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6 Ways to Avoid Workout Injuries

How to get fit without getting hurt.
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

You’ve finally made the commitment to get in shape or maybe to take your physical fitness to the next level. Eager to start seeing results, you jump into your new routine feet-first. And the next sound you hear is "ouch" as a workout injury derails your healthful plans. 

Why does it happen?

Gerald Varlotta, director of sports rehabilitation medicine at New York University’s Hospital for Joint Diseases and the Rusk Institute of the NYU Medical Center, says, "Sometimes it’s a matter of doing the right activity too much or too often. Sometimes it’s a matter doing the right activity wrong. And sometimes it’s a matter of choosing the wrong activity for your particular body type or physical conditioning."

Here are some simple steps you can take to work out smarter and avoid the most common fitness injuries.

1. Know Your Body

One of the best ways to avoid fitness injuries is to know your body’s limitations. 

Orthopedic surgeon Kenneth Plancher, associate clinical professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, says, "This isn’t just about avoiding certain fitness activities until you’re in better shape, though that’s part of it. It’s also about knowing what your weak areas are and then avoiding the type of activities that are going to push hard on that weakened area."

For example, if you know you have knee problems, Plancher says, you don’t want to use a stepper, run on a treadmill, or do leg presses, all of which can aggravate an already weakened knee.

"Instead, you want to try a stationary bike or even an elliptical machine, which does not cause any pounding on the knee joints," Plancher says.

Likewise, he says, if you have a bad back, you should avoid doing back stretches on a stability ball. If you have weak wrists, weight lifting may not be your sport. And hip problems may preclude you from joining an indoor cycling class.

"The point is that you have to acknowledge the weakest areas of your body," Plancher says. "And if you can’t slowly build them up, then, to avoid injury, you have to avoid the activities that stress them."

2. It’s All About Sex

No, not the kind you have on Saturday night. We’re talking gender.

Plancher says, "Both men and women have specific gender-related physiologic issues that can set them up for injuries when they do specific types of workouts."

This doesn’t mean either gender should avoid certain activities, Varlotta says. But it does mean taking certain precautions when you exercise.

"In general," Varlotta says, "men function better in activities requiring a rigid plane of motion -- like weight lifting in a restricted format, push-ups, Nautilus machines. Women, who have certain flexibility issues, do better at activities requiring multiple or diagonal planes of motion, like Pilates, yoga, a stair stepper, or cycling -- activities during which men are more likely to be injured."

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