Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. For regularly updated information on a variety of health topics, please visit familydoctor.org, the AAFP patient education website.

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Am Fam Physician. 2003;67(2):371-372

Be Safe

Lifting weights can cause serious injury. You can lift weights more safely by following these basic guidelines.

Find an Instructor

Find someone who can help you learn how to do the exercises correctly. Good technique is most important to avoid injury. Some high school coaches or athletic trainers can help you. Most gyms have personal trainers who can teach you good training and lifting techniques. If a college is located in your town, the weight coach for the athletic teams may be able to give you advice or recommend a teacher. The National Strength and Conditioning Association (telephone: 719–632–6722; Web site: www.nsca-lift.org) may also be able to recommend a qualified instructor in your area. Advice from people who have never learned good technique themselves, such as parents, friends, or other weight lifters, may not be helpful.

Set Goals

With your instructor's help, decide on the goals of your weight-training program. These goals will depend on your age, your physical maturity, and the reason you are lifting weights. You need to consider which exercises you will use, how often you will do each exercise, what weight you will start with, and when you will increase this weight.

Wait Until You're Ready

Wait until your body has matured enough before you try the major lifts. The major lifts, performed with barbells, include the clean and jerk, the power clean, the snatch, the squat, the dead lift, and the bench, incline, and overhead presses. These exercises are likely to cause injury if you lift heavy weights without proper technique and the help of spotters. The average age when the body is mature enough for these exercises is 15 years, but this age varies.

Warm Up and Cool Down

Warm up and cool down for each session. Warm up before the weight-lifting session with stretching exercises, calisthenics, and jogging. When you begin each lifting exercise, start with small amounts of weight at first and then progress to heavier weights. During your cool-down period after the lifting session, stretching is important.

DOs

  • Do use spotters when you try the major lifts. A spotter is someone who can help you with the weight in case you cannot lift it.

  • Do keep your back straight when lifting.

  • Do use proper lifting technique when moving weights around the room.

  • Do wear shoes with good traction.

  • Do make sure the equipment you use is in good condition.

  • Do follow all of your gym's safety rules.

DON'Ts

  • Don't hyperventilate (breathe in and out fast) or hold your breath when you lift heavy weights. You may faint and lose control of the weights. Breathe out when you lift or press.

  • Don't continue lifting if you feel pain. Stop the painful exercise for a few days or try it with less weight. Put an ice pack on your body where the pain occurs for 20 minutes at a time, three or four times a day.

  • Don't lift weights if you are light-headed. Stop your workout and start again the next day.

  • Don't exercise any set of muscles more than three times a week.

  • Don't “cheat” on your technique to lift heavy weights.

  • Don't lift heavy weights without spotters.

  • Don't lift more than you know you can lift safely.

  • Don't lift barbells without putting safety clips on the bar. Without safety clips, the weight plates can slide off of the bar and land on the floor or on your feet.

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