Luke Briggs, CSCS, PN-1, Coach at FIT
You hear horror stories all the time about people hurting their backs deadlifting or injuring their knees squatting.
The fact is lifting weights can be extremely dangerous – if you don’t know what you’re doing.
A well-executed strength training program is not only safe, but will prepare you to tackle all of life’s challenges.
Here are three keys to making strength training workouts safe and effective:
1. Form, form, form
If you’re working the correct muscles through a proper range of motion, you’re going to create a stress in which your body can adapt to positively.
If you’re flailing around like a fish out of water, you may find strength training less beneficial.
Use good technique with an appropriate amount of weight. Then, once you’re confident with your form, add weight progressively.
Use compound movements like squats and deadlifts that carry over to real-life performance.
You’re always going to need to have the strength to hinge your hips back to pick something up off the floor.
You’re always going to need to have a strong core and back to prevent low-back pain.
Many exercises you’ve heard are “bad” for you might actually be “good” for you if you execute them properly.
If you’re unsure about your form, consult a qualified strength professional.
So, put your ego aside – your health depends on it!
2. Progress the program appropriately
In general, it’s not always particular exercises that are dangerous, but the execution and dosage that don’t equate to optimal health.
You need to make sure you give yourself the right exercises in the right amounts at the right time.
For example, back squats might be a fine exercise for you, but if you do way too many sets and reps for your body and your needs, you might wind up injured.
If you’re not currently strength training and start doing way too many sets and reps of a certain exercise, even if it’s with perfect form, you could wind up getting hurt because you gave your body more than it could handle.
Always error on the side of caution, and don’t try to do too much too soon. If you’re just starting a program, start by doing 2-3 sets of 5-8 reps of an exercise 1-3 times per week. Don’t do more than 3-6 exercises per workout, and start with 1-3 workouts per week.
For these reasons, it’s important to not just blindly follow a strength program because it might not be right for you at this time.
Find the minimum effective dose. You can always add more volume to your training.
3. Have a long-term vision
You don’t need to feel “crushed” after a workout for it to be a success.
To do well with a strength training program, you need to have a plan.
Don’t think one bad workout is the end of the world. If you periodize your programming properly, you’re going to have certain workouts that feel really easy and others that feel really hard.
It’s a process, and it’s all about getting better over time.
You need to determine the best program for your goals and your lifestyle. Are you trying to become a powerlifter, or are you just trying to stay healthy so you can play with your kids and/or do the activities you love?
Consider how far you want to push yourself.
If you’re trying to be the strongest lifter in the world, you may need to push yourself to the brink of failure quite often, but if you simply want to look and feel good, you should always leave at least one or two reps in the tank at the end of a set.
You also need to factor in outside stressors. If you have a lot going on at work, have lots of familial and social obligations, and like to do a good amount of outdoor activities, you need to limit your volume in the weight room.
Your body can handle only so much stress, and if you do too much, you may wind up injured.
Get a plan, and stick to it!