It’s easy to watch athletes throw immensely heavy weights around, jump high and far at breakneck speeds and otherwise perform amazing physical feats using only their strength and stamina – it’s easy for the average person to watch and think “I could never do that. I’ll hurt myself!”

The truth is, beginner exercisers often do cause themselves injury, but they do so only because they try to start out at the high levels they see athletes performing at without any prior knowledge or training. Obviously, injury is counter-productive to health and strength; if you constantly hurt, you can’t lift, run and jump as safely and effectively as you could otherwise. If you want to start working out – if you eventually want to perform jaw-dropping stunts of strength and endurance – you need to avoid injury.

However, being too afraid of hurting yourself could prevent you from working out entirely. Exercise is too beneficial to avoid completely, so it is critical for you to understand how to avert injury as much as possible while you work out. Here are a few tips for preventing sports injuries, perfect for if you are brand-new to the athletic world.

Stretching Correctly

You probably learned that you need to stretch before and after you exercise to avoid injury – but this isn’t exactly true. Instead, you should warm up before you work out and cool down afterwards; neither of these activities has to be stretching, but both should adequately prepare your body for what is to come next.

Your warmup is perhaps the most important step in your workout if you are interested in avoiding injury. Warmups wake up your muscles and get them limber, so they can perform exercises without stretching or tearing. Warmups should never consist of static stretches or stretches where you remain in one tense position for an extended period. Instead, you should employ dynamic movements that target the muscles you intend to work out and avoid holding any stretch for more than a second or two.

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What you do for a cool down largely depends on what you did for your workout. For example, if you spent your workout doing intervals on the treadmill, your cool down should be a leisurely walk for three to five minutes. If you finished a strength workout, you should start with dynamic stretches, like a yoga flow, and move to static stretches, where you should try to hold the stretch for 10 to 20 seconds. The cool down tells your body that the exertion is done and helps your muscles begin the repair process to make recovery faster and easier.

Training Properly

After a good warm up, the next step for avoiding injury is using proper form during your workout. Often, the correct way to lift or move isn’t exactly intuitive; often, it requires you to place your arms and legs in seemingly odd positions to work the appropriate muscles efficiently. You can read about proper form around the web and watch videos of athletes performing complex exercises, but you should seriously consider hiring a trainer for a few months to ensure you aren’t risking injury with improper form.

As important as form is the duration of your workout. Obviously, working out 24/7 is going to tire out your body and cause harm, but you might not realize how little time it really requires to get in a good workout. When you are doing a strength-based, heavy lifting workout, you only need to be actively working for about an hour, with 15 minutes of warmup and cool down on either side. Cardio workouts require even less time. Forcing your body to exercise intensely for extended periods is dangerous and unproductive, so watch the clock when you’re in the gym.

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Gearing Up

Never should you walk into the gym wearing jeans and a button-up and expect to get in a good, safe workout. Exercise requires the appropriate gear, which includes proper attire. It is a good idea to invest in a few workout outfits that you only wear in the gym, so your mind and body will feel ready to exercise when you put the right clothes on.

You might also consider purchasing a few small pieces of workout equipment to stash in your home. This doesn’t mean refitting a bedroom as a home gym. Rather, you can stash resistance bands, a jump rope, a kettlebell and both a pair of heavy and a pair of light dumbbells in a closet, so you can always work out even when you can’t hit the gym.

Resting Sufficiently

Finally, most injuries arise because exercisers fail to allow their body enough rest. During rest periods, your body is growing stronger, repairing and building muscle that you broke down in your previous session. If you cut your rest short, you risk damaging those healing tissues – plus, your workout won’t be as satisfying as if you were in top-tier shape.

Studies on rest patterns determined that beginners should ideally rest one to two days between workouts, which means you should be able to fit three days of training into the week. However, if you are feeling weak or tired, you might consider giving yourself a longer rest.