James Staring, Fit to Last
If you’ve decided to rekindle your relationship with exercise, an effective way to meet health goals is working out with weights. But you need to take care; do your best to avoid injury. Here are six strategies to defend against injury.
1. Always warm up
There are lots of ways to warm up, but our recommendation is to start from the top down. For example:
Start by rotating your neck 10 times in each direction
Make big circles with your arms straight, rotating 10 times forward and then 10 times backward
Complete 20 bodyweight squats, keeping your chest up and your back straight, with your heels on the floor
Once you’ve completed this series of dynamic movements, choose a piece of cardio equipment (i.e. a rowing machine, a bike or a treadmill). Hop on for 5 minutes, keeping your pace steady but not too challenging. If you don’t have access to equipment, then do 30 seconds of jumping jacks, followed by 30 seconds jogging on the spot and repeat this five times.
A good warm up will warm up your whole body with movements that use all your limbs, not just holding a pose in one position. It should also raise your heart rate to the point of feeling slightly breathless and make you feel a bit sweaty as your body temperature rises.
2. Choose suitable weights
When you lift weights, choose weights that suit the goal you want to achieve and then alter the number of sets and repetitions accordingly. A repetition (sometimes called rep) is a single execution of an exercise. So one lift of the weight is one repetition, and 10 lifts are 10 repetitions. A set is a collection of repetitions. So, if your goal is to complete 20 lifts, you might break your workout up into two sets of 10 reps or four sets of five.
The rules are as follows:
If you want to get stronger: lift heavier weights for low repetitions (i.e. 3 sets of up to 5 repetitions, with 45-60 seconds recovery between sets).
If you want to grow muscle: lift slightly lighter weights for more repetitions (i.e. 3-4 sets of 8-12 repetitions, with a maximum of 30 seconds rest between each set).
Do be aware that if you choose weights that are too heavy for your goal and try to ‘soldier’ through, your form will be compromised, and you’ll run the risk of injuring yourself.
A challenging weight is a weight where you can complete the exercise correctly for the prescribed number of repetitions, but you couldn’t manage many more reps.
3. Get the technique right
If you choose weights that are so heavy that you can’t complete that exercise correctly, your body will need to compensate by using other muscles and joints that aren’t meant to be used to complete that movement. Over time, this compensation will result in unnecessary wear-and tear on those muscles and joints, leading to injury.
The reason for insisting on correct form is because you perform exercises to target specific movement patterns. If you don’t lift correctly, you’ll use non-targeted muscle groups to lift the load, which also opens you up to an injury.
Please note that above I wrote “specific movement patterns”, not “specific muscles”. When we move it requires multiple muscles to accomplish the task not a specific muscle alone.
You’ll know when you’re doing an exercise correctly when you ‘feel it’ in specific muscle groups.
4. Don’t be shy about using mirrors
Mirrors enable you to see what you’re doing while you’re doing it. Without this option you run the risk of exercising incorrectly and injuring yourself.
The key thing to watch out for in the mirror is alignment. What I mean by this is making sure your limbs follow straight lines when you perform an exercise.
An example of this is pressing two dumbbells over your head. As you look in the mirror you want to make sure your arms are in line with your shoulders throughout the motion (i.e. there should be a straight line from your wrist through your elbow to your shoulder).
It is when your joints and limbs are misaligned under resistance that you risk injury. Uneven pressure on the joint leads to strain, which can lead to injury. So, by using the mirror and making sure your arms and legs are lined up (depending on the movement), you can feel confident that you’re exercising safely.
5. Drink lots of water
A big part of avoiding injury is to maintain your body between workouts. An effective way to do this is through consistent hydration.
We’re able to move and go about our daily activities because of joints. Joints are composed of bone, ligaments and cushioning tissue called cartilage. By keeping yourself regularly hydrated, you’ll keep your cartilage in good nick by keeping it soft and supple. By being kind to your cartilage through consistent hydration, you’re enabling exercise over the long term.
6. Pay attention to existing aches and pains
Before starting a new workout programme, be aware of your body’s current condition. Ignoring a small ache or pain could result in a small problem becoming a big one. So, for example, if your right knee hurts a little when you walk, see a physio or osteopath before you start lifting heavy weights.
Respect your body. By addressing any issues before you start, you’ll be in the best position to get the most out of your workouts.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
James Staring is the founder and lead fitness coach at Fit to Last Personal Trainers, which offers a high-end, all-inclusive fitness solution for those who’ve tried everything in the past; crash diets, exercise fads, regular gyms etc., all with little to no success or results. Fit to Last works in partnership with you to create a personalised programme of exercise, nutrition (no calorie counting or weighing) and small, simple lifestyle changes, to keep you on track to your goals, injury free and bursting with energy. See: www.fittolast.co.uk