day strategy is a great one. I didn’t know you enjoyed volleyball training … here’s an embarrassing story. I was one of the only kids to get cut from the 7th grade volleyball team! Yep, safe to say that’s not one of my gifts :). But I wholeheartedly believe that when you find what you love, it won’t feel like exercise, so I’m glad you found it!

  11. Caitlin on January 9, 2014 at 11:31 am

    I definitely have trouble with the rest and recover part! I try to never do the same workout two days in a row (except maybe spin or the stair master) because I want to let the muscles I used during a workout rest a bit the next day, while I use different ones.
    Caitlin recently posted…Best Books of 2013My Profile

    • Megan Lyons on January 10, 2014 at 7:01 pm

      That’s really smart, Caitlin! For me, I definitely run on consecutive days, and I’ll work my abs on consecutive days, too, but when it comes to weight lifting or even bodyweight training that focuses on one area of the body, I definitely allow for days in between. As for the rest and recover – it’s a struggle for all of us who love exercise, but it’s so important!

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