With any New Year comes many a resolution to improve one’s health and fitness. I am all for promoting such resolutions and generally have one of my own. Once the New Year kicks in, we get a boost of motivation to start eating healthier and getting stuck into our gym workouts and boot camps with a new found energy that we didn’t seem to have last year. As a Physio, however, I start to see a gradual increase of patients coming through my door with new injuries that have slowly developed since starting their new fitness programs. These injuries can be deflating, to say the least, as they restrict our ability to continue exercising, and are often the cause of breaking our well planned resolutions.


Don’t despair!! This does not mean you shouldn’t have fitness resolutions, only that there are certain aspects of training that you should be aware of prior to delving into hard hitting cardio and strength workouts.


The most common injuries that tend to occur in these situations are overuse injuries (eg. tendinopathies, bursitis, shin splints / stress fractures, or impingements), which are sustained from a repeated action. As we exercise, we apply stress to various tissues, which adapt by building more tissue to increase strength. This results in bigger, stronger and leaner muscles; stronger tendons; and increased or maintained bone density. However, if an excessive load is placed repeatedly on any structure, and/or sufficient rest and recovery measures aren’t put in place, the tissue is unable to adapt quickly enough, which can lead to microscopic injuries, inflammation and pain.


Common causes of overuse injuries and how to avoid them:

  • Poor Technique and Malalignment
    • It is extremely important to ensure correct technique when performing any exercise at all stages of training
    • By initiating good posture and joint position prior to commencing each exercise allows your muscles to work in the most efficient way and avoids one muscle being worked more than another, which creates excessive stress on joints and promotes wear and tear, and ultimately pain
  • Incorrect Use of Equipment
    • If you are new to a gym or piece of equipment, ensure to have a fitness professional demonstrate and instruct you on safe use
    • If you are using the equipment incorrectly, you are most likely placing your joints and soft tissues under excessive load and with repeated incorrect use, injury is likely to occur
  • Insufficient Strength and Endurance
    • Putting your muscles through a new rigorous training program, when they are weak and have poor endurance, can cause them to fail and become injured
    • Start easy and gradually increase the intensity and duration of each exercise to allow your muscles to adapt
  • Poor Flexibility
    • When your flexibility is poor, your joints and muscles are unable to move and work through their full range and are, therefore, unable to gain the full benefits of strengthening exercises
    • This can lead to muscle imbalances, whereby your muscles are strong through the available range, but weak through their full lengthened range
    • Stretching is most important during training. The general rule of thumb is to dynamically stretch your muscles prior to exercise (eg. High knee / kick bum jogging in the warm up – moving the joints through large ranges), and hold static stretches following exercise, making sure to stretch all muscle groups you have been using
  • Poor Core Stability
    • Having poor core stability and undergoing rigorous full body exercise can often lead to low back pain
    • Your deep core muscles are your spine’s support system and need to be engaged in all exercise to avoid excessive movement of your spine. When these muscles are weak and turn off once they become fatigued, other superficial trunk muscles are forced to try to do the supportive job of the core muscles. These muscles are designed to move your spine, therefore, when activated, pull your spine in various directions, causing excessive joint movement rather than keeping movement to a minimum. This creates pain, which inhibits the deep core muscles further – becoming a vicious cycle!
    • Include core-focused exercise as part of your exercise routine.  Pilates can help you become aware of how to re-engage your core muscles with exercise.  You can then apply the basic Pilates principles to all aspects of your training
  • Training Errors
    • The biggest training error seen is the “too much, too soon” principle
    • Gradually work into your training routine. This will create longevity of your exercise program and will help you get into the appropriate routine and maintain your motivation to keep you on track throughout the whole year


So, how do you know you have, or are developing, an overuse injury? Often, the first sign may be stiffness or soreness, which may disappear during the warm-up. Continuing high intensity exercise may cause these symptoms to continue into your exercise session and may become worse by the end of the session.


We can prevent overuse injuries by following some simple guidelines:

  • Warm-up and cool-down before and after all exercise. This includes dynamic stretching before and static stretching after
  • Ensure you use good equipment, including appropriate footwear and size of racquets and bats
  • Gradually increase your exercise by no more than 10% each week (distance, speed, weight)
  • Practice correct technique. All repetitions should be performed with optimal technique.       If you start to notice that you are changing your technique towards the end of a set, as it becomes harder to lift the weight, either you need to stop the set at that repetition or lower the weight to enable you to finish the set with good technique
  • If you are experiencing any pain, seek early treatment from a Physio or other Allied Health professional in order to identify and correct the cause of your pain to enable you to continue your program
  • Your Physio will set you a graduated program to ensure full injury rehabilitation. This is important so you don’t develop compensatory injuries in other areas


Whilst overuse injuries are most common with new exercise programs, it is important to know that acute injuries, such as strains and sprains, can also occur. Muscle strains and tears will generally occur when lifting too heavy, too soon, or when you are insufficiently warmed-up. Inflexible muscles are most likely to become injured, so ensuring you are implementing a good stretching program leading up to and throughout any exercise program is essential. Ankle and knee sprains will mostly occur when exercising on uneven surfaces or when doing lots of twisting and changing directions. Ensuring sufficient muscular strength and support surrounding these joints prior to increasing agility exercise is a good way to minimise the risk of debilitating sprains.


If you think you may have gone too hard, too fast when starting this year’s new fitness program, take a step back and make some adjustments to avoid any injuries. Enquire with your Physio, Exercise Physiologist or Personal Trainer to get some advice on what adjustments you can make.


Have a healthy, injury-free 2015!