Five Ways To Work Out With Weights Safely And Remain Injury Free. Hello everyone, I hope you are well. In today’s post, I will be sharing a guest post from James Staring, lead trainer at Fit to Last. James will share advice on working safely and ensuring you remain injury-free. If you work out regularly (or even if you’ve just started), the ultimate buzzkill is an injury. In addition to interrupting your momentum, it can affect your confidence once you recover and start working out again. So how do you avoid this annoying situation before it starts?
Five Ways To Work Out With Weights Safely And Remain Injury Free
Working out with weights is an effective way to reach your health goals. But you need to think about several things to carry out your exercise sessions safely and effectively. And that means that before your gym gear comes out of its drawer, you must assess your body’s condition. If you have any minor aches and pains, get a physiotherapist or osteopath to look at them before you start a new programme.
Assuming you’re ready, here are five strategies to defend against injury and work out correctly.
Warm Up, Always
Have you ever gone to work out and been in a hurry? And on the back of being short on time, did you decide to skip the warmup and jump right in? If this applies to you, you have either been injured or are about to be. So in the future, please, I beg, always budget time for a proper warm-up.
What makes a good warm-up?
A good warmup will:
- Warm up your whole body with movements that use all your limbs, not just holding a pose in one position (i.e. static stretching)
- Raise your heart rate to the point of feeling slightly breathless
- Make you feel a bit sweaty as your body temperature rises
How Do You Warm Up Effectively?
There are many ways to warm up, but we recommend starting from the top down. For example:
- Start by rotating your neck ten times in each direction
- Make big circles with your arms straight, rotating ten times forward and then ten times backward
- Complete 20 bodyweight squats, keeping your chest up and your back straight with your heels on the floor
Once you’ve completed this series of dynamic movements, choose a piece of cardio equipment (i.e. a rowing machine, a bike or a treadmill). Hop on for 5 minutes, keeping your pace steady but not too challenging. If you don’t have access to equipment, do 30 seconds of jumping jacks, followed by 30 seconds of jogging on the spot and repeat this five times.
At the end of this, you should be nice, warm, and ready to train safely.
Choose Weights Suitable To You And Progress At Your Own Pace
When you lift weights, choose weights that suit the goal you want to achieve and then alter the number of sets and repetitions accordingly. A repetition (sometimes called rep) is a single execution of an exercise. So one lift of the weight is one repetition, and ten lifts are ten repetitions. A set is a collection of repetitions. So, if your goal is to complete 20 lifts, you might break your workout into two sets of 10 reps or four sets of five.
The rules are as follows:
If you want to get stronger: lift heavier weights for low repetitions (i.e. three sets of up to 5 repetitions, with 45-60 seconds recovery between sets).
If you want to grow muscle: lift slightly lighter weights for more repetitions (i.e. 3-4 sets of 8-12 repetitions, with a maximum of 30 seconds rest between each set).
If you want to improve endurance: if you want to be able to perform an exercise for longer periods, go for even lighter weights with more repetitions (i.e. three sets of 12-15 repetitions, with 30-45 seconds of rest between each set).
Do be aware that if you choose weights that are too heavy for your goal and try to ‘soldier’ through, your form will be compromised, and you’ll risk injuring yourself.
How To Choose Your Weights
So how do you choose the correct weights for your current fitness level? Well, you start slowly and increase in small amounts until you find the challenging weight. By increasing in small increments to a more challenging level, you’ll be able to self-assess your current capabilities. At the same time, you’ll avoid injury in the process.
What Is A Challenging Weight?
A challenging weight is when you can complete the exercise correctly for the prescribed number of repetitions, but you couldn’t manage many more reps.
For example, if your goal is to improve strength, you want to find a weight where you can complete five perfect repetitions and have two repetitions that you could have done if pressed. This is called ‘Reps in Reserve’ or ‘RIR’, and if you choose your weights based on this target, you will always lift safely and achieve your goal, be it strength, muscle growth or endurance.
Doing The Exercise Correctly Is More Important Than How Much You Can Lift
The purpose of exercise in the gym is to help improve movements that are replicated in daily life. When you add weights to these exercises, you’re adding more challenge to the exercise, so your body becomes more robust and more stable when you do the same movement in daily life.
If you choose weights so heavy that you can’t complete that exercise correctly, your body will need to compensate by using other muscles and joints that aren’t meant to be used to complete that movement. Over time, this compensation will result in unnecessary wear and tear on those muscles and joints, leading to injury.
Insisting on the correct form is that you perform exercises to target specific movement patterns. If you don’t lift correctly, you’ll use non-targeted muscle groups to lift the load, opening you up to an injury.
Please note that above, I wrote “specific movement patterns“, not “specific muscles“. Moving requires multiple muscles to accomplish the task, not a specific muscle alone.
So by concentrating on completing an exercise to target a specific muscle group, you’ll choose weights appropriate for your current fitness level. You’ll also get more out of the exercise, which is why you’re working out in the first place.
How do you do this?
You’ll know when you’re doing an exercise correctly when you ‘feel it’ in specific muscle groups.
This is a short list of movement patterns and where you should feel the exercise when you complete it correctly.
Movement Pattern Targeted Muscle Groups
Vertical Push (Overhead Press) Shoulders, Back of Arms, Abdominals
Vertical Pull (Chin Up) Back, Front of Arms, Upper Shoulders
Horizontal Push (Press Up) Chest, Back of Arms
Horizontal Pull (Bent-over Row) Back, Front of Arms, Abdominals
Squat (Barbell Squat) Bum, Back of Legs and Front of Legs
Hinge (Deadlift) Bum, Back of Legs
All these movement patterns require using multiple joints to complete the exercise. In a well-balanced programme, where you complete various patterns, you’ll achieve your goals safely and injury-free.
Use The Mirror
Go to any gym, and you’ll see mirrors galore. And while it may seem that those using the mirrors are vain posers, there’s a reason why the mirrors are there in the first place. Mirrors enable you to see what you’re doing while you’re doing it. Without this option, you run the risk of exercising incorrectly and injuring yourself.
So, you have the choice of approaching someone randomly to observe you (no, I wouldn’t do it either) or watching yourself in the mirror and ensuring your form is correct.
What To Look For In The Mirror When You’re Exercising
The critical thing to watch out for in the mirror is alignment. What I mean by this is making sure your limbs follow straight lines when exercising. An example of this is pressing two dumbbells over your head. As you look in the mirror, you want to make sure your arms align with your shoulders throughout the motion (i.e. there should be a straight line from your wrist through your elbow to your shoulder).
When your joints and limbs are misaligned under resistance, you risk injury. Uneven pressure on the joint leads to strain, which can lead to injury. So, by using the mirror and ensuring your arms and legs are lined up (depending on the movement), you can feel confident that you’re exercising safely.
Drink Lots Of Water Before, During And After Your Work Outs
A big part of avoiding injury is to maintain your body between workouts. An effective way to do this is through consistent hydration. We’re able to move and go about our daily activities because of our joints. Joints are composed of bone, ligaments and cushioning tissue called cartilage. By keeping yourself regularly hydrated, you’ll keep your cartilage in good condition by keeping it soft and supple. By being kind to your cartilage through consistent hydration, you’re enabling exercise over the long term.
To work out safely and remain injury free, the key is to progress steadily and watch what you’re doing. If you listen to your body, pay attention to the form of your exercise, and choose weights that reasonably challenge you, you’ll be able to work out safely and remain injury-free for years to come.
I hope you enjoyed that.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
James Staring is the founder and lead fitness coach at Fit to Last Personal Trainers, which offers a high-end, all-incwho’ve fitness solution for those who’ve tried everything in the past; crash diets, exercise fads, regular gyms etc., all with little to no success or results. Fit to Last works in partnership with you to create a personalised programme of exercise, nutrition (no calorie counting or weighing) and small, simple lifestyle changes to keep you on track to your goals, injury free and bursting with energy. See: www.fittolast.co.uk
As someone who values their fitness routine and wants to avoid injuries, your tips and advice are greatly appreciated. It’s so important to prioritize safety and take the necessary precautions to protect our bodies while working out. I especially appreciate your emphasis on proper form, gradually increasing weights, and listening to our bodies!
This is interesting, it’s been a while since I worked out in a gym because I’m doing home gym. I will keep these tips in mind.
It is good to have a purpose when it comes to working out, and to know what you are doing. So important to work out properly as injuries can really set you back for a long time.
I love doing weights but always forget to warm up. Now I know why I should be warming up before lifting.
I appreciate the emphasis on safety and injury prevention. The tips provided are practical and helpful for anyone looking to start a weight training routine.
I think being safe when working out is key! We so often try to lift more than we should.
Ah yes, warming up is a must. Otherwise, the muscle cramps will hit you faster than you can even carry your first weight! Thank you for sharing this.
Jennifer L Prince
Warming up is so important! It’s vital to get your muscles ready for exercise.
I love working out with light weights. Having the proper posture really helps to prevent injiuries.
I often forget to warm up when I work out and find myself becoming sore. This was such a great reminder for how to work out safely.
This is such a great guide. It’s hard to know where to start with weights, but this guide makes it easy.
I LOVE that you included what exactly a challenging weight is! Without guidance, it’s so easy to go too light or too heavy.
Warm up, light weights, cardio, and then workout? I’ve been doing it wrong sadly for a long time! Thank you so much for the list of movement patterns and targeted muscles. I have a feeling that I’ve also been doing the exercises wrong so I’m going to try and really pay attention to where I “feel the burn” from here on out. No reason to do it if it’s not really working. Here’s to being healthier and more productive for the rest of 2023!
So often I have jumped into weight lifting without knowing what I am doing – obviously resulting in minor injuries. Anyone thinking of starting with weights should read this article and follow the advice.
I appreciate these tips. I always forget to warm up. That’s almost always my downfall when I’m working out with weights.