If you want to get strong with your resistance training, you need to be prepared to work hard if you actually want to see progress. There is, however, a big difference between pushing yourself and compromising your safety. Injuries are not fun and heavyweights create many new risks in the training environment. While it may be tempting to cut corners at times, never forget that an injury-free body will always make the most progress as there is no need to take extended breaks from training to recover.
1. Maintain Good Form
Proper form on resistance exercises keeps the joints moving in the ways that they are supposed to. Do not compromise form just to pick up something slightly heavier. You may get away with it a few times, but even if you don’t have an accident, the repetitive mal-tracking of joints can lead to niggling injuries, which will ultimately compromise your progress. If you are unsure of what the correct form is for an exercise, look it up online. If you are still unsure, ask for the assistance of a trainer to work through the exercise.
2. Have a Spotter
This is not relevant to all exercises, but if a weight can drop on you from above, and you are working anywhere near close to failure, have a spotter. This is particularly important for bench-pressing and heavy squats. This is not where it ends though. Make sure that your spotter actually knows how to spot and is paying attention while you complete your set. Don’t be afraid to give specific instructions on how you wish to be spotted – a spotter is there to help you.
3. Warm Up
Never try to hit a heavy lift cold. At best you increase your likelihood of suffering from temporary cramped or strained muscles and DOMS. At worst you increase the risk of tearing a muscle. A warm-up may “waste” ten minutes of your time, but if you are ever tempted to skip it, have a think about how much will go to waste with a tear and the surgery that would follow.
4. Work within a safe Range of Motion
This is particularly relevant for squatting. You may have heard all manner of recommendations for how to squat. Some say you must have your feet pointed forwards, others say your butt must go all the way to the ground, and so on and so forth. The truth is that all humans have different skeletal structure, different injury histories, different heights, different proportions, etc. If we all had the same body I would agree that we must all absolutely complete all exercises in the same way, but that is clearly not the case. If you tip forward very far if you try to go “ass to grass” then stop at a height that is safe for you. If you have extremely tight calves, you may need to spend some time working on mobilizing these, but in the meantime, squatting with your feet turned outwards is fine. You should move through a range where you feel that you are in control of the weights, experience no sharp pain (see point 5), and are able to maintain good form (tying in with point 1). This is another one where obtaining the advice of a trainer may be beneficial if you suspect that something is not quite right.
5. Push Sensibly
The previous points are not designed to deter anybody from resistance training. I personally train with very heavy weights regularly and it is one of my favorite forms of training. I have an absolute rule regarding pain for myself and everybody else: If the pain is a dull burning then I encourage you to push through this and learn to acknowledge it as a necessary part of the process. You should never experience any sharp pain – sharp pain means the danger of an incoming injury. If you ever feel a sharp pain in the middle of a set, stop immediately. Depending upon how you feel afterward, you may want to stop for the day, move onto something else, lower your weight, or may realize something was just wrong with your form, where you can just make a correction and keep working.
If you have these five tips in mind when you lift, you can then turn your focus to pushing as hard as possible, knowing that you are being mindful of your safety. Happy lifting!
a personal trainer at Bondi Platinum Fitness First in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs. Her background is in psychology, scientific research, and statistics, but her love for a healthy lifestyle and of setting goals and chasing them down has taken over. Susy competes as a fitness model but trains across several modalities of fitness, including powerlifting, gymnastic basics, military-style training, and calisthenics, as well as traditional bodybuilding work.