How to Prevent Injury During Exercise

injury prevention and diet

We exercise because it is good for our health. Many are motivated to move their bodies in order to maintain strength, support cardiovascular health, and because it is fun – especially to compete and push physical limits. Despite good intentions, people often hurt themselves during workouts, and in contrast to popular belief, clinical evidence shows stretching prior to exercising ddoesn’treduce the incident of injuries.1 Fortunately, it’s possible to mitigate the risk factors to prevent unnecessary ailments while still enjoying your favorite physical activities.

Are some fitness programs more dangerous than others? A recent study reported the average rate of injury from participation in CrossFit was roughly 20%2 and another more controversial study3 found over 73% of participants were injured at some point during their training.4  These two studies, which relied on self-reporting surveys of injuries, could unnecessarily alarm many participants and dissuade them from the well-researched benefits of high intensity training. 5,6,7, A wider look at the analysis of injury rates among other types of exercise, like running, indicate similar results. For example, one study found a 19.4% to 79.3% rate of injury among runners.8 This same percentage of injuries was also identified among elite power and weight lifting athletes.9

Ultimately, your body is a machine. How you maintain and take care of it determines how well it will work for you, especially as it ages. Injuries happen, both in physically active and sedentary individuals, and if you’re aware of the risks, you can take the necessary steps to prevent getting hurt. 10,11,12,13

Dial in Your Nutrition

Our bodies are designed for movement, but need to be fueled for optimal performance, especially for high-intensity and endurance athletes. In The Paleo Diet for Athletes, traditional diets for athletes are often lacking in total calories, protein, or micronutrients. So it begins with quality and quantity:  eat the right Paleo foods (vegetables, fruits, and lean animal protein), and eat them at the right time (pre, during, and post- workout),14 meanwhile adequately hydrating. The anti-inflammatory benefits, such as a higher dietary emphasis on Omega 3 fatty acids15 and branched chain amino acids (BCAA), from following a Paleo Diet can aid in the prevention of injuries.16

Program Rest into Your Routine

Lifestyle stress, overtraining and not allowing the body to recover with enough rest are all major risk factor for injuries.17,18, 19 Further, many recreational, often competitive athletes, aren’t equipped with proper knowledge of training principles, and accelerate their program too rapidly without adequate recovery time.20

In The Paleo Diet for Athletes, Dr. Cordain explains, “it is far better to prevent overtraining in the first place than to deal with the aftermath of it. Effective training is a carefully balanced state of well-being between stress and rest.” The most important and overlooked factor in recovery is sleep,21 and research shows we are chronically sleep deprived.22 The equation is simple: improve sleep quality, recover faster, and improve your performance.23,24

Incorporate Strength and Balance into Your Fitness Regime

Improving joint stability through balance and strength exercises has been shown to lower the risk of injury by 45%- 68%. 25 According to the American College of Sports Medicine, “reducing the incidence of injury by engaging in a resistance training program is as beneficial for the noncompetitive beginner as it is for the professional athlete.”26

While CrossFit specifically focuses on heavy lifting with barbells and other weights, evaluate how strong you are in performing body weight exercises. Body weight exercises are easier on joints than traditional weight and resistance training exercises because they allow for a more natural range of motion.27 Challenge your muscles and improve your joint stability with handstands, one-arm handstands, pistols, pull-ups, and planks.

Obviously we cannot guarantee taking any or all of the measures will prevent injuries. We recommend working with certified trainers who provide detailed instruction on proper form and technique, especially when lifting very heavy weights. The whole emphasis of any training methodology should be focused on the goal of keeping your body healthy and fully functioning.  Making small increments of progress on a regular basis is not only beneficial in the long run, but will also assist you in preventing unnecessary injuries.

Stephanie Vuolo

Stephanie Vuolo is a Certified Nutritional Therapist, an American College of Sports Medicine Personal Trainer, and a Certified CrossFit Level 1 Coach. She has a B.A. in Communications from Villanova University. She is a former contributor to Discovery Communications/TLC Blog.

Stephanie lives in Seattle, WA, where she is a passionate and enthusiastic advocate for how diet and lifestyle can contribute to overall wellness and longevity. She has been raising her young daughter on the Paleo Diet since birth.


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[25] Available at: Accessed on October 21, 2014.

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