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Exercising Safely

By

Brian D. Johnston

, Exercise Specialist, International Association of Resistance Training

Last full review/revision Aug 2021| Content last modified Aug 2021
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Exercising without proper safety precautions often leads to injury. Muscle overuse and repetitive strain injuries may be prevented by

  • Scheduling strength training workouts 48 hours apart to allow muscles to recover

  • Strength training different muscle groups on different days

  • Keeping workouts varied in regard to exercise method and equipment choices

People should stop exercising immediately if they feel pain other than the usual mild burning sensation in muscles caused by lactic acid buildup.

Two types of muscle discomfort may be felt after exercise. The desirable or expected type, delayed-onset muscle soreness, does not start until several hours after exercising intensely. Usually it peaks within 48 hours, goes away within 72 hours, and feels better after the warm-up for the next workout. The undesirable type, in which pain indicates injury, is usually felt soon after injury occurs, may not disappear within 72 hours, and may become much more severe over time and if a person continues to exercise.

Warming up

The goal of warming up is to prepare the mind and body for more vigorous activity without compromising performance of the more vigorous activity. Also, warming up is meant literally. Warm muscles are more pliable and less likely to tear than cold muscles, which contract sluggishly. Starting exercise at lower intensity (for example, walking rather than running or using lighter weights) raises the temperature of muscles by increasing blood flow. Therefore, warming up helps prevent injuries. Activities that do not raise muscle temperature do not provide such benefit. Warm-up activities also help prepare the mind for more intense activity, thus increasing confidence and motivation and improving the mind-muscle link for higher quality activity.

Did You Know...

  • "Warming up" before exercise is meant literally. The temperature of muscles must actually increase in order for them to be more pliable and to generate maximum contraction.

Cooling down

Slowing down gradually (cooling down) at the end of exercise helps prevent light-headedness. When the leg muscles relax, blood collects (pools) in the veins near them. To return the blood toward the heart, the leg muscles must contract. When exercise is suddenly stopped, blood pools in the legs and not enough blood goes to the brain, causing light-headedness. By preventing blood from pooling, cooling down also helps the bloodstream speed up its removal of lactic acid, a natural chemical product that builds up in the muscles during exercise and that can unduly strain the body if it accumulates. Some ways to cool down include walking for a few minutes (after a run), doing 1 to 2 light weight training sets (after more intense sets), and stretching.

Hydration

Proper hydration is important, particularly when exertion is prolonged or occurs in a hot environment. People should be well-hydrated before activity, drink fluids regularly during extended exertion, and continue to drink fluids after activity. During exercise, people should typically drink about 1/2 to 1 cup (120 to 240 milliliters) every 15 to 20 minutes, depending on heat and exertion level. People can be distracted by their activity and thus not realize that they are thirsty. Another way to estimate the amount of fluids needed is to subtract body weight after exercise from body weight before exercise. Then, about 2 cups of fluid is consumed per pound lost (about 1 liter for each kilogram lost). People with heart failure, who are on dialysis, or who have other conditions for which fluid is restricted as directed by a doctor should discuss fluid intake targets or limits with their doctor.

Did You Know...

  • During exercise, people should drink about 1/2 to 1 cup (120 to 240 milliliters) every 15 to 20 minutes, even if they are not thirsty.

However, people should avoid drinking too much water because, in extreme cases, overhydration can cause the level of salt in the blood to fall too low (a condition called hyponatremia Hyponatremia (Low Level of Sodium in the Blood) In hyponatremia, the level of sodium in blood is too low. A low sodium level has many causes, including consumption of too many fluids, kidney failure, heart failure, cirrhosis, and use of diuretics... read more ), which can lead to nausea or even seizures. Overhydration and hyponatremia are usually only a problem for people who engage in prolonged outdoor exertion (for example, long-distance runners or sport teams playing long games).

To replace lost fluids, plain water is usually fine unless very large amounts are necessary (several quarts, for example). Such a large fluid requirement is unusual unless a person exercises outdoors in high heat and humidity. In this case, electrolyte-containing sports drinks may be preferred. However, if the sports drink has a lot of sugar (more than 8% glucose), it should be mixed with plain water at a 50:50 ratio so that the fluids are not absorbed too slowly.

NOTE: This is the Consumer Version. DOCTORS: Click here for the Professional Version
Click here for the Professional Version
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