If you are someone who regularly lifts heavy weights and has no plans of stopping, you will almost inevitably suffer an injury at some point. This may take the form of a sprain, strain, tendonitis or even a broken bone. Injuries may be traumatic (something which occurs instantly, such as slipping a disc during a deadlift or dropping a heavy dumbbell on your foot) or cumulative (something which occurs over time in response to repetitive strain).
While I have had various lifting-induced aches and niggles over the past few years, I’ve only had two serious injuries: a shoulder overuse injury which occurred when I first started log pressing and which caused me pain for an entire year, and an upper glute/lower back injury which took me completely out of action for two months last year. In hindsight, both of these injuries could have been avoided.
While neither were serious enough to cause me to seek immediate medical intervention, I did receive physio treatment for both. I’m extremely lazy with regards to going to the doctor, so having access to a service such as Doctor to You would make me more inclined to seek help if I ever injured myself in the future (but touch wood that wouldn’t happen!).
Many beginner lifters are afraid of hurting themselves, but injuries are something you can avoid quite easily – especially if you are not competing or regularly attempting maximal effort lifts. The following five tips will help to keep you healthy and injury-free!
- Perfect your lifting technique
Most weight lifting injuries occur when one uses incorrect technique. I taught myself to lift with proper form by watching loads of videos (and having a partner who lifted also helped!). However, if you are scared to do things on your own, hire a trainer or ask someone knowledgeable to take a look at your form. Do not sacrifice your form (i.e. by twisting or contorting your body) to lift heavier weights, unless you are on the competition platform.As crazy as it may sound, you should also learn to fail a rep safely. One of the first things I ask my clients to do when they start working with higher percentages is to practice bailing out of their squats and bench presses. Once you learn how to do this safely, you are less inclined to force your way through an ugly rep.
Make sure you always warm up properly, and use the same perfect technique in every single set. Use the same sense of purpose and concentration even when you are using the empty bar as you would with a one rep max. You will dramatically reduce your risk of injury if you warm up your muscles adequately and gradually progress the weights with a number of warm up sets. Walking into the gym and attempting to rip 90 per cent of your max off the floor cold is a recipe for disaster!
- Do not overtrain
Injuries commonly occur when someone ramps up their training too quickly, either in terms of intensity or frequency. If you have not exercised in years and suddenly thrust yourself into a six day per week lifting program, you will set yourself up for an overuse injury and risk setting yourself back to where you first started.Make sure you do not train the same muscle groups or do something high impact such as sprints two days in a row, in order to avoid developing a repetitive strain injury. Not only does overtraining interfere with your muscles’ ability to recover, but it also limits your nervous system’s ability to recuperate.
Again, this is where having a personal trainer can be useful, as they will provide expert advice about the right types of workouts you should be doing as well as proper rates of progression.
Overuse injuries become more common as people get older, as they tend to assume that they are capable of performing the same exercises they could when they were younger. It is important to recognise the effect which ageing has on the body and modify your routine accordingly.
- Avoid overreaching
Again, when you are first getting started, it is easy to get carried away and try exercises which may be too advanced for you. Some exercises, such as the Crossfit favourites of snatches and box jumps, should be saved until you have achieved a higher level of fitness.Similarly, do not try to lift heavier than what your body can handle. If you overestimate your strength, you may find yourself relying on your auxiliary muscles to do the work, which can lead to injury. Ease into heavy weights slowly, by incrementally increasing your weights (as a general rule, add no more than 10 per cent each week).
- Know your body
Do not blindly follow a program without adapting it to suit your needs. If you have always had bad knees, for example, do not begin an aggressive lifting program that hits legs three days a week via three different variations of squats as well as leg presses, leg extensions, box jumps and sprints.Women are also more prone to injury when they have their period, as the hormones released at that time of the month increase the laxity of the joints.
Finally, if you are in a weakened state due to illness, dehydration or a severe calorie deficit, scale back the weights somewhat.
- Stay flexible
Weight lifting causes your muscles to contract. If you are not regularly stretching to counteract this, you will be left with tight muscles which will be more susceptible to injury. Stretching will help break down these adhesions and will allow your muscles to properly lengthen and contract. As little as one 20 minute stretching session per week has been shown to make a difference. Stretching at the end of your workout will also reduce your level of soreness the next day.In a similar vein, make sure you pay attention to the smaller, often-neglected muscle groups such as your rotator cuffs, biceps, triceps and hamstrings to prevent injury.
While some lifting-related discomfort is normal, you should stop lifting immediately if you feel any sharp, shooting pain, numbness or tingling.
Have you ever suffered an injury due to lifting?
Full disclosure: This post was sponsored by Doctor to You but, as always, all opinions are my own.