Exercise tips to prevent injury

Expert reviewer, Mr Damian McClelland, Trauma and Orthopaedic Consultant, and Clinical Director for Musculoskeletal Services at Bupa
Next review due January 2023

Injuries can be painful and debilitating. Some people need long periods of rest to recover, others may need extensive physiotherapy or surgery. The best way to avoid injury is to take a few steps to prevent them happening in the first place. Here’s some top tips.

A woman tying the laces on her trainers

Use the correct equipment


There are hundreds of different models of trainers available and knowing which pair to buy can be daunting. The best trainer is one that matches the shape of your feet and lets you run naturally.

Most people are fine in a standard running shoe. If you’re not sure whether you’re wearing the right trainers, you may want to go to a specialist sports shop and ask for advice. Some shops have experienced advisers who will watch you run and recommend suitable trainers for you. If possible, take an old pair of trainers with you so the adviser can check how they have been worn down.

Protective equipment

If your activity of choice means you’re more likely to get injured, whether that's falling off your bike or getting knocked over in rugby, you'll need to wear protective equipment. There's a huge range of products available that can protect almost any part of your body. From helmets and mouth guards to groin protectors and shin pads, correctly fitted protective gear helps protect against fractures, head injuries and skin wounds.

However, just wearing the protection isn’t enough – you need to make sure that it fits correctly and that you don’t take extra risks because of the added protection.

Protective equipment should also be used after an injury, to reduce the chance or re-injury or aggravation.

Improve your technique

There’s no point putting great effort into exercise if you have a poor technique. Not only will you limit your improvement but it’s also a sure-fire way of ending up injured.

Try to learn the right skills when you first take up a new sport so that you get into good practice. If you go to a gym, you should speak to a member of staff who can show you how to use the equipment safely and effectively. This is especially important if you use weights; be sure to begin light and increase weight over time. Any advanced sports techniques should always be taught by a professional coach.

Understand your limits

When you’re exercising, it’s important that you listen to your body and know when to stop. If you haven’t exercised for a while, start slowly and gradually increase how much you do. This will help prevent pulling or straining your muscles. And remember, some discomfort is natural but pain is never a good thing. Stop and speak to a fitness professional if you're feeling any pain when exercising.

If you’re new to exercise or change your usual routine, such as the intensity or duration, you may experience delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) . This soreness does come on instantly, but usually develops 24 to 72 hours afterwards. The soreness is part of the repair process to your muscle fibres in adapting to exercise.

DOMS isn’t classed as injury and should only last for a few days (approximately three to five) until the muscles involved are repaired.

Stay hydrated

Around 60 per cent of your body is water and it plays a vital role in every bodily function. You can lose a lot of fluid when you exercise – up to a litre an hour – mainly through sweating and breathing.

If you don’t top these fluids up, you can get dehydrated. Being dehydrated can affect both your general health and how well you can exercise. You’ll feel tired more quickly and won’t be able to control your body temperature as well as usual.

Water helps your muscles, so drinking before, during and after exercise will boost your performance.

Eat the right food

What you eat before, during and after you exercise can affect how well you perform. The right diet will support your training programme and help you to recover more quickly, as well as reduce your risk of getting injured.

We should all aim to eat a healthy, balanced diet. But foods that contain carbohydrate are a key energy source for exercise, as it's broken down into glucose, which is your body’s main fuel. Having protein after exercise (as well as part of a balanced diet) is important for building new muscle tissues and repairing damaged ones.

Cool down

Recovery is an essential part of any training programme and it’s important to help maximise performance and reduce your risk of injury.

After exercising, try spending five to 15 minutes cooling down. This involves light activity, such as walking and stretching the muscles you have used while exercising. Some people think that stretching after exercise reduces muscle soreness the next day but there's little evidence to support this. However, stretching does maintain and improve flexibility, which can help prevent injury.

Get a massage

A massage after exercise unquestionably feels good. And regular massage after exercise is thought to help with recovery by increasing the flow of blood and oxygen around the body. It also reduces muscle tightness and improves how much you can move your muscles. Sports massage therapists can identify any areas that may need attention.

Give yourself a rest

Our bodies repair and strengthen when we're at rest. You may be encouraged to exercise every day, especially if you’re training for a sporting event or trying to lose weight. However, it’s important that you have rest days in your weekly training schedule to help your body recover from the exercise. Also, try exercising different body parts on consecutive days.

Make sure you get enough sleep. This not only helps your body to recovery after exercise, but it can help prevent fatigue and therefore falls and trips that can result in injury.

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Related information

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  • Reviewed by Alice Windsor, Specialist Health Editor, Bupa Health Content Team, January 2020
    Expert reviewer, Mr Damian McClelland, Trauma and Orthopaedic Consultant, and Clinical Director for Musculoskeletal Services at Bupa
    Next review due January 2023