Thursday, July 21, 2005

Weight Training: Getting Started Safely

By Todd Schemper, PT (Work Systems Rehab & Fitness; Des Moines, Iowa)

A weight training program can be a great way to work on some areas of your body that you have been neglecting, and it creates a more balanced exercise program. Unfortunately, I have worked with a number of people who, because of the way they are working out, ended up with an injury that could have been avoided. This article will discuss basic weight-training principles that will help prevent injury.

The warm-up is a key part of weight training. Jumping right in and lifting with cold and tight muscles can cause muscle strain. Warming up with light aerobic exercise such as walking, running, bicycling, etc., is a great way to get your body ready to go. Also, starting your routing with lighter resistance is good to prepare your body for the range of motion needed to complete the exercises.

Keeping your body balanced is probably the number one mistake I see with weight lifting injuries. The front thigh muscles (quadriceps), chest (pectoralis major), and upper arms (biceps) are often over worked, while other areas are neglected. A weight program should be balanced, working on the back, upper back, chest, shoulders, and whole upper arm (triceps and biceps). For the lower body and trunk the abdomen, hips/pelvis, thighs (hamstrings and quads), and calves should be focused on. An important tip to remember with symmetry is if you are going to work the front you better balance your body by working on the back equally.

The number of sets and repetitions will vary depending on your intent with weight training. A general rule is to do 1-3 sets for 10-15 repetitions. You will decrease the repetitions and increase the resistance for more strength or increase the repetitions and decrease the weight for endurance training. When you do your workout, focus on being able to maintain your form as you reach a point of fatigue. Once you lose form during fatigue, the body compensates and injury can result. Don’t forget to breathe.

The recommended frequency for weight training is 2-3 times per week per body area. This can be done all at once for 2-3 sessions per week or broken down for 4-6 times per week. Try not to lift the same area two days in a row. Your muscles need to repair from the previous workout to reach their optimal potential for the next time they are challenged.

Keeping your program tailored to your needs and including a variety of exercise is an essential part of strength training. Remember to stay within your limits and move only the resistance you are capable of lifting. Do not try a certain weight just because your lifting partner is doing it. The next point I believe is also very important for a beneficial weight program; make sure you mix up your routine from week to week. Try various exercises for the muscle groups you are working or at least change the order of your workout to stress your muscles differently.

Making your workout functional or specific to the demands of everyday life is something all should take into account. Doing all of your weight training sitting or lying on machines neglects the need for your bodies to balance and support us during every day life. If you are into using only machine resistance in your program, try to throw in some free weight exercise or even ground based (standing) body-weight resistance exercises. Doing upper body exercise in a standing position and including lunges, squats, and step exercises are some of the best ways to get a well-balanced functional workout. The rehabilitation and exercise professionals at Work Systems Rehab & Fitness are specially trained in functional medicine principles that emphasize real-life functional movement patterns to optimize physical health.

The cool-down part of a workout is just as important as the workout itself. Be sure to taper your exercises off with light weight lifting to promote blood flow through your body’s full range of motion. Re-hydrate and take in some good balanced calories to help replenish what has been depleted from your workout. This is also the time of your routine that you want to do most of your long hold stretching to improve your flexibility.

When you weight train, have fun! It is not worth all the hard work and time if you do not enjoy it. Try to be consistent from week to week to get the most benefit. Find a friend to do your weight training with to keep you accountable. And consider contacting a local fitness professional to help you get started safely.

Todd Schemper, PT, is a physical therapist with Work Systems Rehab, P.C. He can be reached at (515) 309-4706 or

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