5 Things You Must Do to Prevent Weightlifting Injuries

Tired of 1) getting injured, 2) recovering, 3) getting back into the game? Here's how you can prevent weightlifting injuries in the first place.

A boy climbing up a rope at the gym.

It was a great workout session 🏋️

Although you were pushing close to your maximum effort, the weights for your deadlifts still moved easily off the ground. Just as you’re laying back on the couch, enjoying the therapeutic flood of post-workout endorphins, though …

Something twitches in your lower back. And come to think of it, your shoulder feels a little off, too.

Yep. You’re definitely injured.

This means you can now officially bid farewell to your workout routine – and say "hello" to weeks of rest (and 'boring' rehabilitation exercises). Once again.

If you're tired of looping through the cycle of 1) getting injured, 2) recovering, 3) getting back into the 'lifting groove', this article is for you.

Here are 5 things you must always do to prevent those bothersome and hard-to-recover-from weightlifting injuries from happening in the first place.

1: Prioritize mobility work

A little background information. Mobility is the degree to which you can move a joint through a full range of motion: from full flexion to full extension. It's not the same as flexibility, a term used to describe the connective tissue's ability to get longer.

Now. Why do you need to prioritize mobility?

Well, in essence, you can think of mobility as something like muscle strength. If you don’t use it, you’re going to lose it. And if you lose it? Bad things will happen.

More specifically, having poor mobility in one area of the body can result in another compensating for it, in turn, resulting in injuries.

A good example is if you have poor ankle mobility – and try to achieve an 'ass to grass' back squat.

Without adequate range at your ankles, your squats will naturally become more posteriorly loaded (i.e., excessive ‘bowing over’ in your torso region), which significantly increases the shearing force on your lower back.

The benefits of improving your mobility go beyond preventing weightlifting injuries, too – it can also give you a foundation on which to build better strength and hypertrophy gains.

So, you know what to do. Let’s get cracking on that mobility.

2: Make sure you’re warmed up

Jumping right into your 100 kg deadlifts is a recipe for injuries. Your body isn't ready – and your muscles aren't primed. So if you wish to stay injury-free, make sure to structure your warm-up routine this way:

  • General warm-up: This will help you raise your muscle temperature, so they won't 'snap' when you suddenly increase the demands you place on them (i.e., when you try to overhead press 80 kg). What you can do is spend 10-15 minutes on the treadmill, rowing machine, or even Stair Master. Your aim here is simple. To break a sweat.
  • Specific warm-up: Work your way up to the weight you’re going to use in working sets. For example, let’s say you’re going to do 80 kg barbell deadlifts. Do at least 2 to 3 sets of ‘warm up’ deadlifts, where you perform anywhere between 4 to 8 reps of the exercise with lighter weights (e.g., just the barbell, 40 kg, then 60 kg).

3: Good form, always

Performing a lift with iffy form is bound to get you in trouble. Note: this tip doesn’t only apply to technical lifts, like the overhead press, deadlifts, and squats – it’s crucial even for accessory movements, including lateral raises and bicep curls.

Can’t imagine why that’s so? Let’s talk about the lateral raises.

Even though one of the most common cues used for this exercise is “internally rotate the shoulders at the top of the movement” (to get more contraction in the middle deltoid), that’s one of the worst things you could ever do for your shoulders in reality.

(Raise your hand if you've done it before.)

Newsflash: you will f*ck your shoulders up. Research shows that pointing your thumbs down (i.e., "emptying the can") at the top of the movement does lead to the most activation in the mid delt.

But it also reduces something called the subacromial space in your shoulder joints. This can eventually lead to shoulder impingement – one of the most common lifting injuries around.

Bottom line? Pay attention to your form, even with the most simple-looking isolation exercises.

4: Don’t forget about the smaller muscle groups

Be honest. When was the last time you trained your rear delts? What about your serratus anterior?

If your answer is a sheepish “Can’t remember”, don’t worry – you’re not alone. Many of us only train the muscle groups we’re able to see in the mirror, like the shoulders, chest, quads, and abs.

But that’s a terrible mistake.

Many of the ‘unseen’, smaller muscle groups play crucial stabilizing roles. Neglect them, and your risk of getting injured shoots through the roof.

Here’s a sample of smaller muscle groups you should start paying more attention to ASAP (along with why):

  • Rotator cuff: Building up strength in your deltoid muscles (which ‘pull’ your shoulders forward) – while neglecting your rotator cuffs (which are responsible for balancing out the force) can lead to a ton of instability in your shoulder joints. Psst: find out how to train your rotator cuffs here.
  • Serratus anterior: This often-neglected muscle group attaches to your shoulder blades. It’s responsible for stabilizing and facilitating the proper movement of the scapula. Forgetting to train the serratus anterior can lead to poor posture, rotator cuff tears, and even shoulder impingement.
  • Rear delts: Like the rotator cuffs, your rear delts are responsible for creating the counter-balance force to the forward pull of your front delt muscles. Building up your rear delts can thus help prevent weightlifting injuries related to the shoulder.

5: Smart workout programming

Training 6 days a week – coupled with twice-daily sessions? You're putting yourself squarely into the 'overtraining zone’. And can count on getting injured. To prevent weightlifting injuries, make sure your structure your workout routine in a way that makes sense.

That means paying attention to your:

Feel like that’s too many things for you to handle?

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References

Creech, J. A., & Silver, S. (2021). Shoulder Impingement Syndrome. In StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK554518/

Myer, G. D., Kushner, A. M., Brent, J. L., Schoenfeld, B. J., Hugentobler, J., Lloyd, R. S., Vermeil, A., Chu, D. A., Harbin, J., & McGill, S. M. (2014). The back squat: A proposed assessment of functional deficits and technical factors that limit performance. Strength and Conditioning Journal, 36(6), 4–27. https://doi.org/10.1519/SSC.0000000000000103

Reinold, M. M., Macrina, L. C., Wilk, K. E., Fleisig, G. S., Dun, S., Barrentine, S. W., Ellerbusch, M. T., & Andrews, J. R. (2007). Electromyographic Analysis of the Supraspinatus and Deltoid Muscles During 3 Common Rehabilitation Exercises. Journal of Athletic Training, 42(4), 464–469.