Are You Lifting Weights Correctly?

Lifting Weights
Photo by jason.lengstrof via Flickr

More and more people lift weights everyday.  What does that mean?  It means that more and more people are out there lifting weights incorrectly everyday.  That could be at the gym, or it could be at home.  Either way, those people are getting less out of their workouts than they could be and they are running the risk of getting injured.  I don’t want either of those to be the case for you, so let me tell you how you should be lifting.

  1. Don’t lift more weight than you can move through the full range of the exercise. If you can’t lift the weight all the way, it’s too heavy.  Work on a lower weight until you can lift the weight through the full range.  If you can’t do at least three sets of 8, the weight is too heavy.
  2. Don’t lift too little weight. If you can do a lot of reps without any strain, you’re not lifting enough.  As a result, you won’t get any results.  Try to lift a weight where you can do three sets of 10-15, but the muscles you are working are fairly fatigued by the end of the third set.
  3. Don’t lift the weights quickly. By moving quicker and using your momentum, you make the lifting easier.  This causes a couple problems.  First off, you could hurt yourself because your movements are less controlled.  Secondly, you’re not working your muscles as hard, so you’re getting less benefit from the workout.  I’ve seen people lifting far more than most people can by lifting quickly, but when you slow them down they often lift significantly less.  So, make sure you lift the weights in a slow, controlled movement to minimize injuries and maximize the benefit.
  4. Don’t compensate for tired muscles by using the rest of your body. When people are having a hard time lifting a weight, they often put the rest of their body into it to compensate for their straining muscles.  But, using the rest of your body like that can cause you to injure yourself.  It also prevents you from isolating the muscle group that you were working on.  That means you’ll get less results out of your workouts.  We are all busy, so sometimes we sacrifice other things we’d like to do to work out.  That’s bad enough without wasting that time by lifting improperly.  Imagine spending 4-5 hours a week working out and finding out later that it was all for nothing.  And all because you were a bigger cheater than my childhood friend Sally (name changed for her protection), who was always the banker in Monopoly who kept “borrowing” from the bank.
  5. Learn how the exercises are supposed to be performed. I’ve seen people doing exercises at the gym completely wrong.  Sometimes, I’m not quite sure what they’re doing.  The only things I’m sure of are A) the machines aren’t supposed to be used that way B) they’re not going to get as much out of it as they think they are and C) they’ll likely get injured.

Incorrect lifting has many causes
Now, why do people make these mistakes?  Well a lot of the problems are related to people not knowing how they should be lifting.  If that’s the case with you, then ask someone knowledgeable about the subject.  If necessary, get yourself a good personal trainer.

Now, when it comes to men lifting too much weight, I sometimes chalk that up to being macho.  You know the guys I’m talking about. “Quick, John hand me that 50lb dumbbell to curl, that cute girl is looking over here again!”  That’s often followed later by. “Dude, I think I hurt my back when I was lifting weights today.”  It’s not worth it guys, really.  We’re not impressed by guys with back problems.

Lifting too little can be caused by several different things.  Sometimes, it’s laziness.  You know the people who work out all the time, but never really “work” at it.  They go to the gym every day and show no change. Sometimes, it’s women who are afraid of developing huge bulky muscles.  To that, I say don’t fear.  It’s very hard for a female, without the advantages of the once famous East German swim team, to get bulky.  Besides, if you ever did start to gain too much mass, it’s easy enough to lose it by toning down the exercise. The third cause, is lack of experience at lifting weights.  If you don’t know how hard to push, it’s easy to baby yourself.

Now if you understand what I’ve been talking about, watch yourself next time you lift and see if you can notice and correct a few bad habits.  On the other hand, if you don’t understand what I’m saying, but lift weights, you should talk to a qualified fitness professional.  By understanding what I’ve talked about, you might find a few problems to fix and you’ll be more likely to have a positive experience lifting.

Comments (3)

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  1. These are great tips! My personal trainer says the same thing. It’s amazing how many people I see in the gym who aren’t lifting correctly and don’t want anyone to show them how to do it right.

  2. Great article Talli.

    Using too much weight is probably one of the biggest mistakes at the gym. For some reason, guys are particularly guilty of this when it comes to dumbbell bicep curls.

    If I had a dollar for every time I watched someone cheat up a dumbbell with their shoulders and back .

    Here’s great example of a guy “ego lifting” — this is supposed to be a dumbbell hammer curl. His upper arms and elbows should be in tight to his body and there should be no movement at the shoulder. Somehow, though, he manages to turn it into some Franken-exercise that’s a cross between a bicep hammer curl and an upright row. Very weird. Check it out for some entertainment:


    Now, I’ll give the guy credit for chisling out a nice physique — but I don’t think it was from this particular exercise.

    The bicep pose at the end is priceless.

    Cheers ..

  3. skysthelimit says:

    I was working out a few months ago when I learned about the “Don’t lift the weights quickly” lesson. These are great tips for anyone that lifts weights at all.

    The only bad practice I have is lifting weights alone, and this tends to make me “baby” myself on the amount of weight I am willing to use.

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