Be sure you can perform exercises using a full range of motion--if you can't, decrease the weight.
When we strength train using either free weights, machines or our own body weight as resistance, a few tips are in order not to just reap the benefits, but to avoid an injury.
These tips apply to all of us, but they are even more important for beginners, weekend warriors, seniors and for any of us who already have an existing or previous injury. Past injuries can make us vulnerable to a future injury, so I like to make the analogy, "It's like getting over a cold; we're vulnerable to a relapse if we're not careful."
Here are a few things you should remember:
Always warm up with cardio first. Five or 10 minutes of an aerobic exercise will raise our core body temperature and thus raise the temperature of our muscles. This will make our muscles and tendons ready for action.
Always warm up the target muscle group first. Let's always start with a light weight to warm the specific muscle, muscle group and joints we are about to target. Let's start with a light weight and pump out 12-15 reps just to warm them up. Even if we do only one set, let's start with a warm up set first.
Focus. All exercise requires focus to be effective, which includes a need to watch our form and body position by watching ourselves in the mirror. This isn't vanity! Of course we want to also focus on feeling the working muscles.
Not over-lift. Let's not increase our weights drastically or too quickly from one workout to the next; let's monitor our response from our last workout and our overall ability each workout. Don't feel so great? Use light weights for that session. Let's alternate the type of training often which may mean performing exercises with a heavy weight load with low reps one session, and a light weight load with high reps the next.
Breathe! It's common for many of us to hold our breath even for a moment without realizing it when we lift weights. This happens more frequently when we perform certain exercises and especially when we lift using our heaviest weights. Holding our breath can cause a high internal pressure in our chest cavity (a very unhealthy thing), so please let's BREATHE.
Use full range of motion. Each muscle and muscle group attaches to a joint, which has a range of movement. So, for instance, when we do a bicep curl, let's start with our arm fully extended and curl the weight until our elbow is fully bent, then let's return the weight slowly to a full extension (never snap elbow). The idea is to not shorten the movement.
We may need to reduce the amount of weight we are using when we try to execute a full range of movement. When we perform the exercise using a full range of motion, it enhances our flexibility by allowing our tendons to retain their elasticity (shortening the movement may tighten our tendons over time).
Slow down. The faster we perform each movement, the more we use momentum as an aid. Ever see someone at the gym performing repetitions at the speed of lightening with a bounce at the end of each movement? There's usually a good reason, we can lift more weight using momentum. However, not only do we increase our risk for injury, but we make the exercise less effective.
By using these tips, we will achieve more with less injury. Here's to smart strength training!