A lot of people shy away from weight training because they fear they might injure themselves.
The truth is; ‘free weights’ and ‘weight machines’ are perfectly safe and should actually help reduce the risk of injury by strengthening weak-prone areas such as the lower back and shoulders.
Weight training also provides us with a whole host of health benefits.
It’s how these weights are used (or abused), that can cause torn tendons, broken toes and muscle strains.
There’s nothing more frustrating than picking up a muscle injury because of bad form, or not warming up.
These injuries can last a long time and can severely hamper your progress.
By following the tips and advice in this article you should be able to avoid any weight training related injury.
Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS)
Before we get going, let’s talk about muscle soreness.
Muscle soreness is not an injury.
When you lift weights, especially if you haven’t done so before, have changed your routine or have had a long layoff, the chances are you will feel sore or ‘tight’ the following day or two, after your workout.
It is not a stabbing pain that is associated with injury, and you will instinctively know the difference.
It is a perfectly normal sensation and a term known as ‘delayed onset muscle soreness’ (DOMS).
Although not a scientific fact, it is widely believed that DOMS is caused through microscopic muscle fibers tearing under the stress of lifting weights.
Although it may cause a slight discomfort, it is how the body repairs itself.
The body grows stronger and bigger muscle fibers to replace the torn ones, and is how we develop muscle mass and build hypertrophy.
I actually like the DOMS feeling (and many people do) as it indicates ‘progression’ in my training.
The more time you spend lifting weights though, the less you will experience DOMS.
7 Tips To Help Prevent Weight Training Injuries
Muscle soreness is one thing, a muscle injury has far more damaging consequences.
It can be even more problematic, and muscles can take longer to heal as we get older.
The type of workout you perform, the number of reps, sets, speed etc are all meaningless if we keep picking up avoidable injuries.
Here are 7 tips that will help keep you injury-free:
1. Warm Up Before Working Out
There’s not a lot you can do to prevent ‘DOMS’ when you first start weight training or when switching routines.
However, you can reduce the amount of discomfort you feel by properly warming your muscles up before you begin resistance training.
Although there is no exact science for how long you should spend warming up, aim for at least 5 to 10 minutes of aerobic exercise.
By warming up before lifting weights you will increase the circulation of blood, and raise the temperature of your muscles.
Warm muscles are more flexible and less prone to injury.
Your muscles also become nice and lubricated as your body pumps synovial fluid around the joints, turning you into a well oiled machine!
Training with warm and lubricated muscles goes a long way in preventing ripping or tearing injuries that could otherwise occur when muscles are cold and under intense pressure.
A good warm up should involve all the muscles in your body.
Use an aerobic machine that works your entire body, such as a cross-trainer or rowing machine.
Or you could simply jog and incorporate arm-swings and knee-raises etc. as you do so.
2. Do Not Stretch Cold Muscles
It is really not a good idea to stretch cold or even warm muscles – especially before a weight training session.
You risk tearing or pulling a muscle if you try to stretch it when it’s cold.
Stretching causes tiny micro-tears in your muscle fibers and can make you slightly weaker going into your workout.
Some light stretching at the end of your workout is recommended, but overall if strength and muscle size are your goals, don’t worry about incorporating stretching into a pre or post workout.
3. Perform Warm Up Sets
This is probably the most important type of warm up you need to perform to prevent possible muscle injury.
Before you start to lift heavy weights, always perform 2 sets of lighter weights for the same exercise.
For example, if your goal is to barbell bench press 60kgs for 10 reps, you should start by lifting approx 8 reps at 50% of that weight followed by 8 reps of 70%.
By lifting 50 and 70% of the final weight, you will be flooding the intended muscles with more blood, nutrients and oxygen, preparing them for the exertion to come.
Note: Never go to failure on a warm up set.
As well as warming up the intended muscles for maximum exertion, warm up sets also stimulates your central nervous system.
This ‘connection’ between your mind and your muscles, forces more muscle fibers to be employed, enabling you to lift heavier and for longer.
4. Use Proper Form
I used to suffer from a bad rotator cuff injury (shoulder) which happened because I used to over-extend the range of motion when performing the barbell bench press.
I learnt the (hard way) that I should only bring the bar down to where my arms were at a 45 degree angle, rather than bringing it all the way down to my chest.
By doing so, I stopped compounding the injury, and the muscle eventually repaired itself.
For every resistance exercise you perform, you should take the time to look at how the exercise should be executed correctly.
Correct form is essential for rapid and ‘even’ muscle growth.
How many times do you see guys in the gym lifting heavy weights using poor form?
We’ve probably all done it at some point.
But if we continue to do it, it’s only a matter of time before we pull or tear a muscle.
If you can’t lift a weight without 100% correct form, then don’t even try!
Contorting your body into ridiculous angles in order to complete the last 1 or 2 reps is just asking for trouble.
Yet people still do, and wonder why they keep getting injured!
Start off right and learn from expert demonstrations of individual exercises to help you develop good techniques and form, right from the start.
Here are some tips to help keep good form:
- Slow down. By slowing down the movement you can concentrate more on your technique.
- Never bounce or jerk a weight around. Keep it smooth and in control at all times.
- Don’t alter your torso area (including your back) in order to complete a final rep or two. Doing so will put it into a weaker and more injury prone position.
- Ask for advice from a staff member if you are unsure of how to perform an exercise correctly.
- Master the exercises. Perform each exercise with no weight and just concentrate on good form.
- Only add weight when your form is perfect.
5. Resting Your Muscles and Avoid Over-training
When you lift heavy weights you tear muscle fibers, which need time to repair and rebuild.
It is widely recognized that for maximum growth, 48 hours is the ideal rest period before exercising the same muscles again.
There’s no reason why you can’t lift weights on consecutive days as long as you don’t exercise the same muscles.
For example, you could train your upper body on Monday and lower body on Tuesday, and then return to your upper body on Wednesday, and so on.
This gives sufficient time for each muscle to rest and repair.
If you don’t allow sufficient rest for your muscles you will actually become weaker rather than stronger.
Over-training can be just as bad as not training enough.
You can experience significant muscle growth by weight training just 3 days a week (as long as you eat right).
Certainly don’t train more than 5 days a week, as you will soon start to feel tired, lack motivation and could result in greater injury risk.
There’s a lot of talk about breathing techniques when lifting weights.
Depending on what you read, you might very well get conflicting advice.
My take on it, and after a lot of research and experimenting, unless you are a professional power-lifter, don’t worry about when and how you should breathe – just breathe!
Your muscles need oxygen for peak performance and as long as you breathe regularly (and don’t hold your breath) when performing an exercise, you should be fine.
Holding your breath can lead to a significant rise in your blood pressure (which is already temporarily elevated when lifting weights).
The problem occurs when you finish the lift and your blood begins to flow again.
This sudden flow of blood can cause a significant drop in your blood pressure and may cause you to pass out.
This can be even more dangerous if you have a heart condition.
Whether you breathe on the lowering or extending part of the movement should be whatever feels natural to you.
Just keep your breathing relaxed.
7. Cooling Down
Let’s face it, nobody particularly likes cooling down after a weight training session. You just want to hit the shower or go home.
The reason cooling down is a necessary part of the training session is again, to help prevent injury.
A short aerobic session of approx 5 minutes will help slowly bring your body and muscle temperature back to a normal range.
It also gives your pulse and blood pressure a chance to stabilize before you hit the showers.
An effective cool down can help reduce the intensity of DOMS and prevent any post-workout stiffness.
Picking up muscle injuries is arguably the biggest reason we have for not achieving our fitness goals.
As we get older, nearly all of us will carry some form of muscle injury that prevents us from performing some sort of physical activity or a particular resistance exercise.
It can be very frustrating, and can stop us doing the things we want to do.
Every single time you pick up a weight or engage in any sort of resistance movement, (be it in the gym or any day-to-day task) think about the impact it could have.
You owe it to yourself to look after your body.
Don’t suffer from needless injuries.