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Don't Play Hurt

Squeezing in a week's worth of exercise on Saturday and Sunday is risky and less beneficial than moderate physical activity 30 minutes each day.


By Dan Gordon '85

Published Apr 1, 2007 8:00 AM

If you're like the rest of us, you're good at starting a regular workout routine, but sticking with it over the long haul is another matter.

You craft a program of (pick one or more) walking/jogging/biking/swimming/tennis. You are determined to make it stick. A week or two later, well, not so much. And there's a good chance it's because you made one — or several — common mistakes that upped the odds of an injury. (Example: Lack of proper warm-up before slow-pitch softball can lead to hamstring and calf injuries and missed Life Signs deadlines. Trust us.)

So we asked a Bruin expert, Dr. Sharon Hame '85, assistant professor of orthopedic surgery and a physician in UCLA Healthcare's Orthopedic Sports Medicine Service, for some coaching. If you're like the rest of us, you probably don't do even one of the following three things even some of the time. But if you do, they form a solid foundation upon which to build a workout regime.

Three Keys to an Injury-Free Workout:

1. Maintain a fitness and flexibility program year-round.

  • Start slowly "both in terms of how much you do at a time and the frequency of your activities," says Hame. Too many of us remain inactive for long periods, then look to make up for lost time. At the Orthopedic Sports Medicine Service, they see a lot of folks who have gotten hurt doing that.
  • Don't be a weekend warrior. Squeezing in a week's worth of exercise on Saturday and Sunday is risky and less beneficial than a balanced program of moderate physical activity 30 minutes each day. If you can't find a 30-minute block of time, break it up into two 15-minute chunks that include weight-bearing exercises like walking, jogging and weightlifting.
  • Get evaluated by a doctor before starting any new exercise program.
  • 2. Recognize your limitations.

    • Increase your workout intensity as slowly as you started your program. Hame counsels increments of no more than 10 percent per week.
    • Keep drinking. Dehydration becomes particularly problematic with age.
    • Incorporate warm-up and cool-down periods into the routine. A proper prelude to physical activity includes a few minutes of walking, bending and gentle stretching. More extensive stretching is most beneficial after vigorous activity, when the muscles are warm.

    3. Stop at any signs of serious fatigue or pain.

    • Use proper body mechanics. When patients complain of ankle, knee or hip pain, Hame looks at the way they walk or run, since poor alignment is often a cause of the discomfort. Improper mechanics can lead to so-called overuse injuries such as tendonitis and stress fractures.
    • Use proper equipment. The grip size on a tennis racket or the fit of bicycle seats and handlebars should be comfortable, not a challenge to your stamina. Shoes need to be comfortable and provide arch supports that elevate the heel approximately a half inch above the sole, and they should be replaced when the treads are worn or the shoes are no longer providing ample support.
    • Pain is not gain. "Often, people ignore injuries, thinking that some pain in the beginning of a program is OK," Hame cautions. "That can be a big mistake, because it is likely to get worse and then the amount of time it takes to heal will be much longer."
    • Recover completely. When a minor injury does occur, the classic strategy during the acute phase is to limit the swelling through rest, ice, compression and elevation (RICE). Soft-tissue injuries can take up to six weeks to heal.



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