Weight Training For Dummies
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Weight lifting is a safe activity that involves a risk of injury. You can minimize your risk of hurting yourself by following the basic common sense tips: Always respect the equipment, stay alert, and focus on your task at hand. You should be able to enjoy a lifetime of training.

Free-weight safety tips

One police officer arched his back so severely over years of bench pressing that he finally was forced to retire. So, keep in mind the following during your free-weight workouts:

  • Use proper form when you lift a weight off the rack. When you lift a dumbbell or barbell off a rack or when you lift a weight plate off a weight tree, always bend from your knees (not from your hips), get in close to the rack, and keep your arms bent. The figure shows you how not to lift a weight off the rack.

    [Credit: Photograph by Daniel Kron]
    Credit: Photograph by Daniel Kron
  • Pay attention when carrying weights. Hold heavier weight plates with two hands. Keep the plates close to your body when you carry them. Watch where you’re going when you carry barbells — making a U-turn while hauling around a 7-foot bar can cause serious destruction. Keep your elbows slightly bent when carrying a dumbbell in each hand.

  • Use collars. A collar is a clamp-like device that you use to secure a weight plate onto a bar. Often, when you perform a barbell exercise, the bar tilts slightly to one side; without a collar, the plates may slide right off and land on somebody’s toes or crash into the mirrors on the wall.

  • Don’t drop weights on the floor. After you complete a dumbbell exercise on a bench (such as the chest fly or dumbbell chest press), bring the weights to your chest and then gently rock yourself up into a sitting position.

    Some people simply let go of the weights, which is not only unnerving to the other gym members but also unsafe because the weights can land anywhere, roll, and create hazards for others. Weights always need to be controlled.

  • Safely return weights to the rack. When you finish using dumbbells, barbells, or weight plates, don’t just lean straight over with locked knees and plunk the weights back on the rack. Instead, bend your knees, pull in your abdominals, and hold the weights close to your body before you release them.

Weight-machine safety tips

One of the selling points of weight machines is that they’re safer than free weights. And it’s true — you’re in no danger of being crushed by a 100-pound barbell. The way that machines create a safer environment is that they put your body in the correct position and direct the movement pattern. Still, if you’re not careful, you can injure yourself.

Follow these safety tips to keep yourself (and others) out of harm’s way:

  • Custom-fit each machine. Some machines require a single adjustment, such as the seat height. Others require two or more adjustments. For instance, with some versions of the leg extension machine exercise, you have to adjust the back rest as well as the leg bar.

    Don’t worry — you don’t need a mechanic’s license to adapt these machines to your body. Usually, you just pull a pin out of the hole, lower or raise the seat, and then put the pin back in place. Some machines are so simple to adjust that they don’t even involve a pin. With practice, fitting the machine to your body becomes second nature.

    Don’t get lazy about making adjustments. Using a weight machine that doesn’t fit your body is like driving a car while sitting in the back seat: uncomfortable, if not downright dangerous. When you strain to reach a handle or sit with your knees digging into your chest, you’re at risk for pulling a muscle or wrenching a joint.

    After you make an adjustment, jiggle the seat or the backrest to make sure that you’ve locked it securely in place. You don’t want the seat to drop suddenly to the floor with you on it.

  • Watch your fingers. Occasionally, a machine’s weight stack gets stuck in midair. Don’t try to rectify the situation yourself by fiddling with the plates. Instead, call a staff member for help.

  • Buckle up. If a machine has a seat belt, use it. The belts are there for a reason. Use them! The seat belt prevents you from wasting muscle power squirming around to stay in place as you move the bar or lever of the machine. You’re most likely to find seat belts on older models of the inner/outer thigh, pullover, seated leg curl, and triceps dip machines.

  • Don’t invent new uses for the machinery. You wouldn’t use your favorite sweater to dust the house, right? You wouldn’t use your TV as a step-stool to reach the top cupboard. So, don’t use a chest machine to strengthen your legs.

    People are constantly inventing new — and unsafe — ways to use weight machines. For example: In order to release the chest bar on the vertical chest press machine, you must use your feet to press down on a bar near the floor. If you dream up new uses for a machine, you may be asking for injuries.

About This Article

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About the book author:

LaReine Chabut is a distinguished lifestyle and fitness expert, bestselling author, model, and mom. As the on-camera host of MSN’s hit web series Focus on Feeling Better, LaReine helped everyday people across America fit in exercise daily. She is most recognized as the lead instructor of The Firm, a series of popular workout videos and her blog losethatbabyfat.com.

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