Why Low-Impact Exercise is Better For You

(And How to Avoid Injuries While Working Out)

When working out to lose weight, or simply to maintain general fitness, knowing how to reduce your risk for injury is going to be key to help alleviate frustration and maintain forward momentum. Achieving fitness goals is much easier to do if every care is taken to avoid injuries, which makes low-impact exercise so lucrative.

But is it enough to simply use low-impact workouts? Does it help to purchase elliptical trainers, like the Yowza Fitness Pompano (an elliptical that is being released for winter of 2012), or are there other alternatives for working out at home that are better for the budget-minded?

Before You Workout 

First, make sure you run down this brief checklist before working out, whether it's on an elliptical machine or in your backyard swimming pool:

  1. Always warm-up for 3-5 minutes at least, using low-level activity like Yoga stretches, or some simple bodyweight exercises like push-ups or jumping jacks.   Cold muscles need blood flowing to them, which gets oxygen levels up in the muscle tissue. This increase of cardiovascular activity will help 'awaken' and 'loosen' your muscles and keep your body loose and limber, ready for the challenging workout.
  2. Make sure you wear the proper clothing, from proper footwear that offers the best support, to the proper workout clothes that allow the maximum movement without constricting blood flow. Jeans and a t-shirt? Think again: try some running shorts if you're going for a run, or biking shorts if that's your thing. You don't want to wind up with rashes from sweat build up and friction in all the wrong places.
  3. If you didn't stretch yet, you need to do so: stretch before your workout. If you're running or using an elliptical machine, you'll want to be sure to stretch the hamstrings, glutes and calves at least. Think of the major muscle groups you'll be using and stretch accordingly.
  4. Make sure you have plenty of water handy. Keeping hydrated is a must, especially during colder months when people have a tendency to forget their bottled water before working out or going to the YMCA (or wherever). Simply because it's cold outside doesn't mean you can't become dehydrated: so bring water and drink up.

So much for before the workout. Now your body should be loose, limber and warmed up plenty.

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During the Workout

During the workout, you want to be critical of at least these main points:

  • Be sure you monitor your heart rate. You should know your target heart rate, if you don't, then make sure you ask your physician if he or she can help (or of course you can simply search for a chart online, there are plenty in runners' forums and blogs, etc.). Do not exceed your optimal heart rate, nor go so easy on yourself that you don't challenge yourself enough. This is the beauty of understanding your target heart rate zone (if you're training for cardio fitness especially).
  • Know when enough is enough - Arnold may be famous for saying, "No pain, no gain," but your body is telling you a clear message when you're in pain. Learn to listen, and be ready to call it a day if you've injured yourself.
  • Drink plenty of water: again, listen to your body. If you're panting like a dog and don't have water nearby, you're asking for a pounding headache at least. 
  • Be sure to use proper form, especially if using weights. Even if you're "only" riding a stationary bike, or "only" using an elliptical machine at home: you want to use proper body mechanics. Most fitness equipment manufacturers will provide this in the instructions.
  • Use music to keep you motivated, and keep you focused. It really can help put you "in the zone" during a workout to play your favorite album and playlist, so an MP3 player or iPod would be ideal.

After You Workout

Once you're all said and done, you can work on a cool-down period before calling it quits. Just like the warm-up, your muscles need to transition from heavy exertion to being at rest.

Give yourself about 5 minutes to cool-down. If you've been hitting the elliptical machine or treadmill, simply slow your pace to a jog, then to a "walk" before stopping altogether. Don't simply hit the power switch and call it good: you're asking for a pulled muscle if not worse.

Do a final stretch and re-fill your water bottle. After the workout, you'll want to have a post workout meal. The protein shakes and bars are great for this: some sugar for an insulin spike to act as a "shuttle" for the macronutrients you consume - that will make sure the protein and creatine (and whatever you're eating) goes right to your muscle tissue to replenish their stores.

That's more or less it: how to workout without injuring yourself. I recommend using low-impact exericses like elliptical trainers (my favorite), simply because they're so convenient to have at home and are so easy on your joints.

One example was given earlier, another would be the Yowza Sanibel or Captiva, Smooth Fitness Agile DMT, Sole Fitness E95 and plenty of others will do.

Alternatives would be swimming, riding a bicycle (stationary would be great for winter), or using a well-cushioned treadmill to absorb some of the high impact energy and protect your joints.

No matter what you use or how you workout, be sure to follow these workout tips to prevent injury.