Lifting Weights the Right Way

Weight lifting isn’t just for body builders.  Everyone needs to lift weights.  

You need to lift weights.

Muscles that aren’t used will atrophy.  This process begins in your 20’s (yikes).  If neglected, your muscles will continue to shrink and you’ll become like ~ 30% of the population who’s over 70… unable to move a 10-lb bag of trash to the curb.

A word of caution before you start out (and by the way, it’s never too late to start).  Beware of what you’ll see at the gym – bad form and technique is everywhere.  People are swinging and swaying, moaning and grunting, and bending in all the wrong places.  Using bad form, the wrong breathing and lifting weights too heavy could leave you one bicep curl from a back injury and out of commission for a long time.

Follow these tips and consult with a fitness trainer on form and technique to achieve maximum benefit and reduce likelihood of injury.

  • Warm up first.  Start your workout with a minimum of a 5-minute warm up consisting of light cardiovascular exercise.  The warm up gets the blood flowing to the muscles and elevates the heart rate gradually, preparing for more strenuous movements.  Good warm up moves:  arm circles, leg lifts, high marches, jogging in place and jumping jacks.
  • Get your form right.  Focus on the muscles you’re working and make sure you’re challenging that particular muscle.  Keep your head, neck and spine aligned during squatting and lifting.  Mirrors can be especially helpful.  Strength training isn’t a beauty contest so get beyond that and use the mirrors to monitor your form.
  • Use full range of motion.  Exercising muscles in a limited range of motion is nearly useless.  You need full range of motion to be effective.  If your weight is too heavy to perform a complete full range of motion rep, lower the weight and try again.  The same goes for body weight exercises such as push-ups and squats.  A fitness trainer can show you safe modifications for any exercise which will allow you to work a full range of motion.
  • Breathe properly.  Forgetting to breathe sounds silly, I know.  But it’s commonly done (and shouldn’t be) during strength training moves.  Holding your breath when lifting weights can be very dangerous and cause a spike in blood pressure.  Always “exhale on the exertion” and inhale on the release.  In a shoulder press the exertion is the lift.  In a squat the exertion is the return to standing.  In a crunch the exertion is the curl.  Timing your breath with your movement allows for better range of motion as well.
  • Work to the next level.  Muscles only get stronger when the demand on them is increased.  You can increase the load on your muscles by increasing reps or lifting heavier weight.  Always adjust in small increments, never make large leaps in weight or number of reps.  If you’re stuck in a rut, a fitness trainer can offer suggestions for some new exercises to add a challenge and freshen up your workouts.
  • Know your limits.  The phrase “no pain no gain” is just wrong.  No exercise should ever cause pain.  If it does, you’re doing it wrong or you have an injury.  In either case, stop immediately.  However, just be sure you’re not confusing pain with discomfort.  Improving your strength and fitness level is a continuous process of working outside your comfort zone.  It does feel strange at first, pushing the boundaries of what’s comfortable, but if you stick with it you’ll soon crave that “uncomfortable” feeling during all your workouts.  Muscle soreness is common after a new workout.  But if pain lasts more than 1-2 days, you should consider seeing a physician before continuing.

photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

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