8 tips for working out safely at home

With many gyms closed, people have had to transition their strength and cardio workouts from fitness centers to their homes. While it may be effortless to walk from a home office to a workout mat, it doesn’t lessen the risk of getting injured while exercising.

Without access to all the safety measures a fitness center offers, such as trained professionals, footwear requirements, equipment variety, and cleanup rules, the responsibility falls on you to create a safe environment at home.

Use these tips to lower your risk of injury while working toward your fitness goals at home.

1. Create a dedicated workout space.

When following a video and lunging in various directions, it can be hard to stay aware of the space around you, says Jennifer Noiles, a performance director at EXOS. This makes tripping over toys, pets, or weights a risk factor.

Stay safe by sectioning off a space, ideally away from your desk or other furniture, with enough room to move easily from side to side and front to back.

If you were to fall, think about what you might hit. Be sure to set up your water bottle and any equipment needed for each workout in a section away from your immediate surroundings and put it away after use.

2. Take note of floors and ceilings.

Look above you to ensure that the ceiling is high enough to safely jump and lift weights overhead and watch out for ceiling fans. What type of flooring do you have? Hardwood and tile floors can make for a hard landing during cardio or after a fall, so take excessive impact or hardness into consideration.

Add some cushioning with adequate friction and grip to prevent slipping, along with a supportive pair of sneakers. While yoga mats are ideal, most foam-type mats with bottom grip will work, suggests Noiles.

3. Use a variety of weights.

If you have limited options due to cost or space, look for a pair of light- to medium-weight dumbbells. “Find a resistance that’s more versatile, where you have the ability to hold it for an extended period of time,” says Noiles. And increase the reps and sets as you get stronger.

When you’re lifting, especially if you’re not working with a coach, consider what you can safely use without a spotter. Need more of a challenge? Consult with a coach to determine what weight you can safely handle alone. 

4. Master the basics.

Jumping into a program that’s too advanced can compromise form, which can increase injury risk over time. So give yourself a quick refresh if you haven’t worked out in a while or you’re new to exercising. Start by familiarizing yourself with bodyweight movements like pushups.

Once you master the technique, progress to a bench press. Working up to exercises that are more difficult but use the same movement patterns, like a pushup and a bench press, can keep your training different and challenging while staying safe, says Giovani Urrutia, tactical education specialist at EXOS.

5. Find a reputable program to follow.

Look for online programs that are two- to four-weeks long and have a planned or periodized program that alternates intensity levels and types of workouts. You can also follow our DIY weekly plans.

“Be a smart consumer,” says Noiles, who suggests requesting a trial before committing. “Don’t get sucked into the workout of the day on social media.”

The coach’s movements should look athletic and you should feel strong doing them, adds Urrutia. If they feel “goofy,” he says, or uncoordinated, you’re putting yourself at risk for an injury.

6. Make time to warm up and cool down.

Before a workout, commit to 10-15 minutes of low-intensity movements to warm your muscles. This might include marching or skipping in place, stretching, or jumping jacks. The warmup should raise your heart rate, prepping your body for a more intense session and reducing your risk of common injuries.

To cool down, spend a similar amount of time as you did in your warmup doing a less intense version of your workout — for example, walking after a run — to help muscles recover faster and prevent soreness.

7. Check your technique.

Checking your form mid-weight lift in a mirror can be distracting and dangerous. “You want to avoid sudden movements if you are holding weights,” says Noiles, adding that, “in real time, it’s hard to make quick adjustments.” Record yourself on your phone and watch back later to critique your posture with the convenience of pausing and replaying or send the video to your trainer for feedback.

8. Modify exercises.

Modify exercises if a movement hurts or causes acute pain. Typical modifications to protect the lower back are lowering to the knees during pushups or planks, or bending the knees in a boat hold. After a workout, take note of any pain. If pain is localized, then it might be an injury.

“People think they need to crush themselves,” Urrutia says. “But you should finish the session feeling better than when you started.” You don’t want to finish your workout feeling wrecked.

Now that you know how to do it safely, are you ready to take your home workouts to the next level? Upgrade your home gym space with new workout equipment.

About the Author

Lauren Katims

Lauren Katims is a Northern California-based writer and editor.

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