Weight Lifting Tips for Women

Women are hitting the weight room in record numbers, and a new study found that weight-training injuries among women have jumped a whopping 63 percent. Here are the most common slipups and how to fix them, so you leave the gym strutting—not limping.

Skipping Your Warm-up
You wouldn’t launch into an all-out sprint the second you stepped onto a treadmill, so you shouldn’t jump right into deadlifts the instant you hit the weight room. “Working cold, stiff muscles can lead to sprains and tears,” says Morey Kolber, Ph.D., a professor of physical therapy at Nova Southeastern University in Florida. “Warming up increases circulation and improves range of motion, which preps your muscles and joints for action.”

The fix: “While opinions about static stretching may differ, a dynamic warm-up can decrease your risk for injury,” says exercise physiologist Marco Borges, author of Power Moves. After five to 10 minutes of walking or jogging, do 10 to 12 lunges and pushups (the bent-knee version is fine) before starting your routine.

Using Sloppy Form
Experts agree that proper form is the single most important factor in injury prevention, yet many women don’t give it a lot of thought—especially when they’re in a rush. And women, thanks to their naturally wider hips, are more at risk for form-related injuries than men are: One study found that women had nearly twice as many leg and foot injuries as guys did.

The fix: Before you begin any exercise, think S.E.A.K., says trainer Robbi Shveyd, owner of Advanced Wellness in San Francisco: Stand straight (head over shoulders; shoulders over hips; hips over feet), eyes on the horizon (looking down encourages your shoulders to round and your chest to lean forward), abs tight (as if you were about to be punched in the gut, but without holding your breath; this helps stabilize your pelvis), and knees over your second toe (women’s knees have a tendency to turn in because of the angle created by wider hips, says Joan Pagano, author of Strength Training for Women).

Stressing Out Your Shoulders
As crazy as it sounds, women who lift weights tend to have less-stable shoulder joints than women who don’t lift at all, found a recent study. The reason: Doing too many exercises in which your elbows are pulled behind your body (think chest flies and rows) can overstretch the connective tissue in the front of the joints. If the backs of your shoulders are tight, you’re even more likely to overstretch the front, increasing the imbalance at the joint, says Kolber.

The fix: Modify your moves. First, don’t allow your elbows to extend more than two inches behind your body. In the lowering phase of a bench press, for example, stop when your elbows are just behind you. Second, avoid positioning a bar behind your head. Bring the lat-pulldown bar in front of your shoulders, and when you’re doing an overhead press, use dumbbells instead of a bar and keep the weights in your line of vision (meaning just slightly in front of your head).

Neglecting Opposing Muscle Groups
“Many women have strength imbalances, which can make them more prone to injury,” says Shveyd. Sometimes they’re the result of your lifestyle (hovering over a desk all day, for example, tightens and weakens your hip flexors while your glutes become overstretched and inactive). Other times they’re caused by not working both sides of the body equally (say, focusing on moves that rely on your quads but not your hamstrings).

The fix: For every exercise that works the front of the body (chest, biceps, quads), be sure to do an exercise that targets the rear (back, triceps, hamstrings). For instance, pair stability-ball chest presses with dumbbell rows, or step-ups with deadlifts.

Doing Too Much Too Soon
A lot of people think that more is better—more reps, more sets, more weight. But if you increase any of these things too quickly, your body may not be able to handle the extra workload. “Gradual conditioning prevents injuries such as torn ligaments and tendinitis, because your muscles and connective tissues have time to adapt,” says Pagano.

The fix: Practice a three-step progression. First, learn to do a move using only your body weight. “When you can do 15 reps with proper form, add weight,” says Pagano. Second, stick to one set with light weights for two weeks or until you feel comfortable with the move. And finally, when you can complete nearly all of your reps with proper form, add another set or more weight (increase weight by roughly 10 percent each time).

(Article originally from Women’s Health Magazine)

Physical Conditioning

To improve fitness and sports performance, physical conditioning is often included in athletic sports and exercise training. Physical conditioning usually has multiple components, including power, strength, speed, balance, agility, coordination, and endurance.

The first step to improving fitness or sports performance through physical conditioning is to design a program with the goals and needs of the sport in mind. Not every sport or form of exercise requires each component of physical conditioning in equal proportion, if at all. The training programs of a sprinter differ significantly from those of a long-distance runner, for example. Your physiotherapist or sports trainer will work with you to design a suitable conditioning program.

Before starting any exercise or fitness program, athletes should consult with their medical doctor or a sports physician. School or team athletes often undergo pre-participation physicals where any concerns can be addressed. Athletes recovering from surgery or an injury should ask the treating physician or physical therapist how to safely work back into sports. Anyone with an underlying medical condition should always make sure that it does not pose too high a risk with a certain exercise program.

Athletes should never avoid going to the doctor to address aches and pains for fear of being told to stop training. Letting an injury go untreated can worsen the injury or lead to more serious complications. Athletes should see a doctor whenever they have pain or another symptom with activity that is so severe they can’t exercise at all. Even when pain is more subtle or a symptom impairs performance mildly—such as knee pain when running down hills or trouble locating fastballs due to tightness in the shoulder—athletes should still consult with a sports physician.

Running for Beginners: FAQ

How do I get started?
Start walking for a length of time that feels comfortable–anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes. Once you can walk for 30 minutes easily, sprinkle 1- to 2-minute running sessions into your walking. As time goes on, make the running sessions longer, until you’re running for 30 minutes straight.

Is it normal if running hurts?
Some discomfort is normal as you add distance and intensity to your training. But real pain isn’t normal. If some part of your body feels so bad that you have to run with a limp or otherwise alter your stride, you have a problem. Stop running immediately, and take a few days off. If you’re not sure about the pain, try walking for a minute or two to see if the discomfort disappears.

Can I run in sneakers?
Running doesn’t require much investment in gear and accessories, but you have to have a good pair of running shoes. Unlike sneakers, running shoes are designed to help your foot strike the ground properly, reducing the amount of shock that travels up your leg. They’re also made to fit your foot snugly, which reduces the slipping and sliding that can lead to blisters. Visit a specialty running store to find the right shoe for you.

How is running on a treadmill different from outdoor runs?
A treadmill “pulls” the ground underneath your feet, and you don’t face any wind resistance, both of which make running somewhat easier. Many treadmills are padded, making them a good option if you’re carrying a few extra pounds or are injury-prone and want to decrease impact. To better simulate the effort of outdoor running, you can always set your treadmill at a 1-percent incline.

Where should I run?
You can run anywhere that’s safe and enjoyable. The best running routes are scenic, well lit, free of traffic, and well populated. Think of running as a way to explore new territory. Use your watch to gauge your distance, and set out on a new adventure on each run. Ask other runners about the best local routes.

I always feel out of breath when I run–is something wrong?
Yes, you’re probably trying to run too fast. Relax. Slow down. One of the biggest mistakes beginners make is to run too fast. Concentrate on breathing from deep down in your belly, and if you have to, take walking breaks.

How do I prevent getting a side stitch when I run?
Side stitches are common among beginners because your abdomen is not used to the jostling that running causes. Most runners find that stitches go away as fitness increases. Also, don’t eat any solid foods during the hour before you run. When you get a stitch, breathe deeply, concentrating on pushing all of the air out of your abdomen. This will stretch out your diaphragm muscle (just below your lungs), which is usually where a cramp occurs.

Should I breathe through my nose or my mouth?
Both. It’s normal and natural to breathe through your nose and mouth at the same time. Keep your mouth slightly open, and relax your jaw muscles.

Should I be doing anything in the gym to build my fitness?
Working on stretching and flexibility is always helpful, especially to prevent injuries.

(Article originally published in Runner’s World)