6 Ways to Avoid Long-Term Damage From Fitness

You’re psyched to finally get your workout routine back on track. But as motivated and eager as you are to increase your intensity and explore new types of classes, it’s important to remember to take the best care possible of your body before, during and after you get your workout on.

Here are six things that could cost you an injury and even a few months off of your fitness routine.

Don’t skip your warm-up or cool down.
Heading into class a few minutes late or peacing out a few minutes early? Not an excuse to skip that warm-up. Sure, you might be eager to get your workout going (or finished!), but there’s a good reason your instructor starts off with a 5- to 10-minute warm-up and closes class with a cool down.

When you’ve been sitting at a desk all day in the G-chat, slouched-over position, your body is used to being stagnant, and (let’s be honest) your posture is less than perfect. Stretching your muscles and slowly raising your heart rate increases blood flow to all areas of your body, boosting your body temperature and therefore reducing the chance of soreness or injury. And in the same way that you’re body needs a pre-workout pump-up, it also needs a cool down at the end. This process does the polar opposite: It slows your heart rate and blood pressure and stretches out your tendons and muscles that were tightened during class.

Don’t overdo the intense classes without a break.
So you just started ClassPass and can’t remember the last time your body felt this good. We totally get it. But that’s still no reason to book three intense classes in a row. Your body is a well-oiled machine and needs a few test runs before slamming down on the pedal. This is where the ability to book a variety of types of classes really comes in handy.

If cardio is your go-to, sneak in some yoga in between to stretch out those joints and give your newly strained muscles a rest. After a few weeks of that, you can include more high-intensity exercises with fewer breaks.

But remember to listen to your body. If it’s telling you to take a night off, do it. Pushing yourself to overachieve when your muscles aren’t yet strong enough to complete the tasks at hand will only leave you sore and out for the count for a longer period of time.

Don’t forget to eat right and drink water.
You know it’s important to eat healthy—especially when you’re trying to get in shape—but it’s easy to forget what kind of healthy foods you should be making room for on your plate. When it comes to kicking butt and having enough energy to make it through an entire workout, carbs are your bestie. Post-class, get your fill of protein from chicken or lean beef, vegetables, tofu, eggs, etc. This will help heal and strengthen your muscles so you’re in tip-top shape for the next day’s activities.

And don’t forget to stay hydrated. Nothing can make you more faint or feel more sluggish than dehydration, plus it’s one of the easiest ways to experience a cramp or pulled muscle. (Seventy-five percent of your muscles are made of water.) Be sure to get at least 17-20 oz. at least two hours prior to your workout, 7-10 oz. for every 10-20 minutes of exercise, and at least 16 oz. of water post-workout for each pound lost during sweating.    

Don’t ignore what your body is telling you.
You have some serious goals set when it comes to your workout routine, and we think your ambition is awesome! But pushing yourself when your body’s telling you it’s time to take things down a notch won’t help you achieve those goals in the long run. Have a cold or a case of pinkeye? Sit this one out, sister.

Not only are you risking your fellow classmates getting sick, you’re also breaking down your already beaten immune system. What your body really needs is some TLC: tea, Netflix and sleep. Feeling faint or so achy you can barely move are two other reason to call it quits early and rest up. Your body’s trying to tell you to take it easy, so do just that and get back on the playing field once you’ve regained your strength.

Don’t choose cute athletic wear over effective.
They’re insanely comfortable and almost always Instagram-worthy, but those aren’t the only reasons you should bulk up on fitness attire. The companies creating these pieces of clothing are using specific fabrics that are lightweight, moisture-wicking and breathable. Stay away from anything that’s 100 percent cotton, as it can weigh you down and even cause skin irritation, and avoid baggy or loose-fitting clothing that can get in your way mid-workout.

Remember to dress appropriately for the outdoor temperatures, even if your class is indoors. Bundle up to and from class to avoid catching a cold (we’re looking at you zip-ups and ankle warmers!).

As for your footwear, the pros advise avid exercisers to buy new shoes every six months, and that’s certainly not to get you to spend more dough. Not ditching your old soles leaves you in an unsupportive, broken-down structure of a shoe that can cause serious misalignment issues in your ankles, knees and hips. And you thought those high heels were causing you all that toe trauma…

Don’t discount the importance of form.
Wonder why your instructor is so descriptive when it comes to squats and high knees? It’s not only because he wants you to get the most out of your workout—it’s also because he wants you to avoid injury. Your body is created very specifically to protect its build, structure and the organs inside of it. When you stand, sit, walk, run and place weight on certain body parts, utilizing proper posture ensures you’re cooperating with how your body is naturally supposed to work. This will help you maximize every single rep you do during your workout while ensuring you avoid any pulls, strains or fractures along the way.

Jenn Sinrich is an editor in New York City, a self-proclaimed foodie always looking for the healthier version of all recipes, a passionate lover of all things cheese, a friendly New Yorker, Bostonian at heart and proud Red Sox fan. Love cats? Cheese? Mac n' Cheese? Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.