Weight training is healthy exercise for sure, but to get the maximum advantage you need to ensure that the benefits are not offset by injuries and illness that accrue as a result of your time under the weights. Here are some tips for minimizing troublesome training woes, long and short term.
Keep Your Aerobic Fitness High
Lifting weights, even heavy weights, does not require exceedingly high aerobic fitness. Aerobic fitness is measured by VO2 max, which is a measure of the amount of oxygen that you can process in a minute. Endurance athletes like runners and cyclists tend to have the highest VO2. Fast walking is also a good aerobic exercise.
However, aerobic fitness is related to inflammation in the body. The higher your aerobic fitness as measured by VO2 max, the lower your markers of inflammation, as measured by a protein called C-reactive protein or CRP. CRP is an established risk factor for heart disease -- just like cholesterol. Aerobic training or 'cardio' not only helps improve cholesterol measurements, it also seems to lower inflammation in the arteries, which overall is a positive factor in preventing coronary artery disease. You can lower CRP by aerobic training, controlling body fat, particularly around the waist, and by eating a healthy diet.
Further, cardio training seems to improve the elasticity of arteries, called arterial compliance, another plus for cardio and heart health. Weight training without cardio may even worsen this effect. So, guys and gals, plan to do some cardio, it could a be a lifesaver in the long term.
Overtraining is bad for any number of reasons: immune system depression; susceptibility to injury of the muscles, bones and joints; hormonal dysfunction, particularly in women; iron deficiency and fatigue and disinterest. It's not a pretty sight; and many of you who have trained hard at different sports, including weight lifting, will have hit this wall at some time.
How do you know when you're overtraining? A good personal trainer should not allow this to happen; it's a balance. If you train yourself, which most of us do, then experience is a great teacher. Go hard, but go home, eat, sleep, recover and rest. Over time you will get a feel for when the body says 'enough'. Take a few days or a week off.
Indicators of overtraining are constant fatigue, regular infections, excessive weight loss, cessation of periods, inability to eat or sleep adequately, constant muscle tears and joint soreness or injury.
Eat Well and Sufficiently
Eating properly keeps your weight under control, stimulates muscle growth and provides the antioxidants required to suppress inflammation and deal with toxins and pollutants. A healthy diet is crucial to enhancing the positive effects of weight training.
Meal quantity, quality and timing are important factors in a regular exerciser's arsenal of training knowledge. Proper timing and sufficiency keeps the immune system healthy, reduces cortisol load, provides an anabolic environment for muscle growth and gives you the energy to follow your training program.
Read more in my article The Weight Trainers Bodybuilding Diet.
Drink Sufficient Fluids
This one should be a matter of common sense yet some exercisers do get carried away and neglect hydration. Make sure you have a good drink before you start training then respond to thirst, heat, exertion and sweat rate to judge your requirements. Urine should be a light lemon color before exercise. The darker the urine, the more dehydrated you are. Excessive consumption of fluids is unwise because it can result in dilution of sodium concentration, which can be very dangerous. Although this mostly occurs in the longer endurance events, weight trainers should also take note.
The latest position statement from the American College of Sports Medicine, Exercise and Fluid Replacement, goes into more detail.
Practice Safety in the Gym
As I've emphasized in other articles, free weights are heavy and love to fall onto toes if not chests. Good hygiene helps protect you and your colleagues.
- Ensure that bars, barbells, dumbbells and weight plates are firmly in place on racks -- lifting or storage.
- Check that weight locks, if required, are firmly fixed. (Weight locks prevent weights from sliding off the bar.)
- Don't leave weights lying around on the floor.
- Give other trainers doing overhead exercises or flyes plenty of space.
- Beware of the extended ends of lifting bars and machine bars.
- Ensure pins are firmly in place in weight stack machines.
- Understand correct spotting procedures.
- Wear appropriate footwear.
- Don't use a music player in the weights room (or when exercising anywhere in a gym in my opinion).
- Use a towel, wipe down gym seats and follow gym instructions for hygiene.
Lift Only to Capacity with Good Form
While the professional Olympic and Powerlifting studios are usually well prepared for safe lifting with monitored equipment, spotters and trainers, this is not always the case with recreational weight trainers and fitness exercisers and their venues: they comprise all shapes and stages of fitness and expertise and training environment.
Here are some tips for lifting with injury prevention as a focus.
- Warm up first. Do some cardio if that suits but at the very least warm up with a few sets using a weight of about 60 percent of your anticipated lifting weight in a proper training set.
- Observe good form, which means learning the correct procedure for each lift. See the articles on the Top Ten Exercises for the basics of good form.
- Start with a low weight. This may mean a bar without weights until you get the form correct. Excessive weight and poor 'form' is the number one reason for injury among lifters.
- Don't move a joint beyond what's comfortable. For example, if it hurts the shoulder to do pulldowns or squats with the bar behind the neck, don't do it.
Attention to these factors will go a long way toward maximizing your weight training enjoyment and productivity.
Kullo IJ, Khaleghi M, Hensrud D. Markers of Inflammation are Inversely Associated with VO2 max in Asymptomatic Men. J Appl Physiol. 2006 Dec 14.