Our attitude towards working out at home has certainly changed recently. As the pandemic closed gyms worldwide, home workouts have become the norm.
However, home workouts have an inherent risk of injury as they are typically done alone and without expert supervision.
Read this article before your next home workout to ensure your training session is as safe and effective as possible, with minimal risk of injury.
The Most Common Home Workout Injuries
A 2013 study suggests that the most common injuries sustained from using mechanical home gym equipment (treadmills, bikes, elliptical trainers, etc.) are:
- Soft Tissue Injuries
- Sprains and Strains
Strength training also carries inherent dangers, as Lavallee et al. show us in An Overview of Strength Training Injuries: Acute and Chronic –
“By far, the most common acute, non-urgent injuries are muscular strains and ligamentous sprains, accounting for 46%-60% of all acute injuries in strength training.”
Even experienced trainers full victim to such injuries – see Joe Wicks pulling his hamstring on live TV.
Lavallae et al. also go on to mention the dangers of handling weights.
“The most common mechanism is dropping of a weight (65%). This study also suggests that free weights account for more than 90% of these injuries”
Even the home workout staple of bodyweight training isn’t without risk. However, the dangers are considerably less than mechanical machines or weight training. Leaf et al. did a study on participants in calisthenics (bodyweight training) and found that,
“Over a 12-month period, 27.8% of participants were injured.”
It appears that the most common injury was to the lower back.
“Calisthenics participants reported high proportions of lower back injuries (32.4% of all injuries)”
Most home workout sessions involve machines, weights, or bodyweight exercises, often combining all three.
Acute Injuries vs. Chronic Injuries
All the injuries we mentioned regarding mechanical equipment and training with weights are what we call acute injuries or injuries that occur suddenly and involve immediate pain.
Picture the runner who is sprinting along the track and pulls their hamstring. Or the weightlifter pulling on the deadlift bar who feels their lower back go.
Chronic injuries tend to occur as the result of overuse or improper technique in repetitive motions.
For example, some runners complain of shin splints when they up their mileage, or soccer players often suffer chronic knee pain in the leg they most often use to kick the ball.
Both acute and chronic injuries can occur when working out at home.
Let us take a look at what we can do to minimize the risk.
How to Prevent Home Workout Injuries
1. Consult Your Doctor Before Working Out
Your doctor can determine whether you are at risk when working out at home. They should also advise against any exercises that may aggravate previous injuries.
2. Wear Appropriate Workout Clothes
Ensure you are wearing comfortable clothes that allow you to move easily and do not create restrictions or trip hazards.
Footwear should be worn and needs to be appropriate for the exercises.
If your workout shoes are worn, or the soles have become damaged or slippery, replace them immediately.
Dress as if you are heading to an exercise class.
3. Warm Up and Cool Down
Warming up prepares us mentally and physically for the workout. By raising the heart rate and blood flow, we provide the muscles with more oxygen, promoting an increased range of motion.
A good warmup also enhances the mind to muscle link, which improves the efficiency of movement. All these elements combine to reduce the risk of injury significantly.
Cooling down after exercise and gentle flexibility exercises gradually return the body to its resting state. This can play a role in preventing muscle soreness and injury.
4. Maintain Your Equipment
The last thing you want is an injury due to equipment failure.
Develop a maintenance schedule for your kit and make notes when you check it over.
Regular greasing of moving parts, re-tensioning chains, and checking bearings can be the difference between a smooth and injury-free operation or hurting yourself.
5. Space Out Your Equipment
There is nothing worse than finishing a tough set of burpees, only to turn around and trip over your kettlebell or smash your shin on your rowing machine.
Usually, this results in a couple of choice words and a bit of a bruise, but in the worst-case scenario, tripping over your kit can put you out of action for weeks.
Consider making sure you have a one-meter gap between your equipment so you can easily move around. Put all equipment away after using it and invest in storage racks and space-saving devices like wall racks for benches and rowing machines.
6. Train with a Partner
Working out with someone else has always been one way to ensure safety.
Try to enlist a training partner to join you on days when you plan to lift weights. Or at least train a household member in the correct spotting techniques, so you can call on them when you plan to lift.
7. Stay Hydrated
Drinking plenty of fluids while you exercise not only keeps your muscles in a mobile, receptive state, but it also keeps you mentally alert and aware of any potential hazards.
Now let’s think about how you structure your workouts.
8. Manage Your Workout Frequency
In other words, how many days a week are you exercising or planning to exercise?
Some people train 5 to 6 days a week at home, taking Sundays as a rest day. Whilst others work out three days a week, taking a rest day between sessions.
Are those who are training 5-6 times more at risk of injury? Not necessarily.
Their weekly programs are structured to provide variation to enhance their training effect and allow their body systems to recover. For example, Monday might involve a tough kettlebell session. Tuesday could be a low heart rate cardio session followed by full-body flexibility training.
If you plan to hit the same training session every day of the week, the likelihood is you will suffer a chronic injury.
This topic’s specifics would require a whole new article, but my basic advice is the following:
- Always have one day of complete rest within a training week.
- Train with weights for a maximum of 3-4 times a week. Try to take a day off weight training between sessions. If you train on consecutive days, make sure you have a rest day after the second session
- If you trained hard on Monday, consider an easier session on Tuesday.
- Instead of focusing on one type of exercise, build variety into your fitness program.
9. Increase Intensity Safely
High-intensity exercise has become very trendy in recent years and is no longer just for elite athletes.
There are many physical benefits from this type of training, including increased strength and cardiovascular capacity. However, alongside these benefits are significant injury risks.
It is all too tempting to see a workout posted on social media, often promoted by tanned and sculpted athletes, head into the garage gym, and smash it out. The results can vary from walking funny for a few days to significant soft tissue damage.
I had an excellent strength and conditioning coach some years ago. What he repeated time and time over the years I worked with him still rings true.
“Intensity has to be earned.”
In other words, he wanted you to put the time in at lower training intensities before stepping it up.
He wanted you to build intensity gradually and safely, from the ground up. I think this is fantastic advice, not only for an athlete but also for those of you who are looking to prevent injuries when working out at home.
As a rule of thumb, I advise my clients to only increase the intensity of a session by 5-10% per week.
10. Increase Workout Duration Gradually
Quite simply the time you spend exercising. Even a low impact exercise can cause injury if performed for too long.
This is quite similar to intensity in terms of preventing injuries.
Do not try to run before you can walk, build the length of the workouts gradually.
If you are new to working out at home, I advise finishing the first few sessions with a bit left in the tank. If you miss a session, don’t “double-up” the next workout to try and catch up.
All workouts carry a level of risk.
The fact that many home exercise sessions are performed alone, without an exercise professional’s supervision, can increase the level of risk.
Seek the advice of a professional instructor before starting any program.
You need to be able to perform the correct technique for every exercise to reduce the risk of injury, and a professional will guide you through the techniques, introducing you to appropriate learning resources and providing video feedback.
Be careful when subscribing to “one size fits all” online training.
These sessions are not individualized to your requirements and often ask you to perform complex movements without providing you with supervision or technique feedback. An injury is just waiting to happen.
To say safe, remember these key tips:
- Always dress appropriately
- Warm-Up and Cool Down
- Ask a professional to design your training program, including guidance and coaching on the complex movements.
- Follow a progressive and periodized program that builds frequency, intensity, and duration by appropriate increments.
- Maintain and store your equipment correctly.
- Listen to your body. If discomfort becomes pain, stop the session and seek advice.
Hopefully, this article will help you either begin or continue working out at home safely and give you some ideas to help you avoid both acute and chronic injuries, ensuring you continue your journey towards optimal health and fitness.
Graves, J. M., Iyer, K. R., Willis, M. M., Ebel, B. E., Rivara, F. P., & Vavilala, M. S. (2013). Emergency department-reported injuries associated with mechanical home exercise equipment in the USA. Injury Prevention, 20(4), 281–285. doi:10.1136/injuryprev-2013-040833
Lavallee, Mark E.; Balam, Tucker. An Overview of Strength Training Injuries: Acute and Chronic, Current Sports Medicine Reports: September-October 2010 – Volume 9 – Issue 5 – p 307-313 doi: 10.1249/JSR.0b013e3181f3ed6d
Leaf, J. R., Keating, J. L., & Kolt, G. S. (2003). Injury in the Australian sport of calisthenics: A prospective study. Australian Journal of Physiotherapy, 49(2), 123–130. doi:10.1016/s0004-9514(14)60128-8