Weight lifting is a great way to exercise, build toned muscle, burn calories, and promote overall health–but it can be dangerous as well. Our bodies aren’t used to the stress of heavy lifting, and our backs are particularly vulnerable to strain and injury.
An injured back can keep you out of the gym for weeks, or even months at a time, depending on the severity of the injury and your ability to recover. If you want to stay healthy, strong, and transform your body into a work of art, always remember to protect your back.
Step 1: Warm Up
Never start a workout without warming up first. Your body just isn’t ready for the stress of heavy lifting when you walk through the gym doors. You need to get primed before you start hitting the weights.
- A short cardio warm up on the treadmill or elliptical is a great way to warm up your muscles and get the blood moving in your body. It is not necessary to use high intensity during your warm up. This is just a 5 minute effort to get the muscles moving.
- Next use light weights to test the muscles you plan to use for the day. A short circuit of dumbbell movements testing your range of motion at every angle works best. This would also be a great opportunity use the Neural Activation Technique to prime your CNS for the intense workout to come.
- A bit of light stretching is also recommended, but don’t go for extreme extensions right from the start. Do a few easy stretches as part of your warm up, and stretch more thoroughly afterward. This is the best way to keep your muscles toned and flexible while you build your body.
Static stretching using a full range of motion when cold, or before an intense workout, will only make you weaker and more prone to injury. Most professional athletes use dynamic stretching if they include any stretching in their warm up routine.
Step 2: Pre-hab, Re-hab, and Physical Therapy
If you’re not experienced in weight lifting, or you’re more prone to back injuries than the average person, then you may want to consider using machines rather than free weights. Free lifting offers you the most variable range of motion, which is ideal for targeting specific muscle groups while you work out. However, this kind of workout requires perfect technique in order to avoid injury. This is what I refer to as Pre-hab or Pre-habilitation.
Pre-hab is training smartly and working up to free weight exercises and intensity that you know you can handle given your physical limitations. Training smart will keep you from ever having to use Re-hab or physical therapy, though if you train with high intensity for a long period of time, you are likely to injur something eventually. Just sayin’.
If you are already injured or are coming back from an injury, an improperly executed dead lift can land you in the hospital. Starting out on machines is much safer. They offer more protection than free weights, so you’ll be able to start re-building muscle safely and effectively.
Once you have trained like this for a couple weeks, using physical therapy techniques to strengthen your muscles, only then should you start to use exercises like barbell deadlifts, but start only with high reps on an empty bar before working your way up to heavier weights.
Step 3: Know Your Limitations
You should always be aware of how much you can safely lift without straining your back. Of course, weight lifting is all about building your strength in order to overcome your limitations–just don’t do too much at once.
If you try to lift more than you can handle, you are guaranteed to put violent stress on your body. Your back is strong, but its strength is built on a very delicate balance. You wouldn’t attempt to run a marathon without training for it, so don’t try to lift more than you can handle either.
Step 4: Massage and Physical Therapy
Whether you are injured or not, make regular visits to a masseuse or chiropractor. You should have no problem finding a good physical therapist or chiropractor in Fort Collins or any other city in the world.
Chiropractic work helps keep your back properly aligned, which helps to relieve the tension and stress imposed on your body by heavy lifting. Massage therapy is also beneficial, as it aids in muscle recovery, helps to flush toxins from the body, and promotes flexibility. Don’t get so focused on body building that you forget about body maintenance. Lifting is very stressful for your back, and it needs attention to stay healthy.