6 Ways to Avoid Workout Injuries

How to get fit without getting hurt.

By Colette Bouchez
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - 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? Experts say there are many reasons.

"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," says Gerald Varlotta, DO, director of sports rehabilitation medicine at New York University's Hospital for Joint Diseases and the Rusk Institute of the NYU Medical Center.

But don't get discouraged just yet. Experts who spoke to WebMD shared tips on how to work out smarter and avoid some of the most common fitness injuries.

6 Steps to Avoiding Workout Injuries

1. Know Your Body

It seems so basic, but experts say it's often overlooked: One of the best ways to avoid fitness injuries is to know your body's limitations.

"This isn't just about avoiding certain fitness activities until you're in better shape -- though that's part of it -- but 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," says orthopedic surgeon Kenneth Plancher, MD, associate clinical professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.

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," says Plancher.

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 a spinning class.

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

2. It's All About Sex!

No, not the kind you have on Saturday night -- we're talking gender! It may not be politically correct, but doctors say gender does play a role in workout injuries.

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

While this doesn't mean either gender should avoid certain activities, it just means taking a few precautions when you do, Varlotta says.

So what's the gender breakdown?

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

That said, women are at greater risk for ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) injuries. The ACL is a ligament that holds the knee in place. As such, Varlotta says, women should exert greater care when participating in activities requiring quick "twist and turn" leg motions, such as skiing, basketball, and racquet sports.

"Studies also show that women are more prone to fitness injuries during their menstrual cycle since hormones can increase the looseness of the joints and make injury more likely to occur," Plancher tells WebMD.

Being careful during this time of the month, he says, may help you avoid injury.

3. Hire a Pro

"One of the best ways to avoid injury is to take a few lessons with a certified trainer," says Plancher. This will help ensure your body is in proper alignment while you're working out, which can go a long way in protecting you from exercise injuries, he says.

Getting expert advice can also keep you from doing the wrong workouts for your body type and help you moderate your routines so you don't do too much, too soon, says personal trainer Alex Schroeder.