How to Stay Safe While Weight Training

Man using weight machine at gym
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Lifting weights has many benefits: It strengthens bones, muscles, joints, and tendons while building lean muscle tissue, which helps you lose weight. However, if not done properly, can lead to injuries.

You can reduce your risk of injury by using a cautious and knowledgeable approach to a weight training exercise. Your technique, or how you perform the exercise, is crucial to minimizing injury.

It is also important to use good judgment about the type of exercise and the load you attempt to lift, push or press—especially in relation to your existing fitness, strength, bone and muscle health, and injury status.

Risk of Injury

Some exercises are bound to be more likely to lead to injury than others because of the very nature of stability factors and joint and muscle dynamics.

In addition, what's troublesome for you may not be a problem for someone with more experience, training or body characteristics. For example, tall people with long femurs may find squats and deadlifts more challenging than those with more proportioned upper and lower bodies.

Be aware of positions, exercise types, and loads that make you feel you are extending joints, ligaments, muscles, and tendons too far beyond your natural range. Alternative exercises that work the same muscles often exist. Challenge yourself, but with common sense.

Each exercise has guidelines for the correct form or technical execution. Make sure you comply with the general guidelines for good form.

Overuse Injuries

Overuse injuries, often of tendons, are common in weight lifters. A brief curtailment of the exercise often improves the injury.

Serious injuries occur when a structure in the body breaks or is worn away over time. Examples include torn or strained muscles and ligaments, tendons pulled from bones, and worn out and broken cartilage that fails to protect bones from rubbing together.

If you suspect an overuse injury, seek medical treatment from a sports doctor or physical therapist.

Common Injury Sites

In weightlifting, the most injured areas are the lower back, shoulders, and knees.

The lower back tops the list of the most injured body area. Injury rates are consistent across many sports which signifies a human anatomical weakness.

Some weight training exercises are more likely to lead to injury than others, even when the appropriate technique is followed. This is because the exercise places some part of your joint in a compromised position in which injury is more likely to occur.

The following exercises should be performed with care and common sense about the amount of weight you use:

The good news is that if any of these exercises prove troublesome for you, there are alternative exercises that work on the same area. Of course, if you overdo any exercise, it can result in injury.

Practice Good Form

While not every weight-lifting injury can be avoided, practicing the principles of good form and using a spotter can help reduce your risk of doing damage. Keep these points in mind while you work out.

  1. Watch Your Posture. Keep the back straight when bending at the hips for exercises such as squats, deadlifts, good mornings, bent rows and cable rows. The main point is that even if your back is at an angle to the ground and leaning forward, it is straight and not curved at the spine.
  2. Go Easy on Joints. Don’t explosively lock the joints. This recommendation is often overdone. Powerlifting bench pressers are required to lock out the elbows in a competition. No harm will be done by straightening the elbow or knee joints as long as you don’t smash them hard under load.
  3. Pay Attention to Knee Placement. Don’t allow the knees to bow excessively inward or outward, or the elbows to fall to the rear or front when executing a lift or push. You want maximum support and to prevent the joint from being compromised under pressure.
  4. Control Your Neck. Keep the head still as much as possible and the neck under control when weight training. Be very sure you know what you’re doing if you lower a weight behind the head onto the cervical spine area.
  5. Stay In Your Range. Be careful with exercises that place the shoulder joint beyond a range of motion or under a load that you do not feel comfortable with. The shoulder has the most complex range of motion of any joint. You don’t want to feel pain in the shoulder joint on extension, flexion, abduction or rotation. In push exercises, such as bench presses and shoulder presses, keep the elbows and upper arms from moving much lower than parallel to the floor as you lower the weight. This is good security for beginners.

Always use a spotter assistant when lifting heavy free weights. When in doubt, lift lighter weights.

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