3 tips for avoiding injury at the gym

Recently joined the gym or returning to training after a long break? There may be a risk of doing too much too soon. Senior physiotherapists Emily Jackson and Daniel Gibson, share their top tips for training safely, and what to do if you suffer from a sports injury.

The physical and mental benefits of regular exercise are well known, and you may be keen to get stuck in, or pick up where you left off with your training regime.

However, if you haven't exercised regularly in a while (or ever!), without care and attention you may be more at risk of injury – the most likely of these being an overload injury (lifting too much weight) or an overuse injury (doing too much).

Training load

It’s important to understand the balance between your training and your body’s ability to cope with what you’re asking it to do – this is known as ‘training load’.

Loading your tissues by exercising is healthy and promotes improvements in healing, fitness and strength. However, you’re more likely to injure yourself if you increase this too quickly, or don’t give yourself enough time to heal, as the tissue isn’t able to cope.

3 tips for training safely after a break from the gym

  1. Take it slow

    Realistically, if you’ve had a pause in your training, you won’t be able to pick up exactly where you left off. You’ll have built up to that pre-lockdown level progressively, so it’ll take time to get back there safely.

    That means you should introduce new exercise, or increase it, gradually. That could be your mileage, speed, intensity, or frequency or amount of weight lifted. Make sure you follow the 10% rule, which means increasing your activity by no more than 10% a week. So if you run 10 miles one week, run 11 miles the next. Or if you’re lifting 50 pounds, go for 55 pounds the week after.

    It’s also important to make sure your form and technique are correct before you increase the difficulty, so you’re not adding unnecessary strain.

    Our Trainer Tips videos on Nuffield Health 24/7 can help you master some common exercises.

  2. Take breaks

    With so much on offer at the gyms again, it can be tempting pack out your training schedule. But an equally important part of finding the balance is incorporating enough rest. Recovery days give your tissues time to repair, so you should factor these into your week when planning your training sessions.

    You should also remember that there are many other factors that can contribute to injury and repair; mental health, diet, and sleep are just as important and can all influence how well your body adapts to exercise.

  3. Get a personal trainer

    When you’re out of practice, it can be a good idea to consult a professional to get back on track. Our highly experienced Personal Trainers can assist you in creating a personalised training programme to help you achieve your goals, making sure you follow tips 1 and 2.

    A personal trainer can also suggest some different training styles and techniques to help you keep things interesting, while providing you with some much needed motivation after such a long break.

What if I suffer from a sports injury?

If you experience a muscle or joint strain, follow the POLICE method to aid recovery:

  • Protect – the injured area to reduce any swelling
  • Optimal Loading – rest the area for the first 48 hours after injury
  • Ice – is an excellent pain relief and reduces the amount of swelling
  • Compress – using a brace or bandage to reduce swelling and speed up recovery
  • Elevate – to further reduce swelling.

If your pain and swelling doesn’t improve over the next 48 hours, you may need physiotherapy to help you get back on your feet. Whether minor or complex, sports injuries can be painful and, if you don’t treat them, they can get a lot worse. Speak to one of our highly qualified physiotherapists and they’ll be able to support you on your recovery so you can return to fitness sooner, while avoiding reinjury.

You can also improve mobility and reduce pain in certain areas with our Hip Rehab, Knee Rehab and Healthy Spine videos on Nuffield Health 24/7.

Last updated Tuesday 20 September 2022

First published on Thursday 20 May 2021