How to exercise safely at home or outside for better health

With the onset of the COVID-19 global pandemic, most fitness centres across the country have been forced to temporarily shut down. These include yoga studios as well as specialized training centres for professional athletes. As such, many people have turned to training and working out at home and outside, with the goal to achieve the same level of fitness success as before. This, however, may increase risk of injury due to a lack of supervision and unfamiliarity of using a new space.

“Working out in a new environment due to unforeseen circumstances, like a global health crisis, could result in pain and injury especially if you’re trying to accomplish too much, too soon,” says Dr. Patrick Welsh, sports specialist chiropractor at High Point Wellness Centre in Mississauga, Ontario. “In other words, if you’re trying to accomplish the same success as working out at the gym or training in a specialized facility, you need to be careful about how you approach your exercise program to avoid unwanted health effects,” adds Dr. Welsh, whose clinical focus is on the management of athletic injuries in both elite and everyday athletes.

For example, exercising at home or outside could result in injury if using unsafe substitute items for weights and dumbbells. Exercising outside could also be dangerous if you are not careful about your surroundings such as holes in the ground, using slippery surfaces during or after rain, and heat or sun exposure.

To ensure that people get the most benefit out of their exercise routine, Dr. Welsh shares simple ways to stay active and safe in any space you choose to train.


Exercising at home

“Safety is a big concern when exercising at home,” says Dr. Welsh.

Here are some things to consider:

  • Footwear: Make sure your choice of footwear is tailored to the type of exercise you’re doing to prevent slips and falls. You should either be wearing shoes or be barefoot if you’re using a mat.
  • Space: Make sure the space around you is clear of things you can trip on, such as toys.
  • Props: Use proper household items to substitute for weights and dumbbells.
  • Stools and benches: If using a stool or bench to support your workout, make sure that it is stable and has a wide base of support.

Exercising outside

“If you’re working out outside, be sure to check that you have adequate space and that your surface is clear of any debris such as rocks, branches, and waste,” says Dr. Welsh.

“Also, choose clothing to match the temperature outside. If it’s hot, wear something breathable and light. Make sure to bring an extra water bottle as well so you can properly hydrate.”


No equipment, no problem

As not everyone has access to a home gym or gym equipment, there are many household items that you can use to substitute for kettle bells, weights, and dumbbells to get an effective workout.

“Whether you’re an elite athlete or weekend warrior, a great option is a four litre water jug,” says Dr. Welsh. “To make your exercise more or less challenging, you can add or remove water to match your fitness level.”


Mobility drills

While exercising safely is important, it’s equally crucial to do a few stretches before and after a workout. A great way to build a comprehensive exercise regime is to incorporate mobility drills that can help manage pain and reduce risk of injury.

“Mobility drills target important areas of the upper and lower body to help maintain flexibility and joint health,” says Dr. Welsh. “They also may help to alleviate pain.”

Here are two examples of excellent mobility drills:

Drill #1: Active hip flexor mobility

  • Begin in a split kneeling stance with the legs bent to roughly 90 degrees
  • Staying tall, squeeze your glute muscles and lean forward until you feel a stretch on the front of your hip
  • Move in and out of the stretch repeatedly
  • To increase the challenge of the stretch, you can bend the back leg and hold it with your hand

This is a great exercise for improving hip mobility and may even help those with back pain.

Drill #2: Active shoulder mobility

  • Lie on your back on the ground or foam roller
  • Using a band or towel in your hands, pull it apart to create a light tension
  • While maintaining tension, slowly bring your arms overhead until you feel a stretch in your shoulders or chest, neck and back

This is a terrific drill for improving upper body mobility and reducing shoulder and neck tension.

To see how to do these two drills, watch Exercising Safely at Home or Outside.


Everyday tips for success

Whether you are training at home or outside, take it slowly and be gradual.

“Remember the 10 per cent rule: If you do too much too soon, especially if you are not accustomed to a new form of exercise, your chance of injury goes up,” says Dr. Welsh.

Dr. Welsh recommends adding intensity – such as increasing the amount of reps, sets, or time of exercise – by 10 per cent every one or two weeks. “This gradual progression will help reduce the risk of an overtraining injury.”

In addition, when it comes to exercising safely and effectively, it helps to make a plan to maintain consistency and see gradual progression over time. “Your plan should be specific to your needs,” says Dr. Welsh.

“I would also recommend incorporating mental imagery as part of your weekly practice,” adds Dr. Welsh. “Research in this area suggests that mental imagery can improve sport performance while giving your physical body a chance to recover.”

Finally, consider working out with your friends over a video conference call. “This is a great way to increase motivation and make your workout more fun,” adds Dr. Welsh.


Seek professional advice if your issues persist

For more information and tips from Dr. Welsh, visit High Point Wellness Centre.

Always a seek professional opinion if your issues persist. Booking a virtual appointment with a chiropractor near you is a great starting point. To find a chiropractor near you, use the chiropractor locator tool on our website. In Ontario, you can visit a chiropractor without a referral from a medical doctor, nurse practitioner or other health care professional.