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How to Lift Weights the Right Way

3 of 12 in Series: The Essentials of Weight Training

You should learn proper form to lift weights in a strength-training program. The way some people lift weights, you’d think they were in labor or impersonating a mountain gorilla. Grunting, screaming, and rocking back and forth are not indications of proper weight-lifting technique.

When you’re lifting weights in a strength-training program, the following rules always apply:

  • Always warm up. Before you lift a weight, do at least five minutes of aerobic exercise to get your muscles warm and pliable. If you’re going to do arm exercises and there aren’t any upper-body aerobic machines around (such as a VersaClimber, rower, or cross-country skier), you can even do a few minutes of arm circles.

  • Good form is always more important than lifting a lot of weight. Don’t arch your back, strain your neck, or rock your body to generate momentum. Not only can these maneuvers cause injury, but they also make the exercises less effective.

  • Increase your weight by the smallest possible increment. Jumping from a 5-pound weight to a 10-pounder doesn’t sound like a big leap, but think about it: You’re doubling the load on that muscle. If you’re using a 5-pound weight, move up to a 6-, 7-, or 8-pounder. If your health club or home gym doesn’t have interim weights, buy a pair of PlateMates — nifty magnets that you stick on each end of a dumbbell or barbell.

    PlateMates are interim weights that you can add to dumbbells or barbells. [Credit: Photograph by Su
    Credit: Photograph by Sunstreak Productions, Inc.
    PlateMates are interim weights that you can add to dumbbells or barbells.
  • Remember to breathe. In general, exhale forcefully through your mouth as you lift the weight and inhale deeply through your nose as you lower it. Just don’t overdo it because overly forceful breathing can leave you feeling lightheaded. Although proper breathing is important for speeding oxygen to your muscles, don’t get hung up on the mechanics. Don’t hold your breath (unless you’re a world class power lifter, aiming to lift world-record amounts of weight). You can bring about sharp increases in your blood pressure, and you can even faint from lack of air.

  • Use a full range of motion. In other words, pull or push as far as you’re supposed to. (If you’re not sure, a trainer can show you the correct range of motion for each exercise.) Using the full range of motion enhances your flexibility. However, you don’t want to go past a natural range of motion because this can cause injury to the joint. For example, lifting dumbbells out to the side above shoulder level puts too much stress on the shoulder. Sitting down too far when you squat can cause knee injuries.

  • Pay attention. Remind yourself which muscle you’re working, and focus on that muscle. It’s easy to do lat pull-downs without challenging your lats. And it’s easy to do abdominal crunches without really working your abs.

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The Essentials of Weight Training

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