3 Ways Your Workout Can Hurt You (and How to Protect Yourself)

Did you know that exercise can hurt you?

Probably not.

I didn’t either.

When it came to health and fitness, I focused on things like weight loss, body image, and healthy living.

I never gave any thought to safety.

In fact, I had to attend personal training school in order to realize just how dangerous exercise could be.

I sat through 360 hours of academic education and hands-on practical application just to find out there are hidden dangers that lurk beneath the surface of a lifestyle designed to inspire optimal health and well-being.

Now before I go on, let me just mention something…

I’m a HUGE fan of exercise for every reason imaginable.

Working out provides strength, flexibility and improved function in our day to day lives.

It keeps us young, energized and sharp.

It’s just that in order to have exercise work in your favor, there are things you need to be aware of.

Things that can hinder your health if you aren’t careful.

Exercise comes with risks. Being unaware of them can lead to unnecessary injury – and even death.

So to make sure this doesn’t happen to you, I’ll mention three ways your exercise program can actually cause more harm than good – and what you can do to make sure this doesn’t happen.

3 Ways Your Workout Can Hurt You (and How to Protect Yourself)

There are several ways your workout can hurt you.

But for the sake of keeping this easy reading, I’ll discuss what I consider are the three most important things for you to know.

Prevention is a way to apply hindsight in the present moment. Once you’re hurt, there isn’t much you can do except go through the healing process if your injuries aren’t fatal.

Awareness, on the other hand, is a friend.

So keep what I have to say here in mind the next time you work out. You’ll be thankful you’ve stumbled across this information.

Safety Tip #1 – Don’t Chew Gum While Exercising

Believe it or not, this can be deadly.

Yet, we see professional athletes chewing gum as if it were completely normal when in reality, this is a dangerous practice.

When we exercise, our level of inhalation increases. When this happens, the likelihood of whatever is in our mouth getting sucked into our throats is much higher…

girl chewing gum

…and since gum is flexible in texture, it can “mold” itself to fit perfectly into the airway. Under these circumstances, even with a qualified rescuer performing the proper abdominal thrusts to expel the object, it may or may not happen.

And the longer the brain goes without oxygen, the higher your chances are of suffering permanent brain damage.

This is one chance you don’t want to take. The consequences far outweigh the benefits here.

If you’re fortunate to be around someone who can (possibly) save you, it’s still an unfortunate occurrence. If you’re on your own, you’re out of luck.

To protect yourself:

Simply don’t chew gum (or have anything else in your mouth) while exercising. If your mouth gets dry, either keep some water around or get one of those natural hydrating mouth sprays.

Safety Tip #2 – Warm Up and Cool Down

Warming up and cooling down may seem like therapeutic activities to engage in before and after working out, but in truth, they play a far more important role than that.

Warming up before exercising prepares your body for the stress you’re about to place on your heart, joints and muscles.

If you’re about to start lifting weights (and it doesn’t matter whether you’re using dumbbells, resistance bands or your own bodyweight) – then you need to loosen things up before adding resistance. Otherwise, you may be putting yourself at risk for an injury.

The same goes for your heart.

If you begin a cardiovascular workout, your heart needs to prepare for the upcoming activity you’re about to embark on.

Think of it this way –

When the weather is cold, you need to warm up your car before you drive it, right?

Why is this?

Because if you don’t, you may blow the engine.

It works the same way with your body.

Cooling down is more than just a way to relax after exercising. It could literally save your life.

When your heart rate has been elevated for a period of time, you must slow down your activities before you suddenly stop.

The reason is because of blood pooling.

Blood pooling is when the blood settles in the lower extremities of the body and doesn’t make its way back up to the heart via skeletal muscle tissue (movement).

When blood pooling occurs, there is a risk of fainting and/or sudden cardiac arrest (SCA).

Now, believe it or not, people have died from this.

You probably won’t find any info on the web about blood pooling causing death, though.

However, it has happened.

When I attended personal training school at Fitness Institute International, Dr. Abbott (the president and chief instructor) discussed the topic at length and included some unfortunate real-life examples of people who have died from blood pooling due to lack of a proper cool down in our course outline.

I’ve shared a few of them in my exercise safety book.

It’s a risk you don’t need to take.

To protect yourself:

You don’t have to spend a lot of time warming up and cooling down. A few minutes of each will work wonders.

Just keep moving and allow your heart rate to return to normal. If for some reason you need to stop exercising to take a phone call, use the restroom or anything else, make sure to keep moving.

Do NOT just stop and stand around.

It’s a simple solution to a problem that can cause more damage than you can imagine, so consider implementing this advice before and after your next workout.

Safety Tip #3 – Listen to Your Body

I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “no pain, no gain”, right?

Unfortunately, this has made its way around the health and fitness industry for quite some time. People take it literally.

This is not a good thing.

Pain is the body’s way of telling you something doesn’t feel right.

So if this is the case, you may be wondering…

“Isn’t exercise supposed to hurt in order for it to produce results?”

The answer is sort of. This is where it helps to be able to identify the difference between good and bad pain.

Good exercise pain feels like you’ve been working hard. You may feel muscle soreness or the “burn” that accompanies a challenging exercise. You might even experience a bit of wobbliness (as though you’ve maxed out your ability to do another rep with good form).

All in all, you feel pretty good, though. You walk away from the workout with a sense of accomplishment. Any post-exercise muscle soreness (PEMS) or delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) may be a bit uncomfortable, but it isn’t debilitating. It also usually goes away within a couple of days.

Bad exercise pain is different – and alarming. It comes across as an impending cramp, pull, or strain.

It feels as though something isn’t right. It’s your body’s way of telling you to stop what you’re doing right now – regardless of what you think you ought to do, what your trainer’s telling you to do, etc.

To protect yourself:

Know the difference between good and bad exercise pain and you’ll make your fitness program a successful one – instead of one that leaves you injured and dejected.

Follow the messages your body gives you. You can always pick up where you left off if you stop to prevent a possible strain or sprain. Once you’re injured, though, you’re out of luck.

This Information is Uncommon and Unpopular

Browse through the internet, read the fitness magazines and watch the workout shows on tv or Youtube and I will guarantee that you won’t find a lot of info about exercise safety.

This is because people, unfortunately, still don’t consider preventative action to be sexy or interesting.

We humans are attracted to drama. So the question is:

Is drama in the form of an incapacitating injury more fascinating than well-being?

And if so, why?

Think about that.

Heed this advice. It’s simple to follow and it’s been designed to empower you, keep you safe and proactive in your wellness program.

I’m a well-qualified wellness coach and fitness professional. I’m also the author of an exercise safety book.

Knowing how to protect yourself from injury is more important than you may realize. Sure, it seems like common sense. But in a world where we focus on quick weight loss, vanity, and drama, prevention doesn’t exactly come to mind.

This is why I discuss these things.

The book is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords and just about every other online book retailer. You can read it in digital or paperback form.

Grab it and educate yourself. You have no idea how much this information will help you.

It could save your life.

Exercise can be fun and enjoyable. It can result in numerous benefits.

Just do it the right way. I promise, you’ll be happy you did.

Have you given any thought to the subject of exercise safety? If not, do you think you will now?

Dana Gore

Author of the books "A Simple Guide to Exercise Safety (What You Don't Know CAN Hurt You)" and "Streetwise Philosophy (A Bullshit-Free Approach to Spiritual Maturity)", Dana Gore is a health and fitness professional, wellness coach, and freelance writer. Dana brings guidance to the public about how to achieve optimal health in a safe and structured manner while inspiring her readers to seek self-awareness and inner peace as a means to well-being in all areas of life.

18 thoughts on “3 Ways Your Workout Can Hurt You (and How to Protect Yourself)

  • at 8:42 pm

    Hi Thanks so much for sharing this relevant and informative post. It is very timely, since my daughter goes to the gym two to three times a week, need to share this with her. Great Read.

    • at 10:07 pm


      I apologize for this late reply. I didn’t see this until this moment.

      Yes, you’d be surprised how easy it is to injure yourself. I don’t say this as a scare tactic. It’s just that I, personally, had no idea to think about these things until I went to Fitness Institute. Turns out, there’s a lot that goes unsaid (safety isn’t a popular subject matter).

      It would be great if you shared this with your daughter. I know she’d get a lot out of this. My exercise safety book would be valuable as well. There’s a lot more of this type of info written there.

      Thanks so much for stopping by.

  • at 9:12 am

    Hi Dana,
    Three points you mentioned are absolutely right. People often gets injured from this activities and they land up with no exercises after that.
    1. Chewing Gum, it is so nasty to eat during exercises and very unhygienic as well.
    2. Warm up and Cool down is essential to acclimatize the muscle adaptation to the environment.
    3. Always need to exercise according to our body’s capabilities. So listen to your body.
    A great post and I think everyone who is in work out right now should know this…..
    Have a good day….

    • at 12:53 pm

      Hi Ugyen,

      I’m glad you saw the value in this info.
      These are some dangerous possibilities with regard to exercise. These things DO happen and have happened. They just discussed very often.

      I can;t say one factor mentioned here is more important than another. I can only say I had to attend personal training school to become aware of the need for exercise safety.

      I appreciate you stopping by and sharing your insights. I agree.

  • at 9:08 pm

    Hi Dana,

    Omg, there are at least a couple ways I thought you could get hurt exercising but I really didn’t think chewing gum would be one of them. I mean it completely makes sense but it’s not something you would think about.

    I do breath deeply when I’m exercising so I definitely will not ever consider chewing gum. You’re a life saver!


    • at 10:43 am

      Hi Lea,

      Interesting about the gum chewing, right?

      I also had no idea. You see people do this all the time, but yes, it can be deadly. It’s just one of those things you never hear about when it comes to exercising, but it’s lifesaving info.

      I’m glad you came across this post. I’d like to think it’ll keep you safe during your workouts.
      Thanks so much for stopping by Lea 🙂

  • at 10:09 am

    Hi Dana,

    Wow…I don’t ever chew gum but it is surprising to know the harm it can cause when working out.

    When I first went into a gym several years ago, I got a trainer. She put me on machines immediately…then she put a time on the treadmill that I had to go and I was huffing and puffing. No warm up and cool down…just pushed me though and waited for the next person. Needless to say, I never went back nor paid her.

    Because I like to listen to my body I knew this was not the way to do things. My husband used to run marathons, so he agreed and new the importance of warming up and cooling down.

    I like to take things at my own pace. When I’m in a gym and see those people huffing and puffing lifting weights using their back…I want to scream! There are so many injuries that happen when working out and the best advice is to listen to your body.

    I sure will spread this around!


    • at 10:18 am

      Hi Donna,

      I’m sorry to hear about that experience you had, but it’s good you stayed away afterward. I’d had a few similar experiences with trainers in the past.

      Many of the fitness facilities out there aren’t terribly choosy when it comes to trainers. There’s a lot to take into consideration when deciding if a trainer is truly qualified.

      I’m glad you listened to your body. It’s so important, but many people think more is better and go beyond what feels right. Sure, things should be a bit uncomfortable and any exercise program ought to be challenging, but things could quickly become dangerous if taken too far.

      I’ve seen some crazy shit in the gyms. I have a section in my exercise safety book talking about why you shouldn’t copy people. Some of the things I’ve seen people do make me cringe.

      I appreciate you spreading the word around. Your husband is right about the warm up.
      Thanks for stopping by 🙂

  • at 10:56 am

    Hey Dana,

    I do workout daily in the morning. But never thought that I could get hurt while exercising. Though I don’t chew gum and it won’t hurt me.

    I agree with you that “no pain, no gain” phrase has its own importance but for those who knows how to take it. Sometimes people just go for it and forget about how much strength their body have.

    I am sure the warming up thing would work for everyone.
    Thanks for sharing this great piece of content.
    Have an awesome week ahead.

    • at 9:48 pm

      Hey Ravi,

      It’s great to get your workout in the morning. Any time is good, but it’s always nice to have it done early and reap the benefits of the extra energy throughout the day.

      Yes, exercise can hurt you if you aren’t careful. Paid no attention to this sort of thing until I went to Fitness Institute. Couldn’t believe what was possible regarding injury, including choking on gum and the blood pooling from lack of proper cool down. No one discusses these things.

      The “no pain no gain” thing isn’t bad in and of itself, but it’s taken out of context too often. The wrong type of pain, ignored, can lead to catastrophe. Best to listen to your body.

      Thanks so much for stopping by Ravi. Enjoy the rest of your week 🙂

  • at 7:25 pm

    Hi, Dana

    Love this informative post.

    We hear this phrase all the times: “need to warm up before and cool down well after work out”. But I never investigate the reason behind. Now I know that it is so important to carry out the cooling down process to avoid the blood cooling effect on my body.

    Glad that I can know the difference between good pain and bad pain in work out from you. Thanks!

    Stella Chiu

    • at 8:16 pm

      Hi Stella,

      I’m glad you took the time to read this. Like you, I also knew warming up and cooling down were recommended, but I never really knew why – especially the cooling down part. Again, just something else I had to learn at Fitness Institute.

      I can’t stress how imperative it is to pay attention t your body and respect pain. Sure, workouts should be challenging and uncomfortable, but the wrong type of pain can be catastrophic.

      Thanks so much for sharing this Stella – and for your comment 🙂

  • at 7:22 pm

    Hey Dana,

    I never knew about the gum chewing, but it makes a lot of since. We do need our oxygen to help keep from getting injury, and I know about injury.

    We definitely want to listen to our bodies. I can remember when I first started taking cardio-boxing which is a strenuous class. When I first started it didn’t last no longer than 10 minutes, but I gradually kept pushing the bar up until eventually I was able to get through the whole hour long class. It was great feeling so conditioned.

    One thing I like to add is stretching and breathing on top of warming up and cooling down. I’ve had a few hamstring strains and they weren’t that fun. Stretching and breathing before you do a strenuous working and after you do a cool down can also help prevent injury. I don’t know if it’s overkill, but I usually stretch for about 40min before the work out and about 20 minutes after the cool down.

    Thanks for sharing Dana! Have a great rest of the week!

    • at 9:01 pm

      Hey Sherman,

      You’re not alone. Most people don’t know about the gum chewing. I’ve written about it in my book and in other articles as well. Anyone who stumbles across this info will be better off in the long run.

      As far as stretching, before a workout, the best type of stretching to do is a dynamic (movement based) flexibility warm up.
      Warm the muscles up by doing lighter versions of the workout you’re about to do. You’re better off doing the static stretching (holding the stretch) after the workout, but never force a stretch either. Just listen to your body. More isn’t always better. In fact, it’s usually detrimental.

      Stretching should feel good. Like a relief of tension. But too much, especially prior to a workout can start activating responses in the body that inhibit movement to prevent the muscle from being stretched too far. Not ideal (or safe) before a workout, especially a strength or power training workout.
      So yes, even stretching can be overdone and implemented incorrectly. I’m glad you brought this up.

      I appreciate your visit Sherman, and I hope this info keeps you safe.
      Thanks so much for stopping by 🙂

  • at 4:07 pm

    Thanks for sharing this Dana. I didn’t know about the gum thing but it does make sense. I can see how that can happen to someone.

    Oh yeah, I’ve heard that phrase…but my problem is I get scared with the first hint of pain. I’m sure it’s more of an exercise pain but I’m so scared I’ll hurt my back that at the slightest discomfort I stop. I remember once I was walking on the treadmill and I decided to do an incline – I went straight for level 10 and man that night my legs were cramping up – talk about overdoing it. I learned my lesson and now I just walk at a level 2-3, chicken right? LOL

    Thanks for reminding us about these workout safety tips.

    Hope you’re having a great day!


    • at 6:20 pm

      Hey Cori,

      Oh yes, the gum thing.

      Not many people know about that. I didn’t. I learned about it at Fitness Institute. It just isn’t something that comes up in conversation when it comes to exercise. But I’ve heard about people who’ve died from doing this, or at least choked but were lucky enough to either swallow it or cough it up.

      Wow – a 10! That’s a steep incline. If you aren’t used to that, I can see why you might have had discomfort. Doing the 2-3 doesn’t make you a chicken. Your best bet is to slowly increase the intensity over time. Eventually, as you gain strength, flexibility, and endurance, you can start increasing it and do this in short intervals to build a tolerance. Then you can go for longer periods of time.

      You’re wise to be mindful of your back. If there are any previous injuries there, it’s especially important to careful of what exercises you do.

      Fitness isn’t a one size fits all sort of thing. It’s best tailored to suit your specific needs.

      I’m glad you read this Cori. I hope word gets out there. Exercise is rewarding, but it CAN hurt people if they aren’t careful.

      Thanks so much for stopping by 🙂

  • at 10:34 pm

    I should have read this before I did what I did last night. I’ve tried incorporating stretching into my exercise routine, and one thing I’m doing puts a lot of stress on my legs. I’ve started slow but last night I decided to double down for some stupid reason and ended up hurting my right leg. Thing is, based on #3, when I got close to the number I was shooting for I was struggling, and still went for it anyway; sigh…

    • at 10:07 am

      Hey Mitch,

      Oh no!
      Well, I’m sorry you didn’t come across this sooner (although it wasn’t published yet), and I hate to hear that you hurt yourself.

      I hear that phrase “no pain no gain” all the time, especially in the health and fitness industry. To some extent, it has merit, but it’s taken literally. I cannot begin to express how important it is to listen to your body and understand the difference between good and bad pain.

      At least you know now – and hopefully, this knowledge will serve you well from here on out.
      Take it easy and allow your leg to heal properly before putting any pressure on it.

      Let me know how you’re doing Mitch.
      Thanks for reading this.


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