By Melanie Radzicki McManus, CNN
When the coronavirus pandemic forced gyms to close their doors last year, many people began working out at home. Soon, doctors were seeing patients coming in with a variety of home-gym-inspired injuries: lower back pain, ankle sprains, hamstring pulls and more.
It’s easier than you may think to get injured when you’re working out at home, so you need to be mindful of the potential pitfalls — because this trend may be here to stay.
A June 2021 Gallup poll showed that although Americans are getting out more frequently now, thanks to Covid-19 vaccinations, their trips tend to be to stores and restaurants. They are not going to the gym. That’s not too surprising, as working out at home doesn’t cost much, if anything, and offers the utmost in convenience.
If you’ve been exercising from home or are ready to give it a try, here are several things you can do to help ensure you stay injury-free.
Important note: Before beginning any new exercise program, consult your doctor. Stop immediately if you experience pain.
Check your workout space for potential perils
Most people don’t have a home gym, nor the space or money to create one. That’s fine, because you can do plenty of workouts with minimal space and equipment. But that doesn’t mean you can just start jumping around in your living room, basement or garage.
“Make sure you give yourself more open space than you think you need so you don’t hit anything while moving — for example, lunging and running into a coffee table,” said Jumha Aburezeq, head trainer at StoopidFit, a lifestyle coaching platform.
Aburezeq said he also advises his clients to place a mirror in the area when doing resistance training such as weightlifting, as poor form is the leading cause of injury in this exercise category. And if you’ll be exercising on a hard surface, have a towel handy to wipe up any sweat that drips on the floor. If you don’t, you may slip.
Robert Herbst, a personal trainer and world champion powerlifter, said to check the ceiling height if you plan to raise weights overhead or jump rope, and clear the area of potential safety hazards such as throw rugs and wobbly artwork. “Throw rugs could cause someone to slip,” he said, “and some pictures might fall off the wall from the vibration if you drop a kettlebell.”
Dress for (workout) success
Working out in your pajamas might be convenient, but always don quality workout duds. Wearing cozy clothes can limit your movements and stress your joints, Aburezeq said, especially when doing active work such as an online high-intensity interval training, or HIIT, class.
Make sure you wear sneakers if you choose to wear anything, since it’s easy to slip or trip when wearing socks or slippers. But going barefoot can work, too. Experts say there are benefits to walking around barefoot, such as a boost in foot strength, stability and balance.
And bare feet are better at helping you push off for certain movements, such as squats. However, you need to acclimate your feet to being unshod, and the floor must be free of items that might cut or scrape your feet. If you’ll be lifting weights or other objects that could potentially drop on your toes, wear shoes for those exercises.
Spring for a personal trainer
Hiring a personal trainer might seem like an extravagance — and unnecessary in this new world of online classes and workout videos. But it can be a smart investment. While there is nothing inherently wrong with online classes and videos, the instructor can’t see you and evaluate your form. Plus, sometimes you shouldn’t listen to what the instructor is saying.
“If you are watching a video and they are telling you to go harder or push through the discomfort, but your knee really hurts, it might actually be better to slow down, rest, modify the exercise or do something different,” said Kaleen Canevari, founder and CEO of Flexia Pilates, which sells Pilates machines and offers online classes.
A qualified fitness professional, in comparison, will work with you to determine your fitness goals, and set up a program that helps you achieve them. The trainer will also show you exactly how to perform certain movements, which is critical to staying injury-free.
“Using a personal trainer doesn’t have to be forever, either,” said Greg Maurer, vice president of fitness and education with Workout Anytime, a 24/7 gym concept. You may only need a handful of sessions.
Warm up, cool down, don’t overdo it
It’s important to warm up before exercising, cool down afterward and not go gangbusters when trying something new. A good warm-up/cool-down routine depends on what you’ll be doing.
For active workouts like online classes or HIIT training, Aburezeq recommended dynamic stretches such as leg swings as your warm-up and static stretching (touching your toes) afterward. For strength training, precede your workout with several light repetitions of the exercise you are about to do.
If you’re starting a new-to-you workout, always begin slowly and easily and build from there. Far better to take a few weeks to get to your goal intensity or length than go nuts and immediately strain or tear something.
Have a safety valve
Accidents happen. You might cut yourself, bump your head or faint. If you’ll be working out solo, make sure your cell phone is handy, said Bill Daniels, a California-based personal trainer.
Opt for the outdoors
Is there no good place to exercise in your home? Then head to the backyard. Scores of studies show the benefits of being out in nature. The scenery is likely to be more pleasant, too. Plus, light is good for humans.
“Having sunlight enter your eyes is an extremely potent stimulus on your body,” Maurer said. “There’s a lot going on physiologically when you’re outside, whether you realize it or not.”
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Melanie Radzicki McManus is a freelance writer who specializes in hiking, travel and fitness.