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  • A Safety Check-up for Your Strength-Training Routine

    IMAGE "Strength training is one of the safest activities, as long as it's performed with safety in mind," says Ches Jones, PhD, associate professor of health science at the University of Arkansas. Strength training is great for health, but only if you do it safely and properly. Here's how to stay safe and injury-free when you strength train.
    No matter what your fitness level, you should give your strength-training program a safety check-up. The best strategy is to hire a qualified, certified personal trainer. Although regular sessions with a trainer can be costly, you can still benefit from one or two sessions, says Michael Wood, CSCS, director of the Sports Performance Group in Boston, Massachusetts. If you're new to strength training, ask to be introduced to exercises and equipment. If you're a veteran, have your form checked.

    Guidelines

    Wear protective gear for your hands and feet.Warm up.Start slowly; progress wisely.Lift slowly.Understand each exercise.Use good posture.Breathe.Recognize bad pain.Work front-to-back and side-to-side.Position yourself properly when using machines.With free weights, use a spotter and proceed cautiously.Be wise with rubber tubing and bands.Stretch after your workout.Rest between strength sessions.
    Experts also recommend following these guidelines:
    Never strength train in bare feet. Always wear gym shoes. Wear gloves to prevent your hands from becoming rough and callused and to improve your grip.
    Before beginning a strength session, take the time to warm up your body. For example, walk on a treadmill for 5-10 minutes to increase blood flow to your muscles. Next, do some gentle stretching.
    Start with light weights that you can lift comfortably for 8-12 repetitions. Increase the weight no more than 3%-5% at a time, Wood says. This goes for experienced exercisers, too, who have spent several weeks away from strength training. Get back into your routine slowly.
    For example, think two counts up and four counts down, advises Gregory Florez, founder and CEO of First Fitness Inc.
    Know which muscles should be working and which muscles should be stabilizing your body. Also, identify the correct range of motion for each exercise, Wood says. In a lunge, for example, know whether you should take a small step or a giant step.
    With bad posture, you could activate and injure a muscle group that's not supposed to be working. Florez advises using the "athletic ready stance" with your head and shoulders up, knees bent, and shoulders and hips in line. If you can't maintain correct posture, you're either lifting a weight that's too heavy or doing the exercise incorrectly. Check your posture by lifting in front of a mirror.
    Take a full breath with every repetition. And don't ever hold your breath.
    It's okay if you experience light soreness in your muscles 24-48 hours after your training, Florez says. However, deep soreness, especially in the joints, may indicate an injury.
    Every muscle has an opposing muscle, such as quadriceps and hamstrings or abdominals and lower back. If you train one muscle, train the opposing muscle to avoid creating imbalances in your body that can lead to injury.
    Know where you should adjust your seat and align your joints. Beware of home equipment that is old, Florez warns. It may not have safety features like adjustability and lumbar support.
    "Because you don't have a pre-selected range of motion, there's greater risk of dropping a weight or over-stretching a joint," Florez explains.
    Make sure they have no cuts or tears, keep them out of extreme heat or cold, and secure them well.
    When muscles are contracted, they shorten. "Stretching lengthens muscles and allows them to release tension," Wood says. Hold each stretch 10-30 seconds.
    Your muscles need the time to rebuild and repair themselves. That goes for abdominal muscles, too. "Your abs are a muscle and should be given adequate recovery time," Florez says.

    RESOURCES

    American Council on Exercise http://www.acefitness.org

    National Strength and Conditioning Association http://www.nsca.com/

    CANADIAN RESOURCES

    Canadian Society of Exercise Physiology http://www.csep.ca/

    Health Canada http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/

    References

    Dunn-Lewis C, Kraemer W. The basics of starting and progressing a strength-training program. American College of Sports Medicine. Available at: http://www.acsm.org/access-public-information/articles/2012/01/13/the-basics-of-starting-and-progressing-a-strength-training-program. Published 2009. Accessed April 18, 2012.

    Strength training for women. Women's Heart Foundation website. Available at: http://www.womensheart.org/content/exercise/strength%5Ftraining.asp. Accessed April 18, 2012.

    Warm up, cool down and be flexible. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. Available at: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00310. Updated January 2012. Accessed April 18, 2012.

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