By Tanja Shaw + Spencer Lockert
Including weight training in your regular exercise routine is a great decision for everyone in their adult years. When done correctly, weight training does a lot of good for your health and overall function. It improves bone density, energy levels, helps prevent chronic diseases, boosts metabolic rate, and helps us maintain a healthy weight. When done correctly, strength training also improves overall posture, body mechanics, and our ability to do things in real life – from hiking a mountain or lifting a kayak onto your roof rack, to putting groceries away and getting up and down off the floor.
However, many people get injured while strength training due to a number of common mistakes. Here is a list of the most common strength training mistakes that should be—and can be—avoided:
Mistake #1: Not building your foundation
We are often attracted to the glamourous exercises – the ones that you might see on an Instagram feed – without building a foundation first. It’s like choosing paint colours for your house while the foundation is crumbling.
Without a strong foundation (knowing how to activate your core muscles and using them in strength training movements), you put yourself at a greater risk of injury. For example, a weak core will put you at risk of injury when lifting overhead, doing a squat, or even picking weights up off the floor. Often, these basic foundational exercises might seem boring, or perhaps you feel like you’re not doing a lot because you’re not breaking a sweat or feeling the burn. Just because you cannot immediately see the results, trust that they are an essential part of your long-term success.
What to do: When you start strength training, start slow and include basic activation exercises such as a hip bridge, a bird dog (also known as opposite arm and leg raise) and deep core/ pelvic floor activation exercises. Of course, these exercises need to be done properly to be effective (see mistake #2).
Mistake #2: Training with Improper form
Lifting with poor form either from not knowing how to lift properly or listening to your ego and lifting heavier than you can handle, is a sure-fire way to get injured. When you lift heavier than your ability, you compensate by recruiting muscles that should be used for stabilization. Instead of stabilizing (and preventing injury) these muscles are used to assist the movement. An example would be using your lower back muscles to lift a heavy weight overhead.
Over time (or immediately), the results of lifting with improper form are developing faulty movement patterns, imbalances, and injury.
What to do: If you don’t know how to lift, take a class or work with a coach to learn how to lift effectively. If you are lifting past your capacity, check your ego at the door. It is always a better option to lift within your range and not get injured.
Mistake #3: Unbalanced Program
Over-emphasizing one muscle group relative to its opposing muscle group can cause poor posture and increase the risk of injury. For example, the back and chest are opposing muscle groups. The chest muscles are naturally stronger and more dominant than back muscles. Plus, they are used more in our day to day life (we do a lot more slouching in front of a computer than we do standing straight with our shoulders back). Yet many strength programs include more chest exercises compared to back exercises. If the chest muscles become significantly stronger than the back muscles (from a combination of the body’s natural tendency to be stronger in the chest and from doing too many chest exercises such as push-ups and chest presses), injuries such as shoulder injuries are likely to occur.
Other opposing muscle groups include the hamstrings and glutes opposing the quadriceps, and the glutes opposing the hip flexors.
What to do: If you have postural imbalances, make sure your program addresses them. If you do not have imbalances, follow a balanced training program that maintains your proper posture and improves your overall function.
Mistake #4: Not Paying Attention to Form Between Exercises
While we may be focused on form and activating proper muscles during our sets, it’s easy to forget lifting techniques when we go to put our weights away or pick up a set of dumbbells for our next exercise. Many injuries happen bending and reaching improperly.
What to do: Focus on good lifting technique ALWAYS- at the gym, between exercise and at home.
While I recommend lifting weights, be mindful in your lifting program! Learn correct form, follow a balanced program, and lift within your ability. Your body will thank you!