12 ways to avoid fitness injuries in the new year

Darla Carter

Pat yourself on the back if you're already making good on your New Year’s resolution to get fit in 2017. Being physically active can reduce your risk of chronic disease, help control your weight and improve your mood, but it also can lead to injury.

“This time of year, people will typically jump in too fast and increase their intensity or their frequency or their duration too quickly," said Dr. Robin Curry, a sports medicine physician with Norton Orthopaedic Specialists in St. Matthews. "What we recommend is really starting slowly and gradually building ... to prevent against those overuse injuries, which is what we’ll see most commonly - things like ankle sprains and that sort of thing."

Dee Fairfield, senior healthy living director at the Northeast Family YMCA, gave similar advice, noting, “this is a lifestyle change you have to ease into, just like if you were going to cut out sugar or cut out smoking. It’s a lifestyle change, not just a quick fix.”

Here are 11 more tips:

Have realistic expectations: “Don’t come into the gym expecting to be your fittest self right today,” Fairfield said. “... You have to give your body time to adjust."

Listen to your body: “I don’t advocate the 'no pain, no gain' (approach),” Fairfield said. “I advocate more of listen to your body, understand what you’re asking it do and don’t ask it to do more than it’s ready to do.”

For example, “when I strain to lift, when I go beyond where I need to be, that causes issues other places in my body, so I go right to the point of discomfort but not pain,” Fairfield said.

Don’t forget about rest: “We do advocate rest, especially if you’re extremely tired or if you experience that intense kind of physical discomfort," Fairfield said. Also, "especially between weight lifting sessions or strength training, you should take 24 to 48 hours off."

Take time to warm up: “A 10-minute light cardio warm-up is always appropriate before they do any type of physical activity,” Fairfield said. “That allows their body to start pumping blood to get to all of their muscles so that they’ll have everything they need to be able to perform, so it gets their circulation going. Also, “we always recommend stretching – both pre- and post” for flexibility of muscle.

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Check with your doctor if warranted: If you’ve been away from the gym for a long time or have chronic medical conditions, it's good to see your primary care physician before getting into "any sort of workout routine,” Curry said.

Also, be on the lookout for warning signs of problems. For example, shortness of breath that’s out of the ordinary, dizziness or nausea, Curry said. Also, pay attention to aches and pains that stick around. “Expect some soreness, especially as you’re getting back into activities, but soreness that lasts … several days and doesn’t seem to be getting any better and not improving with any sort of rest is another indication that you should probably be evaluated,” she said.

Wear the proper shoes: “We see lots of injuries here, especially in this timeframe from January through April, where people have too many miles on their shoes or haven’t really sought out a good pair of shoes and that’s really critical for success and for staying injury-free,” Curry said. Less than 300 miles on your shoe is ideal, and "it’s good to go to a running store or shoe store and be fitted to make sure you’re getting the right size and that sort of thing."

Listen to the instructor: “Paying attention to the instructor is key," Fairfield said. For example, in a group exercise class, “the instructor is going to tell people how to grade an activity down so it’s a little bit easier for them or grade it up. … She or he is also going to give technique tips, they’re going to give form tips, they’re going to make sure as they’re looking around the class that they are communicating things that should help the class not be injured.”

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Learn how to use the equipment: “Improper use of equipment is fairly common this time of year and most gyms will have either a coach on the floor or someone who is responsible for making sure that equipment gets used correctly and someone who can correct form or poor posture," Fairfield said. "We see a lot of cumulative injuries when people have that poor posture or they have some sort of a faulty movement pattern when they’re going through exercise."

Get a trainer: “If you want one-on-one personal attention and a plan to propel yourself to a higher level of fitness, get a personal trainer to help with that,” said Fairfield, noting that you could pay $45 an hour (or less) for personal training at the YMCA.

Consider joining a training program: If you’re considering participating in a race, such as the Kentucky Derby Festival Marathon or miniMarathon, consider signing up for a training program. The Norton Sports Health Derby Festival Training Program kicks off this week (Thursday) and is a great way to get help with your training runs, be monitored and get access to health care professionals to help with any injuries, Curry said.

Stay hydrated: “Your body needs hydration and it needs proper nutrition in order to be able to fuel itself,” Fairfield said. “While most people don’t think of those two things, those are two very important aspects of being able to be physically fit and being able to go into a workout routine without injuring yourself.”

Reach Darla Carter at or 502-582-7068.

Running clinic

A running clinic for people who are injured or suffering from aches and pains will be from 5-7 p.m. on the 2nd and 4th Wednesdays of the month from February through April at Norton Orthopaedic Specialists, 4123 Dutchmans Lane, Suite 401, in St. Matthews. Walk-ins will be accepted if patients arrive by 6:30 p.m., but appointments are preferred. Call 502-559-1400.