No one wants injuries to interfere with personal fitness goals. Following simple strategies can help you protect your body.

You’ve committed to reaching your fitness and health goals, and the last thing you want is a nagging injury to hold you back. Here are five simple strategies to support your body, work toward healthy aging and greatly reduce the risk of injury during exercise.

1 Create a game plan

Starting a workout routine without a plan is a lot your body like getting behind the wheel in a foreign country with no directions. Most injuries occur in the frontal (also known as coronal) and transverse planes of motion, which include side-to-side and rotational movements, yet most resistance machines move in the sagittal plane (forward and back movement). Learn to use multiple planes of motion in your workouts and keep them well-rounded. For instance, try side lunges or lateral walks. A rotational exercise would be mimicking a golf swing with floor to overhead diagonals using a medicine ball or dumbbell. Incorporate cardiovascular, resistance and flexibility training into your program.

2 Introduce yourself to a foam roller

Muscles pull on bones to manipulate the body’s joints. Direction of joints determines the body’s movement. Often the body can develop poor movement patterns that can result in other potential problems and an increased risk of injury during exercise. Ever tried to tie a shoe with one shoelace half as long as the other? It turns an easy task into a difficult one; the same goes for the opposing muscle groups in your body. If one side is extremely tight, the opposite side is likely lengthened and weak. Proper use of a foam roller will help realign your muscles, resulting in better movement patterns that decrease your chance of injury.

3 Be kind to your muscles

If you tried to fold a sponge without water, it would likely tear. Your muscles react in a similar way if you do not properly warm up the body. The heart delivers oxygen-rich blood to muscles during a warm-up, preparing them for more vigorous exercise later. A brisk walk for 510 minutes before your workout should do the trick.

4 Listen to your body

It’s important to know the difference between hard work and destructive work. The saying no pain, no gain doesn’t apply to joint pain. The body will only change under stress in order to yield positive results. However, if you feel pain in the knees, neck, lower back, etc., stop the exercise. Use lighter weight, modify the exercise or shorten the range of motion. If the pain still persists, try another exercise that does not cause pain.

5 Learn from a fitness professional

You had an instructor teach you how to read, how to swim and how to drive a car. Why wouldn’t you use one for reaching your fitness goals? Ask for certifications, seek out advice and learn what makes sense for your body. Every person reacts differently to exercise routines. What makes sense for one person might not work for another.

David McCarthy, M.S., is a master trainer and certified corrective exercise specialist who has conducted over 6,000 personal training sessions during five years of personal training and three years of classroom teaching experience. He earned his bachelors degree from the University of Tulsa and holds a master’s degree from California University of Pennsylvania in Exercise Science & Rehabilitation Sciences. Visit fitnesstrainerdave.com for more information.