How to Lift Weights Safely

  • March 22, 2021

By Tyler Rivers
JRN 217: Journalistic Reporting and Writing

At the LA Fitness in New Hyde Park, Long Island, Keon Gilchrist stood, aching. Putting the deadlift bar down and urgently placing his hand on his back for support, he knew a change in his method of weight lifting was necessary. 

“I used to think as long as I could lift the weights and it wasn’t hurting me, I was doing it right,” said Gilchrist, recalling the painful back injury he suffered in 2015. After that, “I really took the time to learn what I was doing wrong. I realized that so much more went into lifting weights than I never knew.” 

Gilchrist’s experience reflects what’s happening on a national level as many people struggle with lifting weights properly.  

It’s a common misconception that lifting weights is primarily about strength. Strength matters, but it is not everything. Lifting weights properly requires a mixture of the right breathing techniques, form and  awareness to stay safe while getting the most out of that particular body part you’re exercising. Lifting weights properly requires a mixture of the right breathing techniques, form and awareness.

Often people forget to warm up before lifting weights, not realizing how essential the warm-up process actually is. Look at your body as a machine.You wouldn’t get into your car and just drive, you would let the engine get warm for a while. Your body works the same way. Before a strenuous activity such as lifting weights, your body requires muscle stimulation at a lower degree simply to prepare for what’s to come.

  “A lot of young people now, and even adults, want to just lift the heaviest weights without getting their muscles warmed up,” boxer and fitness trainer Cameron Harris said. “It’s more dangerous than people think.”

In addition to warming up your muscles, breathing is vital. It could be argued that this is the most important thing. Without it, you wouldn’t be able to lift weights at all. In general, you hear that inhaling deeply through your nose as you lift the weight and exhaling out of your mouth while you lower the weights is the proper way to breathe while. That is correct. 

“Sometimes you will catch people turning red or straining because they are holding their breath as they lift,” Cameron said. “It is a bad habit that comes from not knowing the proper techniques to using weights.” This is important because every breath you take allows you to regroup to lift the next set of weights. Overdoing it and breathing wrong can make you light-headed. Not breathing enough can cause you to pass out. 

Overall, it’s always about the way you do something that matters, not necessarily whether you do it the fastest or the slowest, but whether you do it right. That is where the actual form that you use to lift weights comes into play. You could do 100 repetitions of the heaviest weights, but if you had bad form or did it incorrectly, you’ve actually done a disservice to yourself. 

“One of the things that I learned over time was that it’s not about how heavy the weights are,” Gilchrist said. “It’s about how you actually lift the weights that you’re working out with. Your form is so important.” 

Certain things are just necessary in weight lifting if you want to achieve a safe and proper workout. For example ,you always need to slightly bend your knees and keep your spine straight when squatting.  If you’re lifting dumbbells, remember to focus on the bicep, and do not allow your arms to swing. It should be a controlled lift every time. If you cannot achieve that, then the weight is most likely too much. 

Small tips like these are all essential parts of perfecting your form, no matter the category in which you are lifting weights.

“I learned to bend my knees on squats and truly work the muscle,” Gilchrist said. “Yes, breathing was a big key in my form getting better, but what I really lacked was patience. Ever since I took the time to learn and implement these factors into my everyday workout, I haven’t been injured since.”

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