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Top tips for exercising safely outside and at home

For over a year, COVID-19 has continued to force fitness centres and studios to be shut down across the province, leaving people to find alternative ways to stay active. With the warmer months around the corner, many are already or will be taking advantage of the outdoors to practice yoga, run, cycle, weight lift, and perform other exercises to stay mentally and physically fit. However, this may increase risk of injury if not conducted properly.

“Working out outdoors or inside the home can result in pain and injury especially if you’re trying to accomplish too much, too soon,” says Dr. Patrick Welsh, a sports specialist chiropractor at High Point Wellness Centre in Mississauga, Ontario. “In other words, if you’re trying to accomplish what you used to do at the gym, you need to be careful about how you approach your exercise program to avoid injury,” adds Dr. Welsh, whose clinical focus is on the management of athletic injuries in both elite and everyday athletes.

For example, exercising outside could increase your risk of injury 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. Also, injuries are more likely if you use unsafe substitute items for weights and dumbbells.

To ensure that people can get the most benefit out of their exercise routine, Dr. Welsh shares tips on making the best use of exercising outdoors or inside the home.

Be safe and aware of your surroundings

“If you’re working out outside, such as weightlifting or even yoga, 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

Screen capture of Dr. Patrick Welsh from his video; standing with a water jug
There are many items that you can use to substitute for kettlebells, weights, and dumbbells to get an effective workout. Here are a few examples:

  1. Backpack: Items can be added to safely increase resistance for lower body exercises or walking.
  2. Laundry jug.
  3. Bag of potatoes or bag of soil.
  4. Trees and tree branches: Be kind to mother nature! Make sure to choose trees and branches appropriate for your weight.
  5. Park benches: Ensure the bench is balanced and stable before using it for an activity.

“Whether you’re an elite athlete or weekend warrior, a great option is also 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.”

Top tips for exercising at home

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

Here are some things to consider:

  1. 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.
  2. Space: Make sure the space around you is clear of things you can trip on, such as toys.
  3. Props: Use proper household items to substitute for weights and dumbbells, such as a water or laundry jug.
  4. Stools and chairs: If using a stool or chair to support your workout, make sure that it is stable and has a wide base of support.

Mobility drills for warmup and recovery

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 this video.

Everyday tips for success

Whether you’re 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.”

Make a plan to maintain consistency and see gradual progression over time

“Your plan should be specific to your needs,” says Dr. Welsh. For example, if you’re a runner or cyclist, consider doing alternative exercises, in conjunction with your primary activity, for variety as this will benefit other areas of your body and reduce chance of overuse injury.

Incorporate mental imagery

“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.”

“This can be as simple as closing your eyes, slowing down your breathing, and imagining the details of practicing or playing your sport,” says Dr. Welsh. “If you’re exercising for general health, five minutes of focused and purposeful breathing may also help reduce stress, tension, and anxiety.”

Workout “together”

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. “And, always be sure to follow the latest safety Guidelines, such as wearing a mask and maintaining social distancing.”

Seek professional advice if your issues persist

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

To find a chiropractor near you, use the chiropractor locator on our website. In Ontario, you can visit a chiropractor without a referral from a doctor, nurse practitioner or other health care professional.