Five Tips for Learning to Lift Safely
By Sally S. Egan, LAT, CSCS
Licensed Athletic Trainer, Shawano Community High School
Helping young athletes safely build their strength and endurance is my passion, so I’m the first to admit my happy place is the weight room. As a ThedaCare licensed athletic trainer (LAT) and a certified strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS), I am contracted full time to work with high school student athletes, parents, and coaches at Shawano High School. During the school year, I work with students and parents in the athletic training room and on the field to prevent and treat injuries. Given my love of strength and conditioning, I also help teach the sports and weight training PE course, assist coaches with the development of warm-up programs, and help teach proper weight training technique to anyone who ventures into the weight room after school.
A CSCS has specific training and certification above and beyond her bachelor’s degree to help train athletes to improve their athletic performance. We conduct sport-specific testing and design and implement safe, effective strength training and conditioning programs. Another part of our job is to counsel athletes on important issues like proper nutrition, hydration, range of motion, injury prevention, and the role of rest and recovery.
My primary role in the weight room is to teach proper technique that both improves a young athlete’s performance and helps build lifelong skills that will keep him or her physically active and injury-free. Exactly what are proper body mechanics if no one has ever taught you? Are those old ads about “no pain, no gain” really true? Am I supposed to train through pain or change something up? Here are some tips that address these questions and more:
Every moment, be focused on proper technique. Weight training is serious business—a lot more about brains than brawn. If you don’t know what proper technique means, then don’t lift until you learn it. Once you know how to do a lift properly and thoughtfully, if your technique breaks down due to fatigue, stop. The only safe ways to continue after reaching technical or muscle failure is to decrease the load or use an easier variation of the exercise. Do not “push through” to finish your reps. That’s when injuries happen.
Integrate your whole body into a lift. Don’t attempt to isolate certain muscle groups. Even if you are starting out with a lighter weight, your core should be engaged and you should be driving through your hips and legs. Train your muscles to work together this way from the beginning, and when you achieve more weight, you will be properly integrating your entire body into the movement. Along the same lines, learn to work your breathing to your advantage. There is real strength in a belly full of air.
Improve your range of motion. Not sure what this means? Then ask for help. If you can’t move through an exercise without adding weight to “force” a motion, then you shouldn’t be doing it with load at all. Regular mobility training is essential for all weight trainers.
Pain means something is wrong. (Yes, the old Soloflex ads from the 1980s are bad info.) Discomfort due to exertion is expected, but pain is a signal you have to stop. Take a break from that specific exercise or switch to another one until you can get figure out what the problem is. Similarly, don’t train when you’re injured. With the help of a specialist like a CSCS, you may be able to train around an injury; but in most cases, it’s not a good idea. Heal, then return to the weight room.
Get big and strong with baby steps. Add reps, increase load, and adjust training frequency in a very gradual manner. A CSCS can help develop a weight training program and a means to track your progress. Small, smart steps will yield noticeable results, and you will understand how and why you did it. This sets you up for a lifetime of enjoying healthy physical activity because you “get it.”
The weight room is where conscientious athletes build physical and mental strength for sports and for life. Those who train carefully avoid the setbacks of injury and discouragement. It’s better to be strong. Come to the happy place.
For more than 100 years, ThedaCare™ has been committed to finding a better way to deliver serious and complex healthcare to patients throughout Northeast Wisconsin. The organization serves over 200,000 patients annually and employs more than 7,000 healthcare professionals throughout the region. ThedaCare has seven hospitals located in Appleton, Neenah, Berlin, Waupaca, Shawano, New London and Wild Rose as well as 32 clinics in nine counties. ThedaCare is the first in Wisconsin to be a Mayo Clinic Care Network Member, giving specialists the ability to consult with Mayo Clinic experts on a patient’s care. ThedaCare is a non-profit healthcare organization with a level II trauma center, comprehensive cancer treatment, stroke and cardiac programs as well as a foundation dedicated to community service. For more information, visit www.thedacare.org or follow ThedaCare on Facebook and Twitter.