How to Exercise Safely at HomeJune 9, 2020 - Katie McCallum
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many of us to swap gym time and fitness classes for at-home workouts lately. And, if you're anything like me, you may be pleasantly surprised by the ease and convenience of fitting in exercise without ever leaving your home. If you're thinking, "Why didn't I try this before?!" — you're not alone.
No remembering to pack a bag full of gear, snacks and shower supplies. No fighting rush-hour traffic and crowded parking lots. No awkward lurking around the squat rack or bench press waiting for your turn.
But, if you're new to at-home workouts like me, you may be wondering if you're doing it right — and whether or not your fitness is suffering.
Working out at home removes a lot of the annoying logistics of getting in some exercise, but safely working out at home still requires some planning and forethought. Leanne Wonesh, athletic trainer at Houston Methodist, recommends following these six steps for avoiding injury while working out at home.
Protect your joints
Throughout the day, your joints help you move and bear the burden of your weight. During exercise, your joints experience even more movement or even heavier loads — sometimes both — so it's important to be sure you're doing everything you can to protect them.
Gyms and fitness centers are often outfitted with surfaces and equipment that help protect your joints as you exercise. At home, you'll need to do the same.
"In particular, an exercise mat is very important during any type of body weight or strength training exercises," says Wonesh. "A mat can help provide the cushion you need to protect your joints as you bend, move and jump."
You may be able to replace a mat with a carpeted area in your home, but Wonesh says that it depends on the carpet and the types of exercises you're doing.
"If you're noticing unusual soreness in your knees, hips, ankles or wrists after exercising on carpet, switch to using an exercise mat," Wonesh adds.
Clear out plenty of space
At-home workouts are supposed to be quick and easy, but that doesn't mean you don't have to think through the setup of your workout space. In fact, if you don't think through it, you may be at risk for slipping, tripping, falling and, ultimately, hurting yourself.
"If you're doing any jumping activity whatsoever, make sure your exercise mat has nonslip padding on the bottom," says Wonesh. "If your mat slips as you're landing a jump, it's a really easy way to injure yourself."
And it's not just your immediate personal space that you need to be worried about. You may even need to do a little tidying around you or move a piece of furniture or two.
"Before starting a workout, make sure that you clear the area and give yourself plenty of space," says Wonesh. "This is essential, so that if you do trip or fall, you won't injure yourself on the things around you."
Proper footwear still matters
When you're exercising from the comfort of your home, you may find that your comfort level makes it easy to forget the importance of proper workout gear — including shoes.
Just because you can roll off your couch and straight into your workout, doesn't mean you should.
"With any workout, you want to be sure you're wearing the right shoes," explains Wonesh. "If you're doing HIIT or strength training, look for a training shoe that provides plenty of lateral support — rather than a running shoe, which may not provide the right amount or type of stability."
Whatever you do, Wonesh says that wearing no shoes is better than wearing just socks or your house shoes.
"For some types of workouts, such as yoga or tai-chi, going barefoot is perfectly fine," adds Wonesh. "But working out in socks, moccasins, flip-flops or other casual footwear can lead to sports injuries, as well as increase your risk of slips, trips and falls."
Drink plenty of water
When you're at home, staying on top of your hydration status can be challenging. And while grabbing your water bottle is part of your workout prep checklist when you're headed to the gym or a fitness class, it's pretty easy to forget to have water on hand while exercising at home.
"When you're dehydrated, you're more tired than usual and you have less energy. Going into a workout dehydrated can significantly affect your performance," explains Wonesh. "Make sure you're drinking plenty of water throughout the day, as well as during and after your workout."
Make time for a warmup
Whether working out at the gym or home, we're likely all guilty of not warming up before exercising. But warmups are an important part of preparing your body for exercise, which can increase your performance and reduce your risk of injury. Plus, since you're saving time by skipping the gym commute, it should be easy to add a warmup to your at-home workout!
The goal of your warmup is to elevate your heart rate, which, in turn, sends signals to the rest of your body that it's time to start working. For instance, a warmup helps redirect blood flow to your muscles, making them more pliable, and increases your respiratory rate, ensuring your muscles get plenty of oxygen.
"When it comes to a warmup, start slow and work your way into more vigorous activity," explains Wonesh. "It's helpful to incorporate some form of cardio, such as jumping jacks, as well as movements that kick-start your full range of motion, including hip openers, arm circles and neck rolls, so that those smaller movements during your actual workout are more achievable."
If you have a heart rate monitor, Wonesh recommends leveraging it to determine when you're sufficiently warmed up. Otherwise, Wonesh says, "If you're not sweaty by the end of your warmup, then you're not warmed up."
Check your form and posture
When moving your body and lifting weights, it's always important to keep tabs on your form and posture. This is because improper workout technique can lead to injury.
In a gym or fitness studio, floor-to-ceiling mirrors make it easy to make sure you're maintaining proper form and posture as you bend and move. At home, you probably don't have the luxury of a wall of mirrors.
It may feel uncomfortable at first, but Wonesh recommends setting up a full length mirror in your workout space or using your phone or camera to record yourself while exercising.
"If you're not used to exercising at home, your workouts may feel a little disorienting, and your form and technique may be some of the first things to slip to the wayside," warns Wonesh. "During strength training especially, using a mirror or camera can help you make sure your body is in proper alignment. It can also help you identify those easy-to-make mistakes when it comes to your workout form, like letting your knees track inward as you bend."
In addition, Wonesh warns that following along to an exercise video can lead to improper posture if you're not careful.
"Rather than relying on your smartphone during an exercise video, consider putting your workout on the largest screen you can manage," suggests Wonesh. "This can help ensure you're not compromising your posture as you follow along with your workout."
Balance your workouts and set aside time for recovery
Without a fitness class to guide you or a plethora of gym equipment making it easy to mix things up, it's easy to fall into the trap of doing the same at-home workout day after day because...well, it's what works. But, Wonesh cautions that this can lead to overtraining injuries.
"It's critical to balance cardio and strength training, as well as the individual muscle groups you're working each day," says Wonesh. "Going all in on one type of exercise, such as running, or repeating your favorite workout video over and over can lead to overtraining — which, in turn, can lead to injury."
When it comes to letting your muscles recover, the number of rest days a particular muscle group may need varies from person to person — and maybe even muscle group to muscle group. In general, it's best to wait 48 hours between working out the same muscle group. For instance, if you worked your glutes and hamstrings pretty hard today, try to give them two full days to recover before working them out again. In the meantime, there are plenty of other muscles groups you can exercise. In addition, you can go for a jog or walk — great ways to decrease both your soreness and recovery time.
"Everyone's rest period will look a little different, but a good way to know if a particular muscle group still needs rest is to start with a 10-minute warmup," explains Wonesh. "If those muscles are still sore after warming up, switch to working out a different muscle group."
At the end of the day, whether you're working out at home or not, your workout should be something that benefits both your mind and body.
"If you're going to dedicate 30 minutes to a workout, you want to make sure you're getting the most out of it," says Wonesh. "These steps can help set you up for workout success — improving both your performance and safety of your workouts."