Injuries and Safety
Safety in strength training
Safety in strength training is paramount if you are to enjoy a good workout, benefit the most from your lifts, keep healthy and avoid injury. Read on to explore the areas you should pay attention to to ensure proper safety in strength training and greatly reduce your risk of injury.
Whatever your reasons for strength training, it is crucial to perform your lifts with the right form and technique or else risk injury.
You can reduce the risk of strains, bruises and muscle tears by using proper form and good technique for each lift.
Always perform any lift in a slow and controlled motion, never rushing.
Slow and controlled lifting is not only an important part of safety in strength training, lifting and lowering weights slowly actually works your muscles better and you benefit more from the exercise.
The warm up
Firstly, it is important to warm up properly. When you warm up, your muscles become looser, ready for action. You lose any stiffness from your resting limbs and you are less likely to suffer any pain or soreness after the exercise.
The warm up should involve both a pulse raising activity and a mobility exercise. Read our warm up guide for more information on how to do a proper warm up.
It is crucial to do your preparation stretches after your warm up.
Do not try stretching before your warm up, as not only will this not be very effective because your muscles will not be warm enough to be receptive to the stretch, you could also pull a muscle or create soreness.
Try to stretch all the main muscle groups in your pre-exercise stretching routine. Pay particular attention to muscles you will be specifically targeting in your strength workout.
For example, always stretch your thighs, front, back and side (quads and hamstrings), buttocks (glutes), achilles tendons (soleus) and calves (gastrocnemius) for workouts which involve your legs. This includes both the squat and the the deadlift.
Proper stretching greatly reduces the risk of injury during your workout.
The back is especially vulnerable when weight lifting. This is why many serious weight lifters use back supports.
However, the supports aren’t strictly necessary for regular lifting. They can even be a bad idea as they get your back used to using an artificial aid to help it rather than letting it become stronger on its own.
For good safety in strength training, instead of always using belts for support, it is a good idea to use a slow and controlled motion and keep abdominals braced to help support the back naturally and avoid injury.
Basic core strengthening exercises are excellent for strengthening abdominals and lower back to support your training and reduce the risk of injury. Good core exercises include sit ups, the plank, and the dorsal raise.
When weightlifting, it is always advisable to keep a neutral spine, creating a naturally straight back. Maintain muscle tension in your abs throughout the lift to support your back and never slouch or hunch up.
Be careful with your lower back when bending down and standing up from a bend. This is particularly important for performing a safe deadlift.
The knees are also vulnerable to injury when weight lifting. When performing lifts, it is advisable never to bend the knees much lower than 90 degrees to the ground.
It is also important to keep the knees behind the toes when bending and to push hard through the heels when raising up, not the front of the foot. This is all good advice to keep in mind for maintaining safety in strength training and for the squat in particular.
Keeping a relatively wide stance and having your feet slightly turned out while performing a lift can also help to support the knees.
Certainly do not point the feet inward or try a very narrow stance when lifting as this puts undue pressure on the knees and can cause injury.
Diet and sleep
Of course, if you are not feeling at your best when working out, this will impact on your performance and could even lead to injury.
Make sure you are well rested before attempting a strength training session so that you can use your full energy and concentration.
It is also important to eat well for training so that your body has all the nutrients it needs to perform to its best ability.
If you feel weaker than normal due to poor sleeping or eating habits, you may not be able to lift as much as your potential.
If you try to make full use of your usual strength, you could also cause an injury to yourself from not realising your new limitations.
Know Your Machines
When working out using the machines at a gym, it is important that you know how to use weight machines safely and effectively.
Check out the information pages on this website for each gym exercise and always study the pictures and information on the exercise equipment itself when you are at the gym. If you have any doubts, ask the gym staff.
During your gym induction you should be shown how to use the most important and popular machines safely, but make sure you always find out how to use a new piece of equipment before you start loading your weights onto it.
Knowing your machines is one of the most important aspects of safety in strength training.
Spotting is a vital for safety during many weight lifting exercises. A spotter is an extra person who helps the lifter maintain safety during the exercise.
You should always use a spotter if you are performing a weight lifting exercise that requires a weight to be passed over your head.
It is also a good idea to use a spotter for any heavy lift. You never know when you may run into difficulties and need help returning the weight to the stack.