7 Ways to Prevent Injury When Lifting Heavy Weights

Prevent Injury When Lifting Heavy Weights

By: Beth Rush
Managing Editor at Body+Mind

You don't have to be a bodybuilder or athlete to benefit from weight training. When done correctly, lifting heavy weights can help burn fat, tone muscles and improve overall fitness. However, like any physical activity, it comes with risks, including being sidelined for weeks or months recovering from bodily trauma. The good news is that with the proper precautions, you can prevent injury and enjoy long-term healthy living. 

If you want to incorporate weightlifting into your fitness routine, understanding common injuries and how to avoid them is paramount. Here’s everything you should know.

Most Common Weightlifting Injuries 

Lifting weights, especially as a beginner, can cause bodily harm, particularly around your limbs and lower back. According to a recent study, 7.4% of weightlifting injuries affect the shoulders, 4.6% impact the knees and 3.6% involve wrists.¹

Generally speaking, these are the most common issues likely to result from improper weight lifting: 

  • Sprains: These injuries occur when you overstretch your muscles, tendons or ligaments beyond their capacity. Symptoms include soreness and stiffness around the affected area. In some cases, there might be swelling and redness. 
  • Back strain: These are prevalent among weightlifters and are a leading cause of lumbar spine injuries. The severity can range from mild discomfort to excruciating pain. Some types of back strain include muscle spasms that make it difficult to sit or lie comfortably. 
  • Disc herniation: Herniated discs are a common injury affecting roughly 5 to 20 individuals in 1000 adults between 30 and 50 years old.² They usually occur during weightlifting, when excess weight places additional strain on the spine and spinal discs. The trauma pushes the disc out of place and presses on a nerve, causing incredible discomfort. 
  • Bicep strain: This injury manifests as a sharp pain when you flex your arm, along with stiffness and swelling. It’s often caused by improper lifting techniques and muscle overextension. 
  • Rotator cuff tear: The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons surrounding the shoulder joint. It is the most injury-prone part of the shoulder and can easily sustain damage when lifting heavy weights or using improper form.³ Symptoms include pain, weakness and a limited range of motion in the shoulder.

    How Do You Prevent Injuries When Lifting Heavy Weights?

    Follow these best practices to prevent injury during weight training.

    Here's 7 Ways To Prevent Injuries When Lifting Heavy Weights:

    1. Set Realistic Goals

    It’s natural to feel super excited about starting a new exercise routine — but don’t let that push you into setting unrealistic goals. Doing so will only cause you to place undue stress on your muscles and bones that they’re just not ready for and instead increase your risk of injuries.

    Whatever your reason for lifting heavy weights, you won't see the results in a day. Set attainable targets that allow you to improve progressively until you reach them.

    2. Never Skip Warm-Ups and Cool-Downs

    Many exercise-related injuries stem from a lack of warm-ups before the workout. Warming up transitions your body from passive to active, priming you physically and mentally for the task ahead.

    Simple activities like stretching, jump roping and jogging in place trigger physiological responses, including enhanced blood flow and joint flexibility, lowering the risk of injury.⁴ Cool-downs involve gentle stretches post-workout to slowly help your heart rate return to normal.

    3. Practice Proper Form and Posture

    All the common injuries listed above can be attributed to improper form and techniques. Every lift you make, whether it’s a bench press or a single-arm row, targets muscle groups that require you to maintain a specific posture to operate properly. Breaking form forces surrounding muscles to compensate for the improper positioning, increasing the risk of strains and more severe injuries.

    Learning to do each exercise correctly also ensures you work out the right muscles. Most routines are simple enough that you can watch a couple of fitness videos to get them right. However, feel free to ask a personal trainer or other fitness specialist for help as needed.

    4. Don’t Mix Routines

    A regular gym session will likely involve multiple exercises. The idea is to gradually work through each activity until you’ve completed the recommended reps, followed by a short rest period, before moving on to the next. Switching things up halfway through a set increases the risk of accidentally hurting yourself.

    A healthier alternative to adding variety to your weightlifting drills is to do other exercises that work different muscles. For example, you could integrate swimming or cycling into your fitness routine, ensuring your entire body undergoes a comprehensive workout. Cross-training helps you stay limber and more injury-resilient.

    5. Hydrate Often 

    Water is essential for many bodily functions, including injury prevention.

    According to research,
    75% of people are dehydrated, which impacts their ability to handle daily stressors. Imagine how much more stressful it would be to lift heavy weights while dehydrated. The simplest, most effective way to hydrate is to drink plenty of water before, during and after your workout.

    Hydration floods your body with electrolytes to improve muscle function and aid recovery. Several other products provide the same or even higher electrolytes than water. The important thing is to find one without sugar, as it counteracts the effects of working out.

    TIP: Zaca’s sugar-free recovery chewables contain stevia and xylitol, two of the four healthiest sugar substitutes, allowing you to enjoy the hydration benefits without the sugar consumption associated with popular electrolyte drinks.

    6. Time Your Breathing

    Paying attention to your breathing during weight lifting allows your body more control, powering your muscles without overexertion. It also delivers oxygen to your muscles when they need it most. Most beginners make the mistake of holding their breath when working out, but this runs the risk of increasing blood pressure, making you more susceptible to injuries.

    The simplest way to time your breathing is to inhale through the nose, fully engaging your diaphragm and breathe out completely through the mouth. This act helps regulate tension buildup in the chest and abdomen as you work through your reps. Releasing this pressure reduces the risk of sustaining internal injuries like herniated discs and vessel strains.

    7. Support Your Muscles With Glutamine

    Glutamine plays a key role in supporting muscle health. As the most abundant amino acid in the body, glutamine is essential for muscle repair and growth.

    While it may not prevent injury, you can take glutamine before and after workouts to support muscle protein synthesis and optimize your performance.

    Try incorporating these top ways to prevent injuries when lifting heavy weights next time you hit the gym.

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    1. Prevalence and Pattern of Injuries Across the Weight-Training Sports https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC10689975/#:~:text=The%20body%20parts%20most%20commonly,%2C%20hand%2C%20and%20hand%20facility.
    2. Signs And Symptoms Of A Herniated Disc https://www.nyspine.com/blog/signs-and-symptoms-of-a-herniated-disc/
    3. 7 Common Causes of Sports Injuries
    4. How to Prevent Injury During Exercise: 5 Tips https://bodymind.com/how-to-prevent-injury-during-exercise-5-tips/