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How To Avoid Injury When Starting An Exercise Program

Written by: Nick Jack
Category: 2014
on 11 May 2016
Hits: 4603

Most injuries that people suffer with from day to day are due to a postural imbalance or movement problem. There are the exceptions that are what we call trauma injuries from a car accident or sporting collision, but these are relatively rare in comparison to the injuries and pain people endure throughout their life. Many of these injuries come to the surface when starting an exercise program and as a result the blame is usually pointed towards the exercise. However there rarely is anything wrong with the exercise, more to the point, there is something wrong with your body's ability to do the exercise, and your technique. Many of the injuries we see as rehabilitation specialists could have been easily avoided if people stuck to a few simple rules and followed a gradual progression of difficulty, instead of jumping straight into the hard stuff. One of our trainers, who is also an exercise physiologist Nathan Fejes is very passionate about this topic, so he put pen to paper and explained exactly what these rules are and how you too can avoid the dreaded injury.

Many people starting out exercising in the gym wonder when or if they will become injured after a certain time frame of weight training due to excessive stress on the muscles, joints and tendons. Let’s list some problems that we come across every day

  • Sore knees?
  • Back pain?
  • Shoulder / neck pain?
  • Constant muscle soreness?
  • Feeling tired or constant fatigue?

A few years ago before working in the exercise industry I injured my neck and shoulder doing the wrong exercise choices, poor recovery methods, nutrition and atrocious technique throughout the exercises. As I became more educated about resistance training and injury prevention, applying the correct ways to train got rid of my neck and shoulder pain. If you’re worried about hurting yourself like I did back then, either your knees, back or experiencing numerous days of muscle pain, then hopefully this article will solve some of those aspects. Many of the things I am going to share with you now are a big part of our successful rehabilitation programs such as the Back Pain Secrets and Knee Pain programs below.

The general causes of why a lot of gym programs fail and initiate injury can be due to any of the following:

Poor exercise choice:

The biggest thing to avoid all together, is using exercise machines when completing resistance training. The reason is due to the nature of the machine locking your body up in awkward positions (like 2D movement) whereas real life strength movements involve movement in all different directions (3D). This then encourages poor technique and posture while moving, this then leads to injury. Machines also don’t activate your small stabilizer muscles that lie deep in your body protecting your spine and organs, therefore, are you really getting much stronger for the real world outside of the gym? Also if you’re starting out a gym program be careful of getting straight into heavy loads using barbells, such as heavy squat variations, lunges, deadlifts and bench press, as these exercises tend to stiffen up the body very quickly and without the right movement technique performed, too heavy, or incorrect muscle activation can cause joint or tendon injury. These exercises are good to perform to increase muscle mass and strength don’t get me wrong, however, to start out with it can cause poor movement patterns and injure a new person that isn’t yet conditioned to resistance training. Dumbbells and barbells apply resistance by wanting to fall towards the earth, otherwise known as gravity. This also means they are likely to compress joints such as the spine or the knee. Watch the videos below to see examples of this

So What Equipment Should I Use?

Cables are a good equipment to not only start with, but to continuously perform as compared to machines as it makes your stabilizers work and the body functions correctly without compressing joints. Exercises such as cable push, cable pull, woodchops, squat row, adding lunge variations as your moving, you can use 2 arms at once or 1 arm only, the options are endless! Using 1 hand and getting into lunge positions are a good bang for your buck with not only building strength and different muscles, but loosening the body up to prevent injury! Dumbbells and barbells are good exercise tools to use with lunges, squats, rows, and chest presses etc, however, you must ensure your technique is right before progressing too quickly with this piece of equipment.

Poor exercise technique:

We cannot overstate this - If you’re body isn’t moving correctly throughout the exercises you will eventually bring on pain within your joints sooner or later! The key is to move with a good posture! As we said at the beginning most injuries are the result of postural imbalances and faulty movement patterns. Your very first few programs MUST be trying to correct posture and movement before strengthening. So what is perfect technique? Well we would be here all day if we wanted to explain every exercise.

I encourage you to read these previous articles as we cover many of the common exercises and go into more detail on this topic.

Exercise Technique Is Critical For Great Results

Why Isolated Training Fails and Movement Skill Training Succeeds

Over Training, Training Too Much Too Soon & Insufficient Recovery Methods:

Over training is a common mistake performed by people that “the more is better”, this is not the case if your exercise programming is done correctly and spaced out throughout the week. If you’re constantly going to the gym day after day your muscles aren’t acquiring enough time for muscle recovery and rebuilding process, which is the whole purpose of toning up / building muscle! It also does not allow you to perform at your potential in the gym or within lifestyle activities because your muscles are tired all the time and aren’t recovering! This then leads to your muscles not having enough energy to contract properly, and therefore, the joints will have to do too much work, this equals injury! Add on top of this an inadequate warm up and cool down, lack of pre and post exercise nutrition regime the muscles won’t recovery effectively, which as mentioned will lead to excessive DOMS, fatigue and lack in performance.

How many days per week is best to train and how many sets and reps should I do?

Firstly, 3 days of resistance training in the gym is more than enough to perform when you’re starting out, as you will experience a lot of DOMS (muscle soreness) after these workouts, which then will make it very hard to perform well in the gym for the next time! Secondly, leaving 1-2 days recovery between is best for the DOMS to settle, and thirdly, dividing the movement patterns / muscle groups on different days is good to keep you going without struggling through workouts. Example, Monday = pulling and bending (back, biceps, back of shoulders), Thursday = lunge and squatting (legs), Saturday = pushing, twisting (chest, triceps, abs, obliques, front of shoulders).

What is good recovery around workouts?

Eating a form of protein and carbohydrate 30-40 minutes before and immediately after workouts are the best thing to repair the damaged muscles worked through the session, this will reduce the DOMS (muscle soreness) afterwards and increase the muscle improving its strength and muscle building process, as this is the crucial period for results! An easy thing that I do around workouts is ½ a banana with ½ protein shake (150ml) 30 minutes before, and then have the other half of those immediately after the workout. This will allow the body to have the carbohydrates from the banana to give energy and then replenish it, and the protein from the shake will be all ready to rebuild the muscle from the get go!

You can read more specific details about how often to train and different recovery strategies by reading our article on Progressive Overload.

There Is No Additional Basic Conditioning Exercises Or Stretching Included In The Plan:

This is where a lot of people miss all together, and this is another determinant to help prevent injury. Commonly with poor posture and poor movement skills through exercises are due to tight muscles/joints which can be corrected by adopting a stretching program at the beginning. We find most people skip the stretching stage as it is not much fun to do and is boring. Boring is much better than pain, so make sure you implement this step and you will be able to move forward without problems. Add on top of this weak stabilizers (such as your deep core muscles, pelvic floor) and lazy glutes you have the perfect recipe for injury. If these muscles are activated throughout the majority of exercises, the less chance of injury anywhere from your head to toe.

What stretches do I do?

What are basic conditioning exercises? Stretches depend on the person as posture and stretch testing can determine which muscles need to be stretched, but as a basic for postural correction stretching out your neck, pec muscles, hamstrings “or” hip flexors are good to begin with. These are good to perform immediately after a workout to initially relieve the muscle tension and return it back to its resting length. Conditioning exercises to strengthen your glutes and stabilizer core muscles are the forward ball roll, hip extension/pelvic curls and clams. These are excellent therapeutic exercises to get those muscles switched on to prevent injury before a workout, to begin with they are good to perform at the start of a workout. So as a warm up, perform the conditioning exercises, and has a cool down perform the stretches, these make it practical and easy to do.

Watch the video below where we explain how to design a stretching program.


I hope this article helps you in summary with what to look out for when starting a gym program. The basic rules are start slow and give yourself time to learn good movement skills, postural correction exercise and stretches and stick with cable exercises until you have built enough stability and reserve. Ensure you do not over train and that your nutrition is as good as it can be to ensure adequate recovery.

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