You don't have to be a bodybuilder or professional athlete to reap the benefits of weight training. When done correctly, weight training can help you lose fat, increase your strength and muscle tone, and improve your bone density. If done incorrectly, however, weight training won't give you these benefits — and may even lead to injury.
Check your technique
You might learn weight training techniques by watching friends or others in the gym, but sometimes what you see isn't safe. Incorrect weight training technique can lead to sprains, strains, fractures and other painful injuries that may hamper your weight training efforts.
If you're just getting started, work with a knowledgeable weight training specialist — a physical therapist, athletic trainer or other fitness specialist who's familiar with proper weight training technique. If you've been using weights for a while, consider scheduling time with a trainer to double-check your technique and identify any changes you may need to make.
Weight training do's
When you're weight training, do:
Lift an appropriate amount of weight. Start with a weight you can lift comfortably 12 to 15 times.
For most people, a single set of 12 to 15 repetitions with a weight that fatigues the muscles can build strength efficiently and can be as effective as three sets of the same exercise. As you get stronger, gradually increase the amount of weight.
Use proper form. Learn to do each exercise correctly. When lifting weights, move through the full range of motion in your joints. The better your form, the better your results, and the less likely you are to hurt yourself. If you're unable to maintain good form, decrease the weight or the number of repetitions. Remember that proper form matters even when you pick up and replace your weights on the weight racks.
If you're not sure whether you're doing a particular exercise correctly, ask a personal trainer or other fitness specialist for help.
- Breathe. You might be tempted to hold your breath while you're lifting weights. Don't hold your breath. Instead, breathe out as you lift the weight and breathe in as you lower the weight.
- Seek balance. Work all of your major muscles — including the abdomen, hips, legs, chest, back, shoulders and arms. Strengthen the opposing muscles in a balanced way, such as the fronts and backs of the arms.
- Incorporate weight training into a fitness routine at least two times a week. The Department of Health and Human Services recommends incorporating strength training exercises of all the major muscle groups into a fitness routine at least two times a week.
- Rest. Avoid exercising the same muscles two days in a row. You might work all of your major muscle groups at a single session two or three times a week, or plan daily sessions for specific muscle groups. For example, work your arms and shoulders on Monday, your legs on Tuesday, and so on.
Weight training don'ts
Follow these tips to avoid common mistakes when you're weight training:
- Don't skip the warmup. Cold muscles are more prone to injury than are warm muscles. Before you lift weights, warm up with five to 10 minutes of brisk walking or other aerobic activity.
- Don't rush. Move the weight in an unhurried, controlled fashion. Taking it slow helps you isolate the muscles you want to work and keeps you from relying on momentum to lift the weight. Rest for about one minute between each exercise.
- Don't overdo. For most people, completing one set of exercises to the point of fatigue is usually enough. Additional sets may take up extra time and contribute to overload injury. However, the number of sets that you perform may differ depending on your fitness goals.
- Don't ignore pain. If an exercise causes pain, stop. Try the exercise again in a few days or try it with less weight.
- Don't forget your shoes. Shoes that protect your feet and provide good traction can keep you from slipping or injuring your feet while you're lifting weights.
Remember, the more you concentrate on proper weight training technique, the more you'll get out of your weight training program.