How to lift weights safely and effectively

When it comes to burning fat, weight lifting and resistance work is essential. By building muscle, you boost your basal metabolic rate, meaning you burn more calories over the course of the day even when you’re not exercising.

But with the rise of seemingly miracle workouts that promise unbelievable results in a short amount of time, good form can often be compromised.

When it comes to lifting weights, ensuring correct technique is crucial. Not only will you get the results you want, but you’re more likely to avoid injury too.

“Quite often I see people come to the gym and try and lift weights too fast, that are too heavy and with no control and poor technique,” personal trainer Tom Mans told The Independent

Skill and control is essential, so it’s worth getting an expert to show you how to execute different moves correctly when you start working out with weights.

Once you’ve done that, what do you need to know though?

1. Build a strong foundation

“The first thing I teach a new client is how to be in control of the weight,” Mans says.

He recommends starting off with technically sound movements that are slow with a light load. Then over time you progress to a heavier load or a faster movement or both, depending on your goal.

“If you are new to lifting weights and going to the gym then you need to spend time (one to two months) learning the basics and building a solid foundation,” Mans explains. “This includes learning how to squat, hip hinge (deadlift movement), push, pull, rotate, and train on one leg. 

“Otherwise you may get an injury and struggle further down the line when the exercises become more advanced. Tendons and ligaments take longer to adapt than muscles, therefore you cannot rush the process.”

2. How do muscles work?

Unless you’re training for power and speed, all muscle contractions need to be performed in a slow, controlled manner in order to stimulate the muscle for growth and adaptation. 

There are three main types of muscle contraction that explain how muscles work, and each can be described by a different stage of a squat:

  • Eccentric – when the muscle lengthens under load. In the squat this would be the downward phase from standing to at the bottom of the squat, when the hips are parallel with the knees. The quadriceps and gluteal muscles are the main muscles lengthening under load. 
  • Isometric – when the muscle stays at a constant length under load. This would happen if you were to pause at the bottom of the squat. Another good example is the plank exercise. 
  • Concentric – when the muscle shortens under load. This would be the upward phase in the squat from the bottom back to standing. The quadriceps and gluteal muscle muscles shorten and knees and hips lock out. 

“To train your muscles effectively you need to have control over and be aware of each type of muscle contraction, especially the eccentric and concentric phases,” Mans explains. 

He believes that in the majority of HIIT (high intensity interval training) classes, most people move too quickly, with their muscles lengthening and shortening under no control.

If you do this, you’re not actually supporting your own body weight and are using momentum to complete the exercise. 

“This may feel easier to complete as it requires less effort, but you will see less progress and will most likely get hurt,” Mans says. 

“There is nothing wrong with doing exercise at speed but the majority of people lack the skill and foundations to perform the exercises correctly.”

3. Technique and skill acquisition

It’s normal to want to reach your fitness goals as fast as possible with the least amount of effort. But according to Mans, this often means technique is the first thing that goes. 

“Lifting weights and resistance training is a skill; therefore you need to spend time learning the skill,” he says. 

You need to learn the essentials such as making sure your knees don’t angle in when you squat, maintaining a neutral spine when deadlifting and keeping your upper back pushed up when planking. 

Although our bodies are all different and no two people will squat or do a press-up in exactly the same way, there are guidelines you need to know to make sure the exercises are performed correctly, safely and in conjunction with your ability and goals.

Mans explains that when learning the skills required to lift weights, you need to engage your brain and focus on each phase (eccentric, isometric and concentric) of a movement. 

“Over time the movements and exercises will become second nature – like a golf pro’s swing, you will not think about the skill itself, it will just happen,” Mans says. 

“You will be focusing on the results instead of the skill itself, for example lifting the weight up above your head or hitting the ball on the fairway. Once you hone the skill of lifting then you can start lifting heavy loads and lifting quickly.”

And then you can just enjoy the sense of achievement, fun and #gains. 

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