A Safety Checkup for Your Strength-Training Routine
Strength training is great for health, but only if you do it safely and properly. Here's how to stay safe and injury-free when you strength train.
A Surge in Strength-Training Injuries
Injuries related to weight-training are on the rise, according to a study published in the July 2000 issue of Physician and Sportsmedicine. The study found a 35% increase in weight-training injuries reported to emergency rooms between 1978 and 1998.
Significant increases occurred in people older than 45, young adults between 15 and 24, and home exercisers. Men accounted for 80% of the injuries.
Soft tissue injuries, such as contusions, abrasions, strains, and sprains were the most common injuries reported in the study. Causes included unsafe behavior, equipment malfunction, lack of supervision, and inattention.
A Safe Activity Overall
This doesn't mean strength training is unsafe.
"Strength training is one of the safest activities, as long as it's performed with safety in mind," says Ches Jones, PhD, associate professor of health science at the University of Arkansas and the study's lead researcher.
Safeguarding Your Workout
You don't have to be a newcomer to fitness to be concerned about safety. No matter what your fitness level, you should give your strength-training program a safety check-up.
The best strategy is to hire a qualified, certified personal trainer. Although regular sessions with a trainer can be costly, you can still benefit from one or two sessions, says Michael Wood, CSCS, director of the Sports Performance Group in Boston, Massachusetts.
If you're new to strength training, ask to be introduced to exercises and equipment. If you're a veteran, have your form checked. Also, if you exercise at home, ask the trainer to evaluate your equipment.
Experts also recommend following these guidelines:
Wear protective gear for your hands and feet
Always wear gym shoes and never strength train in bare feet. Wear gloves to prevent your hands from becoming rough and callused and to improve your grip.
Before beginning a strength session, walk on a treadmill or ride a stationary bike for five to seven minutes to increase blood flow to your muscles.
Start slowly; progress wisely
Start with light weights that you can lift comfortably for eight to 15 repetitions. Increase the weight no more than 3-5% at a time, Wood says. This goes for experienced exercisers, too, who have spent two to three weeks away from strength training. Get back into your routine slowly.
Think two counts up and four counts down, advises Gregory Florez, founder and CEO of First Fitness Inc.
Understand each exercise
Know which muscles should be working and which muscles should be stabilizing your body. Also, identify the correct range of motion for each exercise, Wood says. In a lunge, for example, know whether you should take a small step or a giant step.
Use good posture
With bad posture, you could activate and injure a muscle group that's not supposed to be working. Florez advises using the "athletic ready stance" with your head and shoulders up, knees bent, and shoulders and hips in line. If you can't maintain correct posture, you're either lifting a weight that's too heavy or doing the exercise incorrectly. Check your posture by lifting in front of a mirror.
Take a full breath with every repetition. And don't ever hold your breath.
Recognize bad pain
It's okay if you experience light soreness in your muscles 24 to 48 hours after your training, Florez says. But deep soreness, especially in the joints, indicates that you've overdone it.
Work front-to-back and side-to-side
Every muscle has an opposing muscle, such as quadriceps and hamstrings or abdominals and lower back. If you train one muscle, train the opposing muscle to avoid creating imbalances in your body that can lead to injury.
Position yourself properly when using machines
Know where you should adjust your seat and align your joints. Beware of home equipment that is more than five years old, Florez warns. It may not have safety features like adjustability and lumbar support.
With free weights, use a spotter and proceed cautiously
"Because you don't have a pre-selected range of motion, there's greater risk of dropping a weight or over-stretching a joint," Florez explains.
Be wise with rubber tubing and bands
Make sure they have no cuts or tears, keep them out of extreme heat or cold, and secure them well.
Stretch after your workout
When muscles are contracted, they shorten. "Stretching lengthens muscles and allows them to release tension," Wood says. Hold each stretch 30 to 60 seconds.
Allow 48 hours of rest between strength sessions
Your muscles need the time to rebuild and repair themselves. That goes for abdominals muscles, too. "Your abs are a muscle and should be given adequate recovery time," Florez says.
American College of Sports Medicine
American Council on Exercise
National Strength and Conditioning Association
Canadian Society of Exercise Physiology
American College of Sports Medicine. Available at: http://www.acsm.org.
Last reviewed February 2008 by John C. Keel, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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