Weight Training: Safety Measures

Weight Training: Safety Measures

There are a number of reasons to participate in weight training (also called resistance or strength training).  It may be:

  • Part of your overall fitness program or exercise routine. 

  • A way to optimize your health or help prevent or manage certain conditions (for example, high blood pressure, unhealthy blood fat (lipid) levels, or extra body weight.

  • To build strength or maintain muscle mass

  • Part of therapeutic exercises for a musculoskeletal problem, like low back pain

  • To improve performance or prevent injuries related to a particular sport or recreational activity

Regardless of the purpose, you don’t want to harm yourself - you want to be as safe as possible. 

What Is Weight Training?

Weight training is actually a type of resistance training - an exercise or activity in which muscles progressively work harder against some form of resistance to increase strength.

To accomplish this, you can use free weights (dumbbells, barbells), kettlebells, medicine balls (exercise balls), cuff weights (hand or ankle), or weight training machines. You can even use other items like cans of food or bottles of water as weights.

Safe Weight Training

There are many dos and don’ts to help you avoid injuries and other problems. The following information will help you stay safe while training with weights.

1. Get Checked

You should check with your doctor before starting any new exercise program, including weight training. You may also want an athletic trainer, fitness expert, or physical therapist (physiotherapist) to check your fitness level. They can also create a plan, help you get started, and monitor your progress.

2. Warm Up, Cool Down, And Stretch

You should warm up before any exercise routine. Warming up increases your body temperature (including your muscles), as well as your heart rate and blood flow.  Proper warm-up is a two-step process

  • A brief period of activity, like jogging, jumping jacks (star jump), or running in place

  • A series of range of motion exercises to loosen and stretch your joints, like arm and hip circles and high-stepping

Cooling down after you exercise helps your body recover. It is best accomplished with a few minutes of slow aerobic exercise. For example, slow walking - perhaps on a treadmill, or slow pedaling on a stationary bike.

After you cool down, briefly and slowly stretch each of your muscle groups*, to help relieve any tightness


Major Muscle Groups*
  • Upper body: front and back of arms, shoulders, chest, and upper back

  • Torso: abdominal muscles, sides of torso (obliques), and lower back

  • Legs: front and back of thighs, calf muscles, and buttocks


3. Stay Hydrated

For your body to function well, you should stay well-hydrated - with exercise you’ll need to increase your fluid intake. When you sweat, you lose body fluid, so you’ll need to replace it. 

You should drink water before, during, and after exercise.  Some people prefer sports drinks, which usually contain carbohydrates, potassium, sodium, etc., or other healthy beverages.


National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA): Optimal Hydration

In the U.S. the NATA explains hydration as follows: “Optimal hydration is dependent on many factors but can generally be defined during exercise as avoiding losses greater than 2–3% of body mass while also avoiding overhydration.”


How much should you drink? It depends on many factors. For example, your age and gender; how hard (intensity) and how long (duration) you exercise; the temperature of your environment, etc. This means there isn’t a recommendation that fits everyone.

A rule of thumb for hydration is:

  • Before exercise:  Drink 14 to 22 ounces (392-616 mL)

  • During exercise:  Drink 6 to 12 ounces (168-336 mL) every 15 to 20 minutes of exercise

  • After exercise*: Drink 16 to 24 ounces (448-672 mL) for every pound (0.5 kg) lost during exercise

* This requires a pre- and post-exercise weight

4. Use Proper Technique

Proper technique when weight training helps to prevent injuries and to get the most benefit

Weight training instructions should include details about starting positions, moving to other positions, number of repetitions (reps), sets (groups of reps), and any dos and don’ts.  

You will see this information included with each Goodpath Exercise Video.


Spotters

If you’re a beginner, it is unlikely that your weight training requires an assistant- i.e. - sometimes called a spotter. However, to prevent serious injury, using free weights over the head or on the chest or back often does.


5. Go Slowly

Make sure you begin with an amount of weight that is comfortable for you. Over time, you can slowly increase the amount, as well as the number of sets. 

Each of your movements should be slow and controlled. You are less likely to injure yourself, while gradually building strength.

6. Rest Between Weight Training Sessions

For those starting out, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) in the U.S. states that “each major muscle group (see description above) should be trained 2 to 3 days per week.” In other words, allow your muscles to rest for 2 days or more between sessions of weight training.

7. Remember To Breathe

Make sure you breathe through each exercise. Do not hold your breath at any time. 

“Exercise experts recommend that you inhale during relaxation and exhale during exertion.”

  • That means you inhale when your muscles lengthen or relax - i.e. when you slowly release a weight

  • That means you exhale when your muscles shorten or contract - i.e when you lift a  weight

As an example, with biceps curls, you should exhale as you slowly bend your elbows and curl your dumbbells up to your shoulders, then inhale as you slowly straighten your arms.

8. Watch Your Joints

To avoid injuring your joints, make sure they are well-aligned. For example, your forearms should be aligned with your hands, keeping your wrist from bending, with a biceps curl.

It’s also important to avoid locked positions. For example, when standing, keep your knees bent slightly.

9. Maintain A Healthy Posture

Proper posture and body alignment help prevent injuries, maintain stability, and support proper technique. 

Regardless of the type of weight training (e.g. weights, machine, etc.) or your body position (e.g. standing, sitting, or lying down), your head should be in a neutral position over your shoulders, your shoulders over your hips, and your back flat. Do not bend your head forward, round your shoulders, or arch your back.

When standing, your feet should be flat on the floor, about hip-width apart.

The U.S. National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) recommends the following “5-point body check" for stability and proper alignment:

  1. Is your neck neutral?  ✔ 

  2. Are your shoulders and upper back aligned [on the bench]?  ✔ 

  3. Are your buttocks centered [on the bench]?  ✔ 

  4. Is your right foot flat on the floor?  ✔ 

  5. Is your left foot flat on the floor?”  ✔ 

10. Follow Facility Rules

The rules in gyms and other workout facilities are there for your comfort and safety. Make sure you understand and follow them. Ask for help with exercise techniques and equipment.

11.  Stop If It Hurts

Discomfort and soreness are normal with weight training. Pain is not. If you feel pain, you should stop what you’re doing. 

12.  Be Careful

During weight training, some soreness and discomfort are to be expected. The same is true afterward. If you have pain, you may need to cut back on the amount of weight or the number of sets. 

Preventive strategies (see above) like warming up, cooling down, and stretching can make a difference. Make sure you also start and progress slowly - i.e start with a comfortable amount of weight and minimal sets and gradually add more of each. And, it’s important to rest between weight training days. 

There are several ways to help relieve the soreness. You can:

  • Keep moving and stretching

  • Try ice or heat (use cautiously to avoid injuring your skin)

  • Take over-the-counter pain relievers or use topical products (follow package instructions)

  • Use a foam roller, a round tube, on the area

13.   Call Your Doctor

The discomfort and soreness associated with weight training do not usually require medical care. However, if yours worsens or doesn’t go away you should contact your doctor.

Goodpath’s exercise videos show you how to use weights in the most effective and safe way.