Lifting heavy weights can seem incredibly intimidating! Those who aren’t familiar with lifting heavy weights often think that they’ll get hurt or that it’s not for them. However, this isn’t the case at all!
In part 1 of this series we talked about what heavy weight lifting looks like. In part 2 we’ll go over how lifting heavy weights is safe for everyone.
As a personal trainer for a slow motion strength training gym, you would think that I see a slew of clients in their 20’s and 30’s, but I don’t! My average client age is around 65 and I’ve trained clients as old as 94.
During each workout we focus on lifting one set of heavy weights until the client reaches muscular failure which stimulates some pretty amazing results in the body! My clients often tell me how doing this type of training for a few months has given them back the mobility they’ve lost over years of not exercising.
Lifting heavy weights can seen scary! I get many questions regarding the safety of slow motion strength training. Many clients are fearful that they will hurt themselves or make an existing injury worse.
Luckily, with the proper precautions this is not the case! As a trainer, there are a few things that I look for while training clients that you can also watch for in your workout.
1. Find your seat settings
I think it can be pretty common to walk into a gym, pick a machine and get to town lifting without a second thought. But what about the seat setting you’re using? The person before you could have been a foot taller or shorter than you, or maybe didn’t change the seat setting either.
Making sure that you’re lifting with the proper seat settings before you start the exercise is super important. If you’re at the wrong seat setting you could strain a muscle or end up with a terrible workout as the machine won’t be as effective.
Let’s talk quickly about proper seat settings on the leg press. Often times with the leg press we’re able to adjust the backrest and the seat. A general rule of thumb, reclining the backrest will make the same weight feel easier than sitting up straight. If I have a client with a back injury I’ll recline the backrest to reduce strain on their back. On the other hand, if I have a client who’s strong, is injury free, and looking for a challenge, I’ll bring the backrest up to a more upright position.
Seat setting is also important and depends on your height and if you have any knee injuries. Usually I’m looking for a 90 degree angle with the knee. If my client has a knee injury I’ll scoot the seat back to open up the joint, and if they’re strong and without injury I’ll move the seat up so that they’re nice and close to their knees.
When it comes to proper seat settings you need to listen to your body as well as pay attention to your height. Finding the right placement is crucial to getting a safe and effective workout. I also suggest writing down your seat setting once you have it all figured out so that you can stay consistent.
2. Lift with proper form
Whether you’re lifting heavy weights or doing bodyweight workouts, exercising with proper form is extremely important. Lifting with proper form can mean the difference between achieving the results you’re looking for or ending up with chronic back pain.
Let’s go back to the leg press quickly. I must say that I cringe when I see someone on the leg press cranking out reps as fast as possible with their feet placed below their knees so that their knees make about a 45 degree angle. All this person is doing is destroying their knees.
When I’m placing a client on the leg press, I’m looking for their knees and ankles to be in line if they don’t have knee problems. If my client does have knee problems then I’ll have them raise their feet up higher to open the angle up even more. This will help keep the knee joint safe, happy and healthy for years to come.
Next, I’m looking for my client to squeeze squeeze their glutes and slowly push through their heels (not the toes) to move the weight stack. At the top of the motion I then have them come back down towards the starting position before their knees straighten out (locking out your knees will transfer the force of the weight from your muscles to your joints, blah!).
Last, but not least, when my client reaches the bottom I have them barely touch the weight stack before slowly pushing out for another rep. There’s no bottoming out, unloading, and quickly pushing for another rep here!
Each aspect of this rep keeps the weight into your muscles instead of your joints, and doesn’t allow for rest time. This will give you a more effective and safer workout.
If you aren’t familiar with how to lift weights properly I suggest checking out a few reputable youtube videos or hiring a personal trainer.
3. Lift slowly
The first key concept to remember when lifting heavy weights safely is to lift slowly. By lifting slowly we are able to pretty much reduce momentum to zero which in return reduces our chance of injury.
Think about it this way. If you run full speed into a wall it’s going to hurt! You may even break a bone or feel like you can’t move for awhile. Now, if you slowly walk into that exact same wall you will barely feel a thing.
If that scenario didn’t help convince you then try thinking in mathematical terms (force = mass x acceleration). If your acceleration is close to zero then it doesn’t really matter how much weight you’re lifting because the force will be extremely low. Basically this means that the force on your joints will be low even if you’re lifting heavy.
When we hear about injuries due to lifting heavy or light weights, it usually happens to someone who is lifting weights quickly. They are using momentum versus their muscle mass to lift the weights, and are pretty much throwing weights around instead of lifting them with purpose.
4. Don’t forget to breathe
Breathing is the last big thing on this list. With slow motion strength training we don’t tell our clients to breathe out as they are lifting and in as they are lowering because our reps are so slow. At a 10 second lifting and lowering pace I’m afraid my clients would pass out! Instead, we encourage breathing throughout the entire rep.
I’ve found that when it comes to lifting heavy weights that many of my clients want to hold their breath as they’re lifting. This is not good as it can cause the Valsalva effect.
The Valsalva effect happens due to a sudden rise and drop in blood pressure because someone is holding their breath. This can cause you to faint while exercising. The best way to counteract this is to simply breath like you mean it during each exercise. Breathing at a regular pace will keep your blood pressure steady and prevent fainting.
That’s it for how to lift heavy weights safely! Stay tuned for part three of this post when we talk about the benefits of lifting weights slowly!
Caitlin's mission, after experiencing a personal struggle with maintaining fitness while traveling, is to help others stay healthy and fit on the road. She uses her experience as a group fitness instructor, love of fitness and nutrition, knowledge of traveling, and resourcefulness to keep travelers around the world feeling great, looking great, and having a fantastic time while traveling.