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Get in Shape without Injuries

Jake Peavy Injury

So you want to get in shape but you haven’t exercised in years, or maybe ever. Getting started is a daunting task and you are motivated to get moving, which is great, but you are also worried about getting injured which would put your goals on hold.

What does it mean to be in shape?

Being in shape can be either individually defined or defined by achieving a pre-determined standard. A pro hockey player has to be in a different type of shape than a marathoner. In addition, we don’t have to be in the same type of shape as the pro athletes to consider ourselves in shape. The problem with a pre determined standard is that we push ourselves to achieve that goal possibly more rapidly than our body is capable of achieving which leads to the body breaking down and injuries happen.

So how can you get in shape without getting hurt?

Here are some of my tidbits of advice on preventing injuries.

Play Safe

Simply put, exercise in an environment that you can control. Make sure the surface you are exercising on is clear of debris, the surface is even and you have adequate gripping for your feet (surface/shoes). If you plan to go on a bike ride choose a safe route rather than one in high traffic or on a challenging off road path (not that off roading is a bad activity, it’s more of a safety issue). Many people get hurt because they don’t watch where they are going and what they are doing. Be aware of your surroundings.

Be Well Rounded

We tend to do the things we like to do and neglect the things we find are difficult, boring or tedious. This can result in imbalances and repetitive strain. For example, the body builder may be very strong and has big muscles but if that is all he does he may not have the flexibility to move those muscles through a full range of motion. The aerobics instructor may be able to exercise for 90 minutes but can she carry the 30lbs bag of dog food to the house?

When it comes to being in shape, developing a program that addresses the different aspects of being in shape; muscular strength, muscular endurance, flexibility/mobility, aerobic endurance and anaerobic endurance helps you to be able to handle a variety of physical feats.

Start by taking one or two categories of fitness, as you develop a habit for exercising, then add another category of fitness. Most people getting in shape would do well with developing aerobic endurance/muscular endurance along with flexibility and then adding the other aspects of fitness as they become more fit. This gives you variety, lessens repetitive strain and helps with the monotony of performing the same program over and over.

Start slow and go slow

When starting an exercise program we have a tendency to push ourselves harder than our body is capable of handling. We want to get in shape now and we will push ourselves to achieve it. We buy DVDs of the next greatest workout program guaranteed to loose weight. We jump full into the program only to discover our body is not yet ready for that type of program. You may not have the physical ability to perform the exercises, your technique may be horrible or your body fatigues too quickly and
you get hurt. Start with the basic of all exercise, walking, biking, basic stretching, body weight exercises and then slowly increase the volume, intensity or complexity of the activity.

It is generally accepted that increasing your volume or intensity of exercise, every week or two, by 10 percent is a safe approach.

Eg. Lifting weights by increasing only the volume:

Week one: 1 set of 10 repetitions – total 10 repetitions
Week two: 1 set of 11 repetitions – total 11 repetitions
Week three: 2 sets of 6 repetitions – total 12 repetitions
Week four: 2 sets of 7 repetitions – total 14 repetitions
Week five: 2 sets of 8 repetitions – total 16 repetitions
Week six: 3 sets of 6 repetitions – total 18 repetitions

You have to remember that getting in shape does not have an end point. Once you are in shape you can’t just stop, you have to continue to maintain. Take it slow and you will still achieve your goals.

Technique Technique Technique

Don’t perform any exercise if technique is poor. It is better to build your body on a strong foundation than on a weak foundation. It is better to perform 5 high quality repetitions than it is to perform 10 poor quality repetitions.

Also, performing exercises that require you to be quick but alters your technique should be avoided until technique is perfected. If you need to cheat to complete a repetition or if your movement becomes faulty, stop. Find someone who is trained in recognizing poor movement (personal trainer, athletic therapist, some chiropractors, and some physiotherapists). It is better to pay for this service now than when you have to pay for help in the healing process of your injury.

Eliminate Imbalances

Injuries can be the result of joint immobility, muscle inflexibility, poor muscle motor control or poor strength. Having someone assess you to discover these imbalances may help prevent further injury. Don’t over work the show off muscles (chest, arms, quadriceps), this causes imbalances. I often recommend a two to one ratio of exercise between the show muscles (front) and the opposing muscles. Don’t perform the same mode of exercise over and over, this causes imbalances and repetitive strain. Change it up.

Stretch the Tight Stuff

For the general public and for athletes these are the most common muscles that I find that are inflexible:

  • Suboccipital muscles
  • Chest/pectoralis muscles
  • Piriformis muscle
  • Hip flexors
  • Calf muscles

These muscles are often a problem in those who have jobs that require them to sit for long periods of time or with those with poor posture.

Don’t over stretch muscles that are already flexible. This may lead to hypermobility which can be another cause of injury.

Strengthen/Activate the Weak Muscles

Muscles I find that are typically weak are as follows:

  • Deep neck flexors
  • Rhomboids and trapezius muscles
  • Serratus anterior
  • Core muscles (glutes, abdominal muscles etc)
  • Tibialis anterior (shin muscles)

Get Balanced

One of the leading cause of falls in the elderly is poor balance. Balance, or proprioception, tells our brain where our body is in space which then helps the muscles around our joints to help keep up upright. Training with dumbbells or one legged activities helps develop proprioception.

A good way to start developing your balance is by, each morning while your brush your teeth, stand on one foot when you brush the top row of teeth. When you brush the bottom row, switch to the other leg. As you get better at this, and you can stand without wavering, then close your eyes. As you improve, then other more challenging activities can be added.

Learn to Hip Hinge

Back, knee, ankle and foot pain may be a result of poor motor control at the hip. I see this in many injured people. Poor squatting technique and poor lifting techniques is often a result of poor movement at the hips. In the case of lifting injuries the back flexes more than the hips thus causing more strain on the back. Many people can’t complete a full squat without knee pain. Often, this can be associated with poor movement at the ankle and at the hip.

Vary your Volume and Intensity

In the art of strength and conditioning, strength coaches develop programs in the attempts to improve performance but also to prevent over training. This type of training approach is called periodization. In essence, it is a program that has changes in either volume of work or the intensity of the work. Over the course of a training period, say 6 weeks, you would see throughout the week the intensity/volume change. One day would be harder than average, another day may be lighter and another might be average but by the end of that training program the athlete is capable of performing more work or work at a higher intensity. Training at high intensity all the time can wear down the body and cause injury or ove rtraining.

Recognize Over training

The signs of over training are as follows:

  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Getting sick more frequently
  • Unable to accomplish workouts you used to perform
  • Fatigue, lack of interest to work out, depression
  • Decreased appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Increased rate of injury

I suggest monitoring your heart rate every morning upon waking. Monitoring yourself now will allow you to see your heart rate decrease as you get in shape. If you are over training or you are coming down with a cold your morning heart rate may be approximately 10 beats a minute higher than normal.

Don’t Exercise Through the Pain

Pain that persists after a warm up, worsens throughout the workout or results in increased pain after a workout should be avoided. Working through the pain may only result in being out of commission for a longer period of time.

If you can, reduce the volume and intensity of your exercise by at least 50%. If pain still persists then seek treatment. In the meantime, as you heal, choose different exercises that do not cause pain.

Reduce the Stress on the Joints

Every time we run/jog there is a significant increase in force on the body (about 2 to 3 times your body weight. Our joints have to be able to withstand these forces or else they are going to get damaged. If you have joint pain or want to prevent joint pain chose exercises that are less stressful on the joints. Speed walking is far better on the joints and actually burns more calories. Other exercise methods are exercising in the pool (pool running) or using a stationary bike or elliptical. As your conditioning
improves as well as your strength then it may be possible to increase the stress on the joints, depending on the reason for joint pain.

Eat Well

Though many people exercise at the same time as restricting calories we need to adequately fuel our body so that it can refuel and repair our body. Recent research has even found that those who restrict their fat consumption below 30% tend to have a great chance of injury. If you are looking at building muscle to help with fat loss then ensuring adequate protein in your diet is important. Amino acids are the building blocks of muscle.

Take a Break!

Even the best athletes take a break from time to time. We get stronger and more fit when we rest. Constant training prevents you from recuperating therefore having days of rest or light activity can help you improve and prevent injury. Every six to eight weeks take a break and just go for a light walk, lift some light weights, do some light yoga.


Remember, not all injuries are preventable. When starting take it slow, be well rounded, work on imbalances, perform with excellent technique, vary your workout and every once in a while take a break.

Getting in shape is not a race and you don’t win because you get there first. You win because you get in shape and become healthier.

I hope this keeps you safe as you start your exercise program.

If you have any questions feel free and ask/

Dr Notley
The only Chiropractor/Athletic therapist in Winnipeg

Originally posted 2011-10-06 16:30:00.