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8 Tips to Strength Train Safely and Effectively

What is the best way to strength train safely?

What is The Best Way to Strength Train Safely?

What is strength training? The official definition of strength training is “A method of improving muscular strength by gradually increasing the ability to resist force through the use of free weights, machines, or the person’s own body weight. Strength training sessions are designed to impose increasingly greater resistance, which in turn stimulates the development of muscle strength to meet the added demand.” What is the best way to strength train safely?

As an exercise fanatic, I have known and seen many people come and go in the gym. I have always avidly read articles about how to strength train safely. I saw things in the gym that always left me wondering, if what other people were doing in the gym, would be considered safe.

After becoming a personal trainer and throughout my career, I have learned many things that will keep you safe when you are in the gym working out.

How to Strength Train Safely

First of all, there is a preconceived notion of strength training that needs to be shut down.  Strength training isn’t just for athletes and bodybuilders. Strength training needs to be done by everyone, at their level of capability. Strength training or weight training can include body resistance, free weights, weight training machines, tubes or other exercise equipment. Strength training is a part of any whole exercise program, which should also include aerobic and flexibility training.

Weight training needs to be done safely and done with correct form. It is safe for most people, but proper safety measures need to be taken. First and foremost, if you have any health concerns or conditions, then see your family doctor to get medical clearance to strength train safely. Starting out on your own can be overwhelming, if you don’t know how to build a safe, effective program. Hire an elite personal trainer to guide you on how to start a balanced program and strength train safely .

Here are eight great tips, from elite personal training experts, to consider before you go to the gym to start a safe strength program.

1.) Get a proper assessment and testing done! Know where you are so you know how to get where you want to go safely. Elite personal trainers will do cardiovascular, strength and flexibility testing before developing a program. Your initial program should be based on what you are capable of doing now, not where you want to be eventually.

2.) Focus on form, not on how much weight you can lift. Good form means being able to complete all of the prescribed reps with precise alignment and smooth movement.  Jerking, swinging, using momentum, going beyond the safe range of motion or using ballistic movement, will all lead to injury. Consider using slow, controlled, smooth, pain-free movement throughout each repetition from the start to the end of the set. Only add more weight once you have the form correctly mastered.

3.) Just BREATHE! Many people are confused about how to breathe correctly during a workout set.  First, make sure you aren’t holding your breath. Holding your breath during weight lifting is known as the Valsalva Maneuver which causes an increase in your blood pressure and can be dangerous. Holding your breath during weight training can cause a quick and sudden increase in blood pressure. The intra-abdominal pressure drastically increases the risk of hernias. The rapid increase in pressure creates life-threatening conditions for people with hypertension or hypotension. Other injuries can be caused by compromised areas of the vascular system and loss of consciousness.  The most common side effect of holding your breath during a weight training set is dizziness once afterwards.  Some people who are susceptible may faint.  It is not the fainting that is dangerous, but the things they hit on the way down.

Just remember to keep a natural and regular breathing pattern, should you be confused as to what to do. I always tell my clients to remember EX – EX! Which means EXhale when you EXert yourself!

4.) The speed of repetitions are essential to keeping your joints safe! Keeping control of where the weight is in time and space is imperative to strength training safely. Controlled tempo also helps to increase gains. Using different speeds and isometric holds can be a substantial boost in power and strength.

5.) Use the correct weight based on your current level of strength and experience. Safety, of course, comes first, so you don’t injure yourself! Don’t lift heavier than your joints are capable of maintaining safe form. Choose a weight that challenges you, which means that by the last two to three repetitions you can continue good form, but they should feel difficult to finish. You will plateau if you aren’t challenging yourself! Once you can do the prescribed amount of repetitions easily, then add a safe amount of weight. You want to add about 5%-10% of the amount you were doing previously to progress your program without injuring your joints. You could also add extra repetitions or sets depending on where you are at in your plan. Hire a personal trainer if you are unsure of how to progress yourself safely.

6.) Take time to rest. Rest is just as important as working out! Strenuous exercise causes microscopic muscle tears which cause the muscles to grow stronger as they repair. Depending on the type of training you do will determine the amount of rest  your body needs to repair itself. Endurance training ( 2-3 sets of 12 -15 reps) requires  48 hours of rest between each workout, Muscular Hypertrophy ( 3- 4 sets of 8 – 12 reps) requires 48 – 72 hours and Muscular Strength training ( 4-6 sets of 3-6 reps) requires 72 to 96 hours of rest. Athletes who do Hypertrophy or Strength routines also do split routines so that they can train 4-6 days per week while Muscular Endurance training is done 3- 4 times a week. Plan to strength train, two to three times per week for about 20 minutes to start. Allow a minimum of 48 hours between sessions for muscle recovery.

7.) Work out regularly. You should do some form of exercise daily, which means on the days you are resting from higher intensity workouts, you could be doing yoga or lower intensity, continuous cardiovascular exercise.

8.) Warm up before starting your strength training workout. Examples of a proper warm up include walking in place or riding a stationary bike for 5-10 minutes. Warm ups are important because they boost circulation and prepare muscles and joints for activity. The warm up should also include an active range of motion activity to increase flexibility. Each stretch could be 5-10 repetitions for 10 – 15 seconds. Don’t overstretch or do ballistic movements during the stretches, to avoid straining your muscles and joints.

The biggest thing to remember is it doesn’t matter how young or how old you are right now, you should be moving every day. Hire a certified personal trainer to develop a balanced program or take a personal training course to learn how to train safely.

Good Luck and Happy Training!

Cathie Glennon – BCRPA/SFL