The days of going to the same gym every day to slog away on the treadmill or elliptical trainer are long behind us. There are now an endless variety of ways to reach whatever your fitness goals are, whether that’s sculpting yourself into a whippet (ModelFIT) or doing burpees until you barf (Tone House, of course).
With great variety, however, comes new and creative ways to hurt yourself. The Cut chatted with Dr. Jordan Metzl, a NYC-based sports medicine doctor, about common injuries he sees in his practice, which consists of athletes and weekend warriors alike. Dr. Metzl himself is an avid marathoner and Ironman athlete, and he also runs his own functional fitness classes (called the Ironstrength workout), so he’s uniquely qualified to discuss all the things that can go wrong during a workout.
First, there’s no official database for tracking injuries, so this is all anecdotal. Next, Dr. Metzl notes that an injury can be considered anything from a pulled muscle that’s sore for a few days to breaking an ankle. “There’s no such thing as a perfectly safe activity,” he says. “Even walking you can twist your ankle or get hit by a car, but certainly some activities have more risk.”
Here are all the ways you can get injured doing five of the most popular workouts out there, as well as tips from expert trainers within each genre for staying safe in the gym.
The Injuries: SoulCycle and Flywheel devotees are nothing if not loyal. Dr. Metzl says, “What I have found is my devoted spinners seem to only want to spin. When you do any activity over and over again, you get injuries. I definitely see pulled butt muscles.” He also says that he sees some shoulder and wrist injuries incurred from the light weightlifting sequence on the bike that many spin classes now include.
How to Prevent: Corinne Croce, the in-house physical therapist at SoulCycle, says the biggest mistake people make, which can lead to injury from your shoulders all the way to your ankles, is not setting the bike up properly. The seat shouldn’t be too high or too low. “You want to have a very slight bend in the knee, which will make room for your hip flexors and your knee to stay neutral,” Croce says. You should also ride with your hips back to put the work into your butt and hamstrings, rather than the front of the thighs, which can prevent hip and knee strain and overdeveloped quadriceps. To prevent shoulder injuries, the handlebars should be slightly higher than the seat when you ride. During the upper-body weight series, Croce recommends being in an upright position with enough resistance on your pedals. During lifting movements, “shoulder blades should always be in a retracted position,” she says. “If not, we’re putting a lot of pressure on the front of the shoulder joint and not getting support from the shoulder blade.” Finally, if you’re feeling tired at any point, don’t be the hero. Drop your weights or slow down your legs for a few seconds, then jump back into the workout.
The Injuries: CrossFit has a bad reputation for injuring people, which Dr. Metzl says is mostly undeserved. However, the injuries he does see tend to be slightly more severe than with other workouts. “I think that’s because it’s more intense, people push themselves harder, and they sometimes push themselves outside their comfort zone in that group environment.” He has seen everything from muscle strains to dislocated shoulders to broken bones.
How to Prevent: James Wright, Jr., the head coach at and part owner of CrossFit Prospect Heights, says to go at your own pace, not the pace of the guy doing 50 box jumps next to you. “Learn how to scale,” he recommends, and drop some weight off if a coach tells you to. Before you even start, however, check the qualifications of the coaching staff at the box at which you train. “The certification process that CrossFit has, I don’t see as enough for someone to qualify themselves as a coach,” says Wright. Look for someone with multiple certifications and years of experience.
Finally, embrace planks. “If you have a strong core, you’re going to be able to build the rest of your muscles a lot faster and prevent injury,” he says.
The Injuries: “Yoga butt” traditionally refers to the toned backside that yogis proudly show off in $200 leggings. To Dr. Metzl, however, it has a more sinister meaning. “I’ve had a number of women come in with ‘yoga butt,’ where they tear the part of their hamstring [that attaches to the pelvis] from trying to do triangle pose and get into it too deep,” he says. “The problem is the hamstring has no good blood supply at the top, so it ends up being a chronic injury.”
How to Prevent: In what is now emerging as a theme here, yoga is another activity in which you should definitely ignore what the Bendy McBendster one mat over is doing, and go at your own pace. Terri Barnett, an instructor at Lyons Den Power Yoga, says that “people with overly flexible hamstrings and tight hip flexors are at the greatest risk” for yoga butt. To prevent injury, find your “edge, the place in your pose where any more would be too much and anything less wouldn’t be enough.” Since forward folds are another culprit for producing yoga butt, Barnett recommends slightly bending your knees and creating a stable foundation before folding. Most of all, pay attention. “Be totally present in your body for all poses, no matter if you are new to yoga or have been practicing for years,” she says.
The Injuries: In New York City, the dance cardio craze has gone way beyond Zumba. Vixen, Tracy Anderson, 305 Fitness, and many more appeal to the Beyoncé in everyone, but according to Dr. Metzl, they can result in a lot of muscle strains and twisted ankles.
How to Prevent: Anna Kaiser, the founder of AKT, a dance and conditioning regimen, used to choreograph and train Shakira. She agrees with Dr. Metzl and also adds plantar fasciitis, a heel injury, to the list. How you land on your feet can make a huge difference. “Bouncing is not dancing. Move through space using your whole foot and using the muscles of your body, not just bouncing or jumping up and down without putting the heels down. That’s what’s going to promote [injuries], because people aren’t solidly landing on the floor and they’re not stepping with purpose.” Kaiser also recommends not doing a solid hour of dance, but rather do it as intervals, with rest or strength conditioning in between to cut down on joint impact. Finally, shoe choice in a dance class is key. Don’t wear running shoes or anything with minimalist soles. You need the support and stability of a cross-training shoe.
The Injuries: Thanks to Barry’s Boot Camp, Orangetheory, and Mile High Run Club, more people are doing indoor treadmill workouts than ever before. Running (whether you do it outside or on a treadmill) is notorious for causing injuries, and Dr. Metzl points to shin splints, runner’s knee, and Achilles tendonitis as the most common. “Injuries come from having poor running form, poor running-shoe selection, not preparing your body to run, not being strong enough, and trying to ramp up your mileage too quickly,” he says.
How to Prevent: Debora Warner, the founder and CEO of Mile High Run Club, agrees with Dr. Metzl , and has some specific tips for doing sprint workouts on a treadmill. “Hugging the console can restrict range of motion, so run back,” she says. She also suggests running tall with light foot strikes and no heavy pounding. Finally, keep the wrists up with about a 90-degree bend at the elbow and swing arms from the shoulder joint, and always look straight ahead, not down. She also says to rotate through a few pairs of running shoes to keep them fresh, and to always get fitted at a knowledgeable store with a treadmill for test runs and staff made of up experienced runners.