Before Pumping Iron: Weightlifting Safety
Strength training helps prevent loss of muscle and bone mass. Before you start using weights, learn the safe way to approach working out.
Your doctor suggested that you include strength training with weights in your exercise routine. Strength training is important, especially as you age. It prevents loss of muscle and bone mass, and it can help with your overall fitness.
Your fitness goals should depend on your age, physical maturity and reasons for lifting weights. The American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association recommend doing at least eight to ten strength-training exercises twice per week if you are under age 65. Each move should be repeated eight to twelve times.
Weightlifting is dangerous, though, if not done properly. Emergency room visits due to weight training injuries are on the rise. And more serious problems, such as nerve damage, can occur over time due to poor technique.
Having a qualified instructor who can teach you how to lift safely is one of the best ways to avoid injury. This could be a high school or college coach or athletic trainer, as well as an instructor at your gym.
Planning your workout
When you begin an exercise program, keep your starting weight light at first. Concentrate on your technique. Also:
- Listen to your body. An awareness of your heart rate is important, but knowing how much exertion you feel is vital.
- Don’t do the same exercise each workout. Muscles need to rest one to two days before being stressed again so they can rebuild. The credo of “no pain, no gain” is false and dangerous. Your muscles will adapt to strength training, and soreness will lessen each time you workout.
Mild muscle soreness one or two days after working out is normal. Having a lot of soreness means you’ve trained too hard.
- Concentrate on your body mechanics. Move slowly with control, and keep your spine straight. Sacrificing form for more weight or repetitions (“reps”) decreases results and raises injury risk.
- Breathe smoothly and exhale through the mouth. If you hold your breath you may have harmful increases in blood pressure. If you breathe in and out too quickly, you may become lightheaded.
- Resist the temptation to see how much you can lift. Too much emphasis on weight means you’re not concentrating on form.
- Follow a proper progression of adding weight to your workout. When you can do one set of 11 or 12 reps easily, then add more weight. If, after adding weight you can manage eight or nine reps per set, stay with it. If you can only do four to six reps, you’ve added too much.
- Use your legs, not your back, when you pick weights up from the floor (or put them down).
- Use a spotter – a person who can stay close while you’re doing an exercise – when lifting very heavy weights. This person can help you if the weight becomes hard to handle and can give you feedback on your technique.
- When using weight machines, make sure pins used to select weight amounts are secure before you lift. Beware of broken bolts and chains, frayed cables or loose cushions. Make sure the machine properly adjusts to fit your body size.
Strength training may be the best way to help build up each muscle group. Be sure to do exercises that develop the fronts and backs of your upper body, torso and legs. With persistence and proper technique, strength training may allow you to perform everyday tasks better as you age.