Strong muscles are important for healthy bodies. One way to keep muscles in shape is with strength training. But performing muscle-strengthening exercises the wrong way can do more harm than good. Here are some safe strength training tips to help you avoid injury and keep your program on track.
- Always warm up and cool down properly. Cold muscles are prone to injury. How you do this can vary depending on your program, but a good general rule is to do 3-5 minutes of gentle cardio (ie. walking) and then move your body through every range of movement you are about to perform while holding a weight. For example, if you are doing a weighted squat, do some body weight squats before going through your full range of motion.
- Use proper form to avoid injuries and maximize gains. When lifting weights, move through the full range of motion in your joints. The better your form, the better your results, and the less likely you are to hurt yourself. If you’re unable to maintain good form, decrease the weight or the number of repetitions. Remember that proper form matters even when you pick up and replace your weights on the weight racks. If you’re not sure whether you’re doing a particular exercise correctly, ask a personal trainer or other fitness specialist for help.
- Lift an appropriate amount of weight. Don’t be so eager to see results that you risk injuring yourself by exercising too long or choosing too much weight. A good general rule is to start with a weight that you can lift comfortably 12-15 times and always stop when you are no longer able to maintain proper form.
- Don’t forget to breathe. As a general rule, you should exhale as you exert yourself (lifting or pushing); inhale as you slowly release the load or weight. But if that gets complicated, don’t over stress about it, just make sure you are not holding your breath. This action, called the Valsalva maneuver, can temporarily raise your blood pressure considerably and can be risky for people with cardiovascular disease.
- Slow down. Don’t rush your movements, there is things called Tempo in resistance training and it refers to how quickly or slowly you are lifting and lowering the weights. It is only with highly trained individuals that you would ever incorporate speed into your weight training. Most programs want you to take 2-3 seconds to lift the weight, a 1 second pause when you are at full range of motion and 2-4 seconds to lower the weight. Rest for 30 seconds up to two minutes between exercises.
- Honour the rest days. Avoid exercising the same muscles two days in a row. You might work all of your major muscle groups at a single session two or three times a week, or plan daily sessions for specific muscle groups. For example, work your arms and shoulders on Monday, your legs on Tuesday, back and biceps on Wednesday etc.
- Don’t work through pain. Strength training exercises should not cause pain while you are doing them. If an exercise or movement causes significant pain, stop doing it! When performing an exercise, stick with a range of motion that feels comfortable. Over time, try to gradually extend that range.
- Balance is essential. I am not only referring to balance training, which is essential when you pass the half century mark, I am also referring to balancing muscle groups. Never skip leg, back or glute day but also ensure all the major muscles in your body are worked at least once a week – including the abdomen, hips, front and back of the legs, chest and back, shoulders, biceps and triceps. Strengthen the opposing muscles in a balanced way, such as the fronts and backs of the arms, pushing and pulling muscles etc.
- Fuel your body. Ensure you are eating enough and in proper balance, to not only fuel your workout energy but to build your muscles after you are done. Often times, when people are starting an exercise program it is because they are trying to lose weight and are therefore also cutting calories at the same time they are ramping up on exercise. If your calories are too low, you may feel weak or dizzy and your workout becomes futile and you increase your risk of injury. And if you aren’t consuming enough protein you won’t be able to build your muscles up after.
For more on developing the best strength training program that is right for you, book an appointment with one of our Personal Training Specialists or Athletic Therapists today!