4 Easy Ways to Avoid Injury in the Weight Room

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By: , SparkPeople Blogger
5/11/2011 9:00 AM   :  13 comments   :  9,216 Views

Strength training is an important part of any workout program, but it's not without its risks. That's why I am always (over)emphasizing safety and form in my workout videos and in real life when I lead people through a class. When you're hoisting weights around, especially when attempting new moves your body isn't accustomed to, your risk of injury goes way up compared to exercises that use your body weight alone.

Case in point: A study published last year in the American Journal of Sports Medicine found that between 1990 and 2007, almost 1 million Americans injured themselves badly enough to warrant visits to the ER. And during that nearly two-decade time period, strength-training injuries increased by 48% annually.

These injuries ran the gamut from minor sprains and strains to serious issues like dropping weights on one's own body or crushing a body part (like a foot or hand) between weights or weight equipment. Ouch.

But don't think that only newbies are at risk. It's easy to slack off on your form when you've been lifting weights for a while, and the fitter you get, the heavier weights you should be lifting—which means you're even more at risk. So whether you're new to weight training or a seasoned pro, here are four quick tips to remember so you can stay away from the doctor, too!

4 Things to Remember During Weight Training

Warm Up before You Weight Up
This is a given before any workout. A little bit of a warm up is better than none at all, so even if 2-3 minutes is all you can muster before you get down to business, that's better than skipping it entirely. A quick walk or jog, some body weight squats, or a few dynamic stretches are all you need to get your muscles and joints prepared to pump some iron.

Low and Slow
On any exercise that you're trying for the first time, start with LOW weight—or no weight. When you're doing something new, the first goal should be perfecting the exercise in good form. Once that's done, then think about adding more weight.

Slow refers to your tempo. Don't rush through an exercise as fast as you can. Think about a 2:4 count. Lift the weight for two counts, and lower or return it to the starting position for four counts.

Focus on Form
I can't emphasize enough how important good form is during weight training. It is the #1 thing every exerciser should focus on in order to avoid injury and get the most out of any exercise. If you're not sure how to do an exercise correctly, use all the resources at your disposal to figure it out: ask a trainer at the gym, look up detailed instructions online, ask a fellow exercise, etc. Don't forget, too, that mirrors are your friend. Watch yourself when you work out as often as possible, looking for alignment (head over neck; ankles, knees and hip bones in line, etc.) and control (like keeping your shoulders from hiking up to your ears). If exercising at home, set up an inexpensive wardrobe mirror in your workout area.

Mo Momentum, Mo Problems
If you listen to the first two points above, then you know that moving weights with momentum is bad news. Momentum doesn't allow the slow 2:4 pace, and it throws good form out the window. This is probably one of the most common issues I see at the gym: people swinging weights around, using too much momentum in order to complete an exercise. You may think you look cool or are getting stronger by swinging that huge dumbbell around, but trust me, the opposite is true. You are not really lifting that weight (so it won't make you stronger than using a lighter weight in slow, controlled form), and you don't look cool jarring your body all around like a fish out of water in order to do it. If you have to use momentum to complete an exercise, you need to rethink the weight you've chosen to lift, plain and simple.

(The only exception to this rule would be explosive training such as kettlebells or Crossfit under the guidance of a certified professional.)

For more safety tips for strength training, check out this story from bnd.com that features even more of my best injury-prevention tips!

Do you mind all four of these pointers when you work out? Have you ever injured yourself during weight training? Follow thecoachnicole on Twitter



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Comments

  • 13
    That is SUCH excellent advice. I see so many at the gym RUSHING through their exercises. I do them slow and consistent like you advise and will be even more conscious of the way I do them. Thank You! - 6/5/2011   10:39:40 AM
  • 12
    No injuries. - 5/15/2011   1:01:19 AM
  • 11
    I exercise at home (rather than with a trainer or at the gym), so I'll keep this points in mind. - 5/12/2011   12:15:11 PM
  • MURPHYGIRL6
    10
    When I go to the gym there is a guy who does weight so hard that his face is constantly an unhealthy shade of red (IMHO) and he looks like he is going to stroke out. Why is he doing this? - 5/11/2011   1:30:32 PM
  • ZIEKEPPLER
    9
    @LMCBUDDY I think those guys' primary skill is mirror-gazing. They not only use horrible form, they frequently abuse the equipment. I've often been tempted to chew out an idiot who just lets go of the handles on a resistance machine so that it makes a huge noise when the weights fall. The bigger the noise, the smaller the brain. - 5/11/2011   1:13:35 PM
  • 8
    I love my weight training but you do have to respect the weights. Kettle bells are fun too. - 5/11/2011   12:59:59 PM
  • NGAIBRUCE
    7
    Probably quite true, especially for older people. I believe I tore rotator cuff or dislocated left shoulder lifting weights about 18 months ago. I'm gradually regaining strength and the pain has pretty much subsided although a bit stiff at times. I had planned to get an MRI to determine extent of injury but now that I'm playing a fair game of golf again, I don't think I want to go the surgery route now. I'm 70 yoa and run 25-30 miles a week. I am very careful now to limit the amount I lift. - 5/11/2011   12:42:59 PM
  • 6
    @LMCBuddy - I'm giggling with you and totally agree. But even if you tried to show them, they would only think you were the one who was doing it incorrectly. - 5/11/2011   12:32:16 PM
  • 5
    Like Archii, I have dropped weights on my foot before...but my #1 tip for avoiding injury is to RESPECT THE WEIGHT. I once threw my back out trying to re-rack an 80 lb. barbell (after a deadlift, ironically enough) because I rounded my back while re-racking. Good form is needed from the moment you pick up the weight, perform your set, and should be followed until the weight is safely back in the rack or on the floor. - 5/11/2011   11:02:04 AM
  • 4
    Oh, I've had more than my own fare share of accidents in the weight room and it wasn't because of poor form. It was because I accidentally dropped the weight on my toe ! Another time while putting away a 40 pound weight, I accidentally got my finger stuck between that weight and one on the rack. OUCH !! Another time, I accidentally hit my toe while transitioning between exercises.

    So, I am mindful of my form. I don't use momentum, I go slow... I'm just a tad accident prone ! LOL ! - 5/11/2011   10:46:21 AM
  • LMCBUDDY
    3
    This blog actually makes me giggle. I was one of those women who was intimidated by those "big guys" in the weight room. I didn't go near there until I started working with a trainer, and now I'm a regular. To all those people who have felt the same way, just take a minute to actually watch those "big guys" in the gym, the VAST MAJORITY of them are lifting completely out of form. Sometimes I just want to go over to some of them and wack them in the head and show them how to do it right! I'm so surprised there are not more injuries.

    Remember everyone, form and control is #1 - don't worry about the reps if your form starts to go bad. That means it's time to stop! - 5/11/2011   10:08:42 AM
  • VALLEYGIRL18002
    2
    All excellent points. I view weight training as a necessary evil, hence, I try to rush through it. Besides the injury risk, I realize it's better to perfect the form first to get my desired results. - 5/11/2011   10:07:50 AM
  • 1
    When I was younger, I lifted weights under the "no pain, no gain" wisdom of weight training. I did grow stronger, but at a slow pace since I had several prolonged recovery periods due to many weight lifting injuries. Now that I am in my 50s, I lift with more common sense, and use all of the hints from this article. It works SparkFriends! - 5/11/2011   9:54:31 AM

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