No matter what kind of exercise you do, there will always be some risk of injury. Knowing what injuries you’re prone to and how to prevent them is key to staying active and progressing with your physical fitness.
A crucial aspect of physical activity that prevents injuries is your recovery time. Whether you’re lifting weights, doing high-intensity interval training or getting in your cardio, it’s vital to take care of your body through rest and recovery practices. Our guide to injury prevention and aftercare provides universal tips on how to perform healthy, sustainable exercise.
Before we share our workout care tips, let’s first clarify the difference between soreness and injury — or“good” vs. “bad” pain. Muscle soreness is an expected part of pushing yourself physically. The more stress your muscles endure, the stronger they’ll get. But good pain should be short-lived and resolved easily.
Bad pain, or injury, occurs when your muscles aren’t conditioned to extreme stress or they experience a new type of extreme exercise. Similarly, if you repeat the same movements over and over again and without proper technique, you also risk damaging your muscles.
Compared to good pain, which is soreness, bad pain is truly painful, and these injuries can be persistent. Common exercise injuries include:
With proper injury prevention and recovery habits, you can stay safe and drastically reduce your risk of bad pain.
Injuries are much more likely to happen when you aren’t actively trying to prevent them. That’s why it’s important to take exercise and recovery seriously, as injuries can strike when you’re not paying attention.
Here are five proven ways to prevent workout injuries:
When you’re in a hurry and just want to squeeze in a quick workout, it’s tempting to skip your warm-up and head straight into your routine. But warming up your body is part of conditioning and preparing your body for exercise so that it doesn’t endure sudden stress.
Warm-ups should be 5–10 minutes of light exercise that raises your heart rate, increases your blood flow and loosens up your muscles and joints. Walk briskly or hop on a stationary bike for a light cycle.
Stretching promotes flexibility and range of motion, both of which support your body’s ability to increase strength and stay active. After a warm-up, or even on days off, perform a simple stretch routine that targets major muscle groups and those prone to tension — neck, shoulders, upper and lower back, glutes, quads and calves.
Dynamic stretching is an active form of stretching that takes you through your full range of motion. If you’re strength training your upper body, arm circles and trunk twists help loosen your shoulders and core. Runners can benefit from dynamic stretches like lunges and leg swings.
One of the leading causes of injuries is pushing yourself too hard too quickly, so it’s essential to begin slowly and build your way up. After your body is used to the movement, intensity and frequency of your workout, then you can dial it up.
As you gradually increase the frequency and intensity of your workouts, you’ll also notice your strength improving. As your abilities increase, you can challenge yourself further.
Just as you need to ease into exercise, you also need to ease out of it. A five-minute cool-down session will lower your heart rate, slow your breathing and cool down your body temperature. Cooling down helps your muscles transition back into your day, where you’ll experience less activity. Cool-downs also prevent you from getting dizzy due to dilated blood vessels.
If you just finished a run, do a five-minute walking cool down. If weight training, do a five-minute stretch, holding each stretch for 30 seconds and slowly breathing in and out.
Schedule your rest days just as you would schedule workout days. Rest days give your body a break from the stress of physical activity so that your muscles can recover. During rest days, your muscle tissues heal and your cardiovascular system gets a break. This prevents injury and exhaustion and improves sleep quality.
Schedule 1–2 rest days per week. After you’ve recovered, you’ll feel recharged enough to continue challenging yourself.
Now that you know how to workout safely, let’s discuss some of the ways you can take care of your body while you’re not exercising. Following proper aftercare and recovery tips allows you to train smarter and harder, getting better results and building your strength, stamina or athleticism over time.
Here are five ways to practice proper workout aftercare and recovery:
Sleep is your body’srestoration process. It helps regulate your metabolism and cardiovascular and immune systems and improves cognitive function. While you’re asleep, your body also produces growth hormones to repair muscles and tissues. Without enough sleep, you’ll be too physically drained to keep exercising, let alone perform basic daily tasks.
Ensure you’re getting the recommended 7–9 hours of sleep nightly. Followhealthy sleep tips to ensure you get good quality sleep consistently.
After an intense workout and on rest days, it’s critical to drinks lots of water. Hydrating after workouts replaces the fluids your body lost when you worked up a sweat. This prevents dehydration, which can cause headaches, dizziness and more severe complications. Drinking enough water also regulates your internal body temperature and lubricates and cushions your joints and muscles.
Drink water before, during and after exercise, as well as on rest days.Aim for 15.5 cups of water a day for men and 11.5 cups for women. Increase these amounts on days when you exercise.
Massage therapy and foam rolling are two ways to reduce muscle soreness, improve recovery and optimize athletic performance. With self-massage, you can alleviate sore spots after a tough workout. Massage also boosts circulation, which provides healing nutrients and oxygen to recovering tissues.
Foam rolling is an at-home therapy for improved flexibility and range of motion. Foam rollers help release tight fascial tissue that covers muscles and restricts movement and blood flow. By foam rolling before and after workouts and on rest days, you can restore your physical health for improved performance.
It’s necessary to refuel after workouts and on rest days. Food is your body’s source for many essential nutrients, including macronutrients needed for energy, growth and repair. Protein is a vital macronutrient for exercise recovery because it contains the building blocks your body needs to build and repair muscle tissue, as well as many other functions.
Avoid eating too many sugary, salty and processed foods, and replace them with whole fruits and vegetables. Aim to eat within an hour of working out, and reduce your calorie intake on rest days when you’re not as active.
Sometimes you can take every precaution and still end up with an injury. If you work out regularly, you’re bound to experience some form of injury, and it’s often a reinjury from a previous incident.
Tending to your injuries properly is an important aftercare practice that will promote faster, better healing.Follow the trusted RICE method for injury treatment and aftercare:
Remember to always see your doctor about any new or recurring exercise injuries. While most common injuries can be self-managed at home, it’s better to be safe and seek medical guidance to prevent long-term complications.
For those with active lifestyles, staying fit and building strength are priorities for living a longer, happier life. But being active requires making smart and sustainable choices that put your health and safety first. Recovery and injury prevention contribute to healthy longevity.
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