Kristin Harris is determined to run a 5k in 2020. To meet her goal, she planned to kick up her workout routine in the new year at the Planet Fitness gym in Salem.
But just days into 2020, like gym enthusiasts all over the country eager to make good on their visionary resolutions, Harris realized she had gone too far. Her knees were hurting; she could feel the twinge whenever she crouched down or climbed stairs.
“I was pushing myself to run a little faster and farther, and my leg strength was not what it needed to be to do that,” said Harris, 31, a museum educator at the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum. “I got a little too ambitious.”
Indeed, soaring ambition can often land with a thud — and a yelp of pain — on gym floors in January.
“This is the time of year when people are motivated and have great intentions in regard to their health and fitness,” said David Shadrick, director of Davis Square Chiropractic in Somerville, who said he sees an uptick of injured clients soon after each new year. “People tend to bite off a bit more than they can chew with respect to starting a workout routine.”
Gym enthusiasts get injured all year round, of course, with nearly 500,000 estimated injuries from exercise and exercise equipment in 2018, according to federal data.
But physical therapists and chiropractors in the Boston area said that ardent exercisers get themselves into a special kind of trouble in the new year, when they’re driven to push themselves intensely, even if they’ve been on a break from exercise for the past few weeks or months.
“If we’re talking about a new fitness routine, what most people are doing is they’re just doing too much, too soon,” said Sara Gagne, a chiropractor at Spine and Sports Injury Center in Boston.
The litany of ways that people can injure themselves on the road to better health and fitness might inspire you to walk slowly away from the welcoming doors of the Equinox or Planet Fitness near you. There are, of course, the basic injuries: strains from challenging muscles that you haven’t used in weeks, lower back injuries from lifting weights with a rounded back, shoulder pain from a combination of bad posture and lifting too much weight overhead.
But there are also afflictions achieved in more surprising (and frightening) ways. There was the patient who slipped on her own sweat while doing a plank and dislocated her shoulder, said Meaghan Harwood, clinic director at Boston Sports Medicine. Or the person who slammed a medicine ball into the ground: The ball bounced back, hit her in the face, and broke her nose.
The seemingly stationary box jump can also be a terror.
“They’ll jump on top of it, and either they won’t clear it, and they flip over it, or they don’t get high enough and fall backwards,” said Shadrick.
“I had a client last year who tried to do a box jump, completely missed the box, and fractured her arm,” said Ryan Balmes, a physical therapist based in Atlanta who is a spokesperson for the American Physical Therapy Association.
You might not even want to hear the cautionary treadmill tales.
Hospital emergency departments treated 14,600 treadmill-related injuries in 2017 and 2018, according to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission.
“The treadmill is not only an endurance activity, but it’s also a balance and coordination activity. There are a lot of us who lack that,” said Jessica Douglas, director of physical therapy at Joint Ventures Physical Therapy and Fitness.
“A lot of the injuries we see with that are more rug burn, abrasions, and bumps and bruises,” Douglas said.
“And a bruised ego,” she added.
The goal is not to abandon the gym completely, but instead to go slowly, commit to small goals, and allow for recovery time, fitness experts said.
“There’s no rush,” said Gagne. “You’re trying to change your lifestyle. . . . This is a process.”
Gagne recommends that if people want to notch up their workouts in the new year they should increase their routine by 50 percent of what they’re used to doing. Taking rest days, getting enough sleep, eating nutritious food, and staying hydrated are all key to staying injury-free, too, Gagne said.
In the wake of her hurt knees, Harris revamped her routine, switching from the treadmill to the elliptical and spending more time doing core and leg strength training. She said she’s feeling good and still motivated to run her race.
“I never want anyone to feel like some exercise is bad, or it’s the gym’s fault,” said Balmes of the American Physical Therapy Association. “The benefits outweigh the risks whenever you’re exercising.”