Before beginning cardio workouts, it is important to know how to properly prepare in order to avoid injury. This is particularly vital when performing high impact exercises. High impact exercises are those which require both feet to be in the air at some point (like running, kickboxing, and step classes). Low impact exercises are those in which one foot is always on the ground (like walking).
Warm Up and Cool Down
Whether you are performing a low or high impact cardio workout, warming up before and cooling down after exercise is necessary to avoid injury. Warming up gradually increases your body temperate, making your muscles, ligaments and cartilage more flexible, and reducing the risk of sprains and tears. Adding a quick warm-up also activates fluids in your joints, which reduces friction and the build-up of wear and tear. Also, performing your exercise at a warm-up pace allows your heart to move blood and nourishment into the muscles, further preparing them for impact. Sudden, intense exercise can lead to heart attacks, so warm up to give your ticker the time to adjust.
Cooling down after your workout is just as important as warming up. Gradually reducing your intensity to take your body to its pre-workout state allows your heart rate and breathing to return to normal, and it helps prevent dizziness. Also, cooling down helps the body get rid of the toxins that build up during exercise. Muscles, ligaments and tendons experience a great deal of strain during your workout, and taking the time to cool down will release these strains.
Walking for about five to ten minutes before rigorous exercise is a great way to warm up before exercise. Following your workout, continue at an easy pace for several minutes until you are no longer sweating, and your skin is cool to the touch.
If you're taking a class (like step aerobics, for example), arrive a few minutes early so that you can squeeze in a quick chat with the instructor. Tell her of any injuries or sensitivities you may have (i.e. knee problems). In many instances, the intructor may be able to provide modifications to the exercise(s) that will help prevent a potential injury.
Watch Your Form
Knowing the proper form for high impact cardio workouts, like running, is a vital element of preventing injury. For example, while running seems like a natural bodily movement, many beginners neglect to take into account that if they don't pay attention to their form, they could be setting themselves up for some potentially devastating injuries to the knees, hips and other areas. Injuries like these can put you on the bench for months or longer, so make sure you do your research well before engaging in a high impact aerobic workout.
Every time you engage in a cardio workout, you transfer three times your body weight onto your feet. Over time, this can cause significant damage. Ensuring you have the proper footwear is essential in preventing injury. Many specialty running shops employ workers who are trained to help you find the right fit according to the shape and structure of your feet. Low impact shoes are an excellent option, as they are typically lightweight, and provide superior cushioning, spreading the force of each step over the entire foot.
Before you sign up for your local gym's new cardio step class, remember, safety first. Taking the right steps to prevent injury will allow you to continue exercising until all of your New Year's resolutions are met!