How to Safely Lift Weights and Get Better Results
You’ve heard everyone from celebrity doctors to your neighbor tell you that it’s important to lift weights, but what is all too often ignored is how to do it safely.
Strength training promotes lean muscle growth, fat burning, and performance enhancement, but it’s also essential for longevity. This is assuming you do it safely.
Over the long term, safe resistance training can increase your chances for a higher quality of life where you maintain your independence when you get older.
Let’s review some of the most important tips for how to safely lift weights, and this will translate into better results.
1. Prep for Success
Before you hit the gym floor, you need to prepare your body for the workout that will follow. That’s going to include following a proper warm-up, stretching, and cool-down routine.
Warm-Up: This should include 5 to 10 minutes of an aerobic (cardio) exercise; something that will get your blood pumping. The idea is to get your muscles moving and prepared. Some great examples of warm-up cardio include power walking, light jogging, cycling, and shadow boxing.
Self-Myofascial Release (SMR): Grab a foam roller and roll out small sections of the target muscle.
Dynamic Stretching: Also called active stretching, this type of stretching focuses on movements that closely mimic the main exercises of the workout. For example, you can perform bodyweight squats if you’re planning on barbell squats.
Cool-Down: Once you finish your official workout, you don’t just want to call it quits and go home. In order to avoid blood pooling and to help muscles return to their proper length-tension relationships, you want to do some light cardio, similar to a warm-up but even less intense.
Static Stretching: Finally, you’ll want to spend a few minutes with static stretching your target muscles. This will help to break up adhesions and prevent tight muscles.
2. Master Your Form
I cannot stress this enough: You must focus on perfecting your form and technique, especially for fitness fundaments like the squat, deadlift, and bench press.
This is going to mean taking it slow and going pretty light on the weight you use, and that’s okay. By performing the exercise correctly on a consistent basis, you’ll find that you progress quickly without the risk of injury.
While you’re learning these exercises, I’d stress that you use bumper plates instead of iron weight plates. This will help protect you and the gym floor.
I would recommend hiring a personal trainer for one or two months until you get the green light that your technique is consistently on point.
3. Start Light Then Go Heavy
Even the most experienced lifters mistakenly believe that they can skip the lighter sets during strength training.
By jumping right into the target weight for that exercise, you unnecessarily increase your risk for strain and injury.
I recommend performing two to three warm-up sets for primary exercises such as the barbell squat, deadlift, and bench press. This means using between 35% to 50% of your one-repetition maximum (1RM).
I also want to stress that you should be using elite-quality equipment. From the barbell to the weight plates, make sure you’re using solid equipment.
For secondary exercises like curls or extensions, perform one warm-up set.
4. Broaden Your Exercise Base
Your first goal should be to focus on the fundamentals of fitness. These are compound exercises that utilize the greatest number of muscle groups.
Examples include the following:
- Bench presses
Once you have mastered the basics and foundation of weightlifting, I would recommend expanding on your exercise library, incorporating exercises that take place in the transverse plane of motion.
In other words, start to use rotational movements. A great example is a box step-up with a side twist.
5. Try Different Lifting Methodologies
Like most people, you’ll start out with the basic set followed by a rest break, then you’ll do another set.
Different lifting methodologies tweak a variety of the acute variables, helping to strengthen neuromuscular connections.
This will also help you become accustomed to different movement patterns.
Some great examples include the following:
- Giant sets
- Pyramid sets
- Incorporating rotation
6. Use Deloading Weeks
One of the most commonly ignored elements of fitness, especially in strength training, is the concept of recovery.
Deloading weeks are an excellent method for allowing the body to adjust to your current workload while giving it time to recover.
I’d recommend alternating your weeks with lighter weight loads.
For example, during your first week, your goal is to lift 75% of your 1RM, but during your second week, your goal should only be 70% of your 1RM. During the third week, you would lift 77.5% of your 1RM, and finally, during the fourth week, your aim is only 72%.
Taking a week off at the conclusion of a training period – usually the eighth week – is also highly recommend.
During this week, you can perform light cardio-based workouts.
7. Strive for Balance
The goal of long-term fitness is progress, not extremes.
Don’t perform workouts that are super intense for too long of a period of time.
For example, if you’re trying to shock your system and stimulate higher levels of muscle growth with a five-day full body workout routine, you wouldn’t want to do this for the long term.
Allow time for recovery to avoid strain and over training, and down the road, consider a different lifting methodology such as split training.
8. Invest in Deep Tissue Massages
Studies show that deep tissue massages can break up adhesions, alleviate pain, and reduce the risk of muscle strain from tight muscles. 
The more active you are, the more likely you’ll need a massage.
At the very least, I’d recommend a monthly deep tissue massage.
If it’s your first deep tissue massage, be sure to stay in open communication with the therapist during the massage as the pressure can take some getting used to.
9. Stop Skipping on Sleep
Most medical experts agree that you need between seven and nine hours of sleep each night. The more active you are, the more sleep you probably need.
I recommend powering down about an hour before bed. Consider drinking some herbal (caffeine-free) tea and reading a hardcopy of a book.
10. Eat for Recovery
Muscles might be built in the gym, but they are revealed and maintained in the kitchen.
Good nutrition and responsible supplements are essential for muscle repair and recovery.
You don’t need to follow one of the trendy diets right now. Instead, you should keep it simple and focus on a diet that has plenty of lean proteins, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates.
Try to avoid junk food, alcohol, and processed items as much as possible.
- Marian Majchrzycki, Piotr Kocur, Tomasz Kotwicki, "Deep Tissue Massage and Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs for Low Back Pain: A Prospective Randomized Trial", The Scientific World Journal, vol. 2014, Article ID 287597, 7 pages, 2014.