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For many people, winter is the perfect time to eat comfort foods and skip workouts to stay toasty indoors. But now that Memorial Day, the unofficial start to summer, is right around the corner, you may be trying to play catchup at the gym to get warm-weather ready.

While you may feel the urge to do double-time at the gym to make up for the time you’ve spent sedentary, this plan could backfire.

“When you take on too much physical activity too quickly, you can get hurt,” said Stephen Evans, DO, family medicine and sports medicine physician at Geisinger Kistler Clinic in Wilkes-Barre. “Pushing too hard too soon or doing too much of one type of physical activity can put a strain on your body and result in an overuse injury.”

If it’s been a while since you’ve worked out, you may be more likely to train with bad form, which is yet another way you could end up hurting yourself.

“Whether you’re compensating for muscular weakness or are performing a specific exercise improperly you can wreak havoc on your body,” Dr. Evans said. For instance, using momentum when strength training or improperly swinging a golf club or baseball bat may overload certain muscles and cause an injury.

The fear of an injury shouldn’t dissuade you from working out, though. Here’s how you can get ready for bathing suit season (and beyond) without getting hurt.

Ease into it

Think about the tortoise and the hare when it comes to starting a new workout routine.

“Ease into your new fitness routine and don’t try to do too much too soon,” Dr. Evans said. “You don’t want to try to squeeze an entire week’s worth of exercise into your work-free weekend.”

Similarly, if you haven’t worked out for the duration of the winter, training hard every day, or even more than once a day, isn’t going to make up for lost time.

“Exercise beginners or those getting back into a routine should aim for about two and a half hours of moderate activity or a little over an hour of vigorous activity over the course of a week,” Dr. Evans suggested. “This will ensure you’re exercising, but not so much that you’re putting yourself at risk of an injury.”

Use proper form and gear

Using the proper technique is crucial to prevent overuse injuries.

“Inactivity or a previous injury can lead to strength and flexibility shortfalls, which can cause muscular imbalances you need to correct,” Dr. Evans said.

Working with a certified personal trainer or fitness instructor can help you begin a new yet safe workout regimen complete with proper form.

You should also make sure you’re wearing proper shoes for your chosen activity.

“Shoes simply wear down. When this happens, you don’t get proper support, which can contribute to overuse injuries,” Dr. Evans said. Typically, if you are at an ideal body weight, consider replacing your sneakers for every 300 to 500 miles you walk or run, or twice a year. If you are heavier than your ideal weight, or if you run on rough terrain, you may need to replace your shoes every 200 to 300 miles.

“One way to get the most out of your sneakers is to buy two pairs at once and alternate wearing them,” said Dr. Evans. “This gives the rubber in the shoes extra time to recover and you might be able to use them 20 to 30 percent longer.”

Don’t wear your sneakers when you’re not exercising – this wears them out more quickly.

“Once the rubber on the sides of the shoes get wrinkled and beaten up, transition them to ‘beaters’ you wear around the house, and get a new pair for athletics.” said Dr. Evans.

Gradually increase your activity level

Even though you may be excited about getting back into the swing of things at the gym – or just anxious about when you might have to put on a pair of shorts – you need to gradually increase your activity level and intensity to reduce your risk of getting hurt.

“Whether you want to change the duration or intensity of your physical activity, increase it by no more than 10 percent each week,” Dr. Evans said. That means if you’re strength training, don’t increase the weight you’re lifting by more than 10 percent each week. If you’re a runner, only increase the distance you’re running by 10 percent per week.

Mix up your routine

Instead of focusing on only one type of exercise, mix together a variety of workouts into your routine. This is a great way to avoid getting bored, but it’s also the best way to avoid putting a strain on your body that can lead to overuse injuries.

“A varied fitness program allows your body to use different muscle groups while not overloading any one particular muscle group,” Dr. Evans explained.
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