How To Avoid Weightlifting Injuries

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Lifting weights can be a key component of any strength training program. Weightlifting helps you build muscle, and muscle burns more calories than fat, even at rest. Whether you grip 5-pound dumbbells while doing squats or bench press 100 pounds, it's important to protect your muscles from injury.

"For traditional strength training — not Olympic weightlifting, or powerlifting — the risk of injury is quite low," says Derek Chan, a physical therapist at Henry Ford Health System. "In fact, the most common injury among weightlifters is accidentally dropping a weight on your foot." But sprains and strains are also commonplace, and they're almost entirely preventable.

Weightlifting Basics

Strength training is easy on the joints as long as you're using good technique and not taking on too much weight. It’s also economical — you can use your own body for resistance, so you don’t have to invest in expensive gym equipment. But as with any exercise, it's important to set the stage for success.

  1. Stick to a schedule: Experts agree that strength training should play a role in any exercise program. How much you weight you lift, and how often, depends largely on your personal fitness goals. "If you just want to maintain overall health and fitness, resistance training two or three times each week should be sufficient," says Chan. "If, on the other hand, you want to take your fitness routine to the next level, you might consider lifting weights four to six times each week." No matter how often you lift, being consistent can breed success and stave off injury.
  2. Warm up: Make sure to warm up your muscles before you do any weightlifting. "It doesn't have to be long," says Chan. "Even just 10 minutes on an elliptical or bicycle will help warm up your muscles so they're prepared for the activity."
  3. Watch your form: Whether you're doing push ups, lifting weights or performing lunges, using proper form helps ensure you get results — and reduces your risk of injury.
  4. Start slow: If you're new to weightlifting, use a small amount of weight to start. Then gradually increase your load over time. "If your goal is to get stronger, you know you are using enough weight if you feel a little fatigued after doing about ten to twelve repetitions of the exercise," Chan says. With every additional pound of weight, make sure you're stabilizing your core and using your muscles to control the movement.
  5. Work a variety of muscle groups: Resist the urge to work the same muscle groups during back-to-back workouts. Focus instead on variety and balance from front muscles and big muscles to small muscles and back muscles.
  6. Get help: There's a lot of misinformation and even harmful exercise suggestions on the Internet. If you're a novice, invest in a training session with a professional. Nearly every gym has personal trainers on staff. They can help ensure you're performing exercises that will help you achieve your goals and using the right form.
  7. Stretch it out: At the end of your session, gently stretch out your body. "You can also use a foam roller as a different way to stretch and release muscle tightness," Chan says.
  8. Be mindful of pre-existing problems: Have an old shoulder or back injury? Consider talking to a healthcare professional or certified personal trainer before exercising that area to find out which exercises to try and more importantly, which to avoid.

What To Do After A Weightlifting Injury

Even with the best practices, injuries happen. Maybe you lifted too much weight too quickly. Or maybe you created a sprain from too much tension. The important thing is to take a step back, recover and then reassess. A reasonable timeline:

  • First 48 hours: Soothe aching muscles with R.I.C.E. (rest, ice, compression, elevation).
  • After 48 hours: Gradually get back to your usual activities by starting small and slowly building up. Pay close attention to injured areas and when you feel pain, back off.
  • After 72 hours: Consider a light massage. You can use a foam roller or visit a massage therapist to help increase blood flow to the area.

Most important, listen to your body. If you're hurting during activity, back off. Then come up with ways to modify your workout so you're not over-stressing recovering muscles. Shoulder aching? Avoid overhead lifts. Feeling pain in your knees? Steer clear of squats for a few days. Still suffering after two weeks? See a sports medicine physician or a primary care doctor who specializes in sports-related injuries for an evaluation.


From injury prevention to treatment of sports-related conditions, visit henryford.com/sports or call (313) 972-4216 for an appointment within 24 business hours.

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Derek Chan is a physical therapist and rehab outpatient educator. He sees patients at the Henry Ford Center for Athletic Medicine in Detroit.

Categories: MoveWell

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