Strength training has so many benefits. Working your muscles against resistance, whether you use dumbbells, barbells, resistance bands, or your own body, builds muscle strength and muscle size while improving body composition. Who wouldn’t like those perks?
Plus, strength training enhances insulin sensitivity, the way cells handle glucose. This benefit may lower the risk of type 2 diabetes or improve blood sugar control in people who already have it. But it’s also important to train safely and use good form. The last thing you need is a strength-training injury that keeps you from working out for weeks. Let’s look at seven ways to lower your risk of getting injured when you strength train.
Focus on Form Over Resistance
There’s plenty of time to increase the load you’re lifting after you get your form perfected. Focus on the biomechanics of the exercise first. Some, like deep squats and deadlifts, carry a higher rate of injury if you do them with poor form. For example, if you don’t maintain a neutral spine when you squat, you could end up with a back injury. To lower your risk, concentrate on your form as opposed to how much weight you’re working with. There’s plenty of time to increase the resistance once you feel comfortable with the movement.
Don’t Skip the Warm-Up
When you have limited training time, you might be tempted to skimp on the warm-up by jumping around for a minute or two and then grabbing the weights and getting down to the serious stuff! Don’t do it. Your risk of injuring a muscle or tendon is higher when your tissues are cold.
The warm-up gives you a chance to increase your core body temperature and warming up your muscles before placing stress on them. Warm muscles are more flexible and pliable and are less likely to tear. Make time for a 5-to-10 minute warm-up before picking up the weights.
Not all studies show that warming up prevents injury, but based on the studies that exist, there’s more evidence that it does than it doesn’t. Don’t take a chance! Warm-up properly.
Keep Your Training Balanced
Balanced training means working the muscles in the anterior chain (the front of your body) as much as the muscles in the posterior chain (the back of your body). One mistake people make is focusing too much on the “mirror” muscles, those they see when they stare at themselves in a looking glass. If you do this, it can lead to muscle imbalances that lead to injury.
How can you balance out your training? Do as many pulling exercises as you do ones where you push. For example, balance out bench press with bent-over rows, where you work the same muscles in a pulling fashion. You want symmetrical muscle development anyway, right?
Don’t Train to Failure Every Set
Training to momentary muscle failure is a technique that serious bodybuilders use to shock their muscles and force them to grow. This approach can be helpful if you do it judiciously and not every time you train and on every set. When you push your muscles to contract until they fail, you fatigue the muscles you’re working and your nervous system. A fatigued nervous system increases your risk of injury. So, don’t overdo failure training. Take your last set to failure, but don’t do it every time you train.
Listen to Your Body
Your energy and motivation level will vary from day to day. If you don’t have the get-up-and-go on a given day and you have a challenging workout scheduled, scale back. Doing what your body tells you is right for you that day will help you avoid burnout.
Too often, people start a fitness routine with a bang and lose their motivation just as quickly. The reason? They try to do too much too fast without giving their body enough rest between training sessions. When you’re fatigued or lack motivation, you’re less likely to use good form and that increases your risk for injury.
Vary Your Strength Training Workouts
The fastest way to get an overuse injury is to do the same workouts over and over. A group that has one of the highest rates of overuse injuries is runners. It’s not surprising that their injury risk is so high since they do the same movements every time they train. Most runners can benefit from strength training and cross-training to reduce repetitive stress on their muscles and joints.
Likewise, try to vary the movements you do, even when you strength train. Work your muscles from different angles. If you usually do biceps curls, try hammer curls instead. Working your muscles differently will help you make greater gains and avoid plateaus too. It’ll also keep your motivation level high and reduce boredom too.
Lead a Healthy Lifestyle When You’re Not Strength Training
What you do when you’re not working with weights matters too. Leading a healthy lifestyle that includes a nutrient-dense diet, adequate sleep, and stress management will keep your mind and body in optimal shape and lower your risk of injury. It all counts when you’re trying to get leaner and stronger!
The Bottom Line
Keep strength training but do it safely. By taking these seven steps, you’ll lower your risk of a pesky, and potentially painful, strength-training injury that can keep you out of commission for weeks or even months. The old saying by Benjamin Franklin, “An ounce of prevention beats a pound of cure” holds true for strength training too.
- ACSM Sports Medicine Basics. “Resistance Training and Injury Prevention”
- com. “6 Injury Prevention Tips for Strength Training”
- Hamill BP. Relative safety of weightlifting and weight training. J Strength and Conditioning Research, 8,1: 53-57, 1994.
- Database of Abstracts of Reviews of Effects (DARE): Quality-assessed Reviews [Internet]. York (UK): Centre for Reviews and Dissemination (UK); 1995-. Does warming up prevent injury in sport: the evidence from randomised controlled trials? 2006. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK72912/