Each year in America, 3 to 5 million people are injured due to recreation, exercise, and sports-related activities. And with an influx of intense fitness genres like CrossFit, boot camps, P90X, and Insanity, the potential for injury to inexperienced participants is headed for an all-time high. I say this not to belittle the potential benefits of these workouts, but as a certified strength and conditioning coach with more than 16 years of experience in professional athletics, my job is to give you the opportunity to avoid risk by providing awareness and understanding of what goes into a proper fitness routine.

Here are four checklists you should go through before doing any exercise so you can increase your level of fitness and meet your goals in the way that’s best for you.

Your Body
Most of us aren’t very aware of our bodies until it is too late and we are sitting in the physical therapist's office. Before you begin a new fitness routine:

  • Get a physical from your doctor.
  • Inquire at local physical therapist center about receiving a physical assessment.
  • Have a blood test done. This may sound out of left field, but many individuals spend countless hours in the gym overtraining and stressing about physical capabilities (or lack there of) when they have a thyroid, cortisol, or adrenal issue that needs to be addressed.

RELATED: Before you sign up for that new gym class, check out five disclaimers for popular fitness programs, including CrossFit and spin.

Personal Trainer
Be wise when selecting a trainer—we’re talking about your body and you deserve the best. Just like you would before purchasing a car, take your trainer for a test drive and have a full-on session before making a decision. Whether you choose someone for yoga, Pilates, strength training, or something else entirely, be sure the person you work with:

  • Is CPR- and first aid-certified and that are these certificates up to date.
  • Is insured and hasn’t been involved in any client disputes in the past.
  • Keeps notes on your sessions so you can review them periodically.
  • Only gives nutritional advice if he or she is a registered dietitian.

At-Home Workout
With so many home fitness programs available online, in stores, and on late-night infomercials, picking the right one can be a tedious experience. Since saving money by working out at home may cost you a lot more down the road at the physical therapist’s office, start off by asking yourself these questions:

  • Does the program offer modifications or someone in the video who works at a slower pace that you can follow in the beginning? Proper form is crucial, and even once you’ve mastered the moves, there will be times you will be fatigued and need an easier option so you can continue to work out safely.
  • Will this program fit into your schedule? If you do not have an hour a day, you’ll see better results with a 30-minute program you can actually complete.
  • Have you worked with the equipment used in this program before? If not, it may be safer and more effective to stick with bodyweight exercises. Or work with a trainer a few times using the proper equipment prior to committing to the program.

RELATED: Grab a pair of dumbbells and try this 10-minute total-body workout at home.

Specialized Gym
Many gyms now offer specialized training programs or are marketed as intense training studios that cater to elite athletes. This can offer a unique and creative way for the general public to experience an advance regimen designed to push your limits. However, with a large portion of the public suffering from injuries and limitations such as inflexibility, anterior tilts, posterior imbalances, and joint instability, this type of training isn’t always safe. Proper instruction from a strength and conditioning specialist is of utmost importance with one of these programs, and unfortunately in a large group setting, this may not be feasible. Before you sign the dotted line and plyo-box into your new fitness world...

  • Be sure all instructors are certified strength and conditioning specialists. A background in rehabilitation or athletic training is a plus.
  • Ask for one-on-one or small group (no more than four) settings to learn proper execution of advanced protocols.
  • Take your time and start light to improve form and increase flexibility. Many of the lifts performed at these types of gyms are the ones seen at the Olympics and take years to master.
  • Work at your own pace and be your own competition. The only person that needs to be impressed is you!

If all this information left you with more questions, contact me via Facebook or tweet at me @JayCardiello. As SHAPE’s fitness editor-at-large, I want to tear down walls and provide you with direct access to support. 

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