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Individuals get in shape by taking a group fitness class.

Getting fit without getting hurt: 6 tips for a safe New Year workout

by Emily Harbourne
Jan 15, 2014

Put down the barbell before it lands you in the doctor's office

Every New Year gyms are flooded with people full of good intentions to improve physical fitness, but many seeking to help their bodies end up doing more harm than good.

“I see an increase in workout related injuries around the new year,” says Dr. Shari Liberman, a hand and upper extremity specialist at Houston Methodist Orthopedics & Sports Medicine. “People do things they have never done before and end up over doing it resulting in injury.”

Fitness experts offer some tips for getting fit without getting injured.

Start Slow

Slowly build strength and endurance instead of trying to be a superhero right away. People want to see quick results, but doing too much too fast can overuse your muscles. “From running to lifting weights, it is important to build endurance and strength slowly,” says physiologist Jacque Ratliff, spokeswoman for the American Council on Exercise in San Diego, Calif. “When doing cardiovascular exercise, pay attention to your level of exertion by doing the ‘talk test.' If you are not able to say the Pledge of Allegiance or the words to your favorite song, without having to stop every other word, you are probably working too hard and should reduce your intensity in order to prevent injury.”

Work with a personal trainer or take a group fitness class

Professional instructors can provide valuable guidance on good form and technique. This will help prevent injury to the wrists and back. “Group fitness is a great way to get variety in your workouts, meet new people who are interested in fitness, and learn proper techniques,” says Ratliff. “Classes range from sports conditioning to yoga to water exercise, so there’s something for everyone.” Even if you choose not to schedule sessions regularly with a personal trainer, it is beneficial to have occasional check-in’s to make sure you are on track.

Alternate between workouts

Vary your workout routine. Try weight-lifting exercises some days and cardiovascular exercises other days. This helps prevent overuse of the same muscle group. “For beginners I generally say that the most important thing they do is cardio 2-3 times a week for 20-30 minutes a time,” says Ben Comeau, personal trainer at Vida Fitness in Washington D.C. “In addition to cardio, it is important that beginners lift weights twice a week. Each workout should focus on the entire body and should not target individual muscles.”


Overuse injuries can also be prevented through stretching. Also make sure to warm up before a workout and cool down afterwards. “It is important to perform a minimum of fine minutes of warm-up prior to working out,” says Comeau. “Stretching for a minimum of 10 minutes after a workout is also advised. Hold each stretch for one-minute minimum.” Warm ups should be 5-15 minutes, consisting of dynamic exercises - shoulder rolls and leg swings. The cool down should be the same amount of time, but consist of light cardiovascular exercises such as biking or walking.

Try using a foam roller

Foam rolling can improve overall movement and mobility by relaxing tense muscles and helping blood circulation. “Foam rolling is essential,” says Comeau “because it does something stretching doesn't: it facilitates myofascial release and has similar benefits to a sports massage.” Foam rollers are usually available at most gyms or can be purchased from any sports store.

Take a day or two of rest

“Learn to take rest days and eat lean proteins on your days off,” says Comeau. Knowing how to “read” your body is a necessary element to a safe and healthy exercise regimen. If you follow these tips, regular exercise can be done safely and provide you with the results you are seeking.