IT MIGHT BE HOME WORKOUT TIME AGAIN
In 2020 and into 2021, due to the pandemic, most of us shifted away from gym workouts to exercise at home or in open outdoor spaces. Since then, a significant number of us felt confident enough to resume our gym routines. However, with the resurgence of COVID-19, marked by new variants and increased hospitalizations, concerns are again on the rise. Some businesses and schools are once more starting to recommend the use of high-quality masks.
Given these developments, you might find it safer—and certainly more convenient—to work out at home. However, exercising at home isn’t without its risks, such as potential falls and muscle strains.
If you’re considering a return to home workouts, I recently came upon an online article published on August 1, 2023, by Heidi Godman, Executive Editor of Harvard Health Letter, 3 Strategies for Safer Home Workouts. Below are some key takeaways:
Create a safe exercise space, get safety gear, and practice smart workout habits to reduce your risk of injury.
1. Create a safe workout space
Your exercise environment is the foundation for exercise safety. Make sure it’s well-lit (to prevent falls), well-ventilated (to keep the air fresh), and not too hot (so you don’t get overheated or dehydrated) or humid.
A safe workout space should also have a level floor and plenty of room to move. “Your workout space should be wide enough that you can move your arms freely, without touching anything when you’re standing, and long enough to accommodate your whole body when you’re on the ground for floor exercises,” says Janice McGrail, a physical therapist at Harvard-affiliated Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital.
Keep the floor free of clutter and throw rugs and remove any nearby furniture with sharp corners.
2. Stock the space with safety essentials
The following items can boost the safety of your workout.
A large mirror. Maintaining the proper form during exercise is crucial to avoiding muscle strains and sprains. A framed full-length mirror (about $10 at a big-box store) will enable you to see how you’re doing. Secure the mirror to the wall to keep it from falling and shattering.
An exercise mat. A little cushioning underfoot will reduce pressure on your joints and provide a safer landing spot than a hard floor. The mat should be nonslip and about half an inch thick. A set of interlocking exercise foam floor tiles are perfect for the job. Prices for a set start at about $25. (Note: Don’t exercise on thick carpet, which may cause your sneakers to get stuck and cause a fall.)
Supportive sneakers. The most comfortable sneakers you own might not be the safest for exercising. Wear a pair that fits snugly around your heel and midfoot and has a roomy toe box, good support, and soles that aren’t too cushioned or beveled (as running shoes are), which may lead to a fall.
Water. Keep a water bottle nearby, so you can take a few sips in between exercises to stay hydrated.
3. Practice safe exercise habits
Remaining aware of exercise risks and practicing safe exercise habits should be part of your routine — just like putting on a seat belt in a car. Here are some suggestions.
Get your doctor’s okay. Make sure you have a green light for your exercise routine if you’ve been inactive recently, or if you have a chronic condition such as heart disease or poor balance. Start with a simple routine, and increase the difficulty gradually.
Warm up first. Strained muscles are common exercise injuries. Doing a 5- or 10-minute warm-up first — such as marching in place and moving your arms around — will prime your muscles and body for the demand of your workout.
Don’t push yourself too hard. “In general, exercise should feel like a challenge or make you feel fatigued, but it should not cause sharp pain. It is okay and even expected for your muscles to feel tired and a bit sore after you exercise, but the soreness should go away in about a day. If you are still sore several days later, that’s a sign that you did too much. Next time, use lighter weights or do fewer repetitions,” McGrail says.
Carry weights carefully. “Grasp any weight, even a lighter one, in the middle of the handle to keep it steady so you don’t drop it. When picking up heavy dumbbells or kettlebells from the floor, bend at your knees and keep your back straight. When standing up again, use your legs rather than your back, so you don’t strain it,” McGrail says.
Tread lightly with treadmills. Treadmill accidents at home are common causes of broken bones, head injuries, and friction burns. If you have a treadmill, don’t set the speed too fast or raise the incline too high, and change difficulty levels gradually. Take advantage of any safety mechanisms your treadmill has, such as a tether you can wear that automatically stops the machine if you fall. Keep the treadmill unplugged when you’re not using it, to protect children who might want to play on it.
Stretch after a workout. The muscles are warm and ready for stretching. Don’t bounce during a stretch, which can cause injury; hold each stretch for about 30 seconds at a time. This will help keep your muscles long and supple and prevent them from being injured during your next workout and your daily activities.