We’re All Doing At-Home Workouts Now—Here’s How Not to Get Injured

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It’s true: Amid all the social distancing due to COVID-19, your workouts have probably started to look a little different—say, with a view of your living room, kitchen, or bedroom. But as at-home workouts become all the rage (or at least the necessity), it becomes even more important to take the proper safety measures to avoid workout injuries.

To help you sidestep any potential mishaps (and make the most of your new ways to move), doctors and fitness experts offered up their safety tips. Follow them to keep your body injury-free while working out at home.

1. Clear the space.
Step one: make sure you have the room—including nothing on the floor around you—to exercise. Check that you’re in the clear by putting your arms up and out to the sides and doing a 360-degree spin, says Derek Ochiai, MD, orthopaedic surgeon and sports medicine doctor at Nirschl Orthopaedic Center. He also suggests making sure you check the floor for kids’ toys, books, weights, and anything else that could get in the way and cause you to trip and fall or hurt yourself—and that goes for after your workout, too.

Tatiana Lampa, CPT, corrective exercise specialist and trainer in New York City, suggests moving furniture if you need to, so you have the room to jump around, especially if you’re doing a HIIT class or any plyometric move, like burpees or broad jumps. If you are lifting weights, just keep them in front of you so you can see where they are while you do other movements.

2. Slip on some sneakers.
While you can work out barefoot, both experts recommend sweating in sneakers—but not ones you wore outside. “You want to make sure you’re not bringing in outside germs,” Lampa says, especially at the time of a pandemic. (You can always wipe ‘em down with these EPA-approved products.)

Your next safest bet after sneakers is going barefoot, sans socks, says Ochiai. There are benefits of working out with naked feet—all the nerves in your feet help you get a better sense of the ground beneath you and you can better push off for moves like squats and deadlifts. But when you don’t have protection on your feet, it’s extra important to make sure you don’t have any equipment on the floor that you could potentially run into. And if you really, truly prefer to sweat in socks, wear those with grips on the bottom, like socks with zero slippage.

3. Know your body.
“There are so many free workouts available, which is great, but each individual has different goals, priorities, and different fitness levels,” says Lampa. “If you find a free workout and it doesn’t feel good on your body, then that’s a sign to skip it.”

Also, if you’re new to exercise but want to use this time at home to kickstart a regular routine, that’s a great idea, but make sure to take it slow, says Ochiai. “If you try to get too ambitious and start a workout routine that you think will push you a lot and then do that for a few days in a row, you could get overuse injuries, then you’ll likely stop and won’t do it again,” he adds. Instead, start with something you know or a first timer-friendly workout and then go from there. Lampa also suggests reaching out to trainers you admire if you’re looking to hone your fitness skills. Many of them will create an individualized program—with varied rates, of course—for you, which can decrease your risk of injury.

Something else to keep in mind: know you can’t bank exercise. That means, if you hit it hard for the next few weeks or months, but then stop completely, you’ll go back to baseline. “You want to exercise to build habits so you can keep exercising in the long-term. You don’t want to get injured in the short-term,” says Ochiai.

4. Switch it up.
It’s easy to work out every day, especially now that everyone’s locked up inside and can’t get to our favorite classes that might kick our butts more than the bodyweight routines many people are doing at home. But if you’re trying to exercise every single day, try not to repeat the same movements, says Ochiai. For instance, avoid doing weighted squats every day of the week and maybe add in some reverse lunges or jumping jacks instead. For cardio, try alternating biking, running, and jumping rope.

Tampa says she usually recommends five to six days a week of exercise and at least one or two for rest and recovery. On those recovery days, take a bath, do some foam rolling, or just enjoy those Netflix binges. “I think a great way to make sure you’re not overdoing it is to create a weekly schedule—write it down and map it all out,” she adds. “This will keep you accountable, ensure that you’re not overtraining, and bring some normalcy in your life.” Something we’re probably all craving right now even more than movement.

5. Consider exercises to counteract desk culture.
It’s easy to get comfy working on the couch, or sitting and staring at the computer on your desk all day. But that’s exactly why you want to do some moves that reverse the forward-facing, typically hunched-over position that causes tightness in your neck, shoulders, and middle back, says Tampa. To do this, focus on posterior chain exercises like deadlifts, bridges, bent over rows, and band pulls.

Tampa even has a challenge for those currently WFH: Put a timer on for every hour and when it goes off, do 10 squats, 10 glute bridges, and 10 bent over rows. Ochiai also recommends standing up whenever you can (or creating your own standing desk) and doing some extra core work. Try doing 30-second plank holds throughout the day or moves like superman and bird dog.

6. Have fun with it.
No matter what type of work out you do, both experts agree it’s most important to have fun with it and enjoy the movement. Tampa also suggests finding an online community or a group class to do. “It’s so nice to have a group of people who can support you and lift your spirits up,” she says.

Also, know that the benefits of exercise of any type outweigh the risks. “Exercising and keeping it up or starting a slow, gradual progression of exercise is crucial as the cardio benefits far outweigh risk of injury,” Ochiai says. “Keeping ourselves healthy is something we can do along with social distancing in order to get through this.”