I’ve enjoyed weight lifting for as long as I can remember, and I’m a firm believer that weight training belongs in every martial artist’s program. The strength developed from lifting weights transfers to all areas of athleticism, including martial arts. A similarity between the two is that you should focus on form. Here are a few important considerations regarding form when lifting.
Improper technique in the weight room accounts for many injuries. This is especially true for beginners. Before loading on the weight to see how much you can lift, you must first take time to learn the exercise correctly. You should practice any exercise with a light weight, ensuring you know how to balance and control the bar before going heavy. It is important to understand how the exercise is supposed to feel, and you only truly understand by doing it, because bad form makes you more vulnerable to injury. Learn proper form and do exercises correctly from the outset.
Proper form will be determined by the exercise, but there are some generalities that will help you focus on form and prevent injuries. The first is to keep your body still. You want to remain as stable as possible and only move the part that is exercising. For example, if you are doing curls, only your arms should move. You don’t want to be swinging the weight up by jerking and swaying your body for assistance. By keeping still, you can focus the stress of the exercise on the specific muscle you want to work. In the curl example, that would be your biceps. Leaning, bouncing, and extra movement could make you lose your balance, which potentially could lead to injury. With machines, make sure they are adjusted correctly and use the belts and other stabilizing measures to ensure you remain still and work the specified muscles for the machine and exercise.
Another important part of correct form is to lift smoothly. Slow and controlled movements are less apt to lead to injury than jerky or bouncing movements. Besides avoiding injury, slow smooth movements can give your muscles more of a workout. With this comes the rule not to bounce. Yes, I have bounced heavy barbells off my chest when maxing out. The momentum allows you to lift heavier weights, but it also increases the risk of injury. It also does not stress the muscles as much, and may reduce the benefits of the movement. Slow and smooth taxes the muscles and reduces risk of injury.
Go through the full range of motion. When you learn to strike, you learn to strike through your opponent and not to pull your punches short. When lifting, it is also important to lift through the full range of motion for each exercise. However, just like punching, don’t lock your arms completely at the end of a lift. Locking your arms can shift the stress from your muscles to your ligaments and bone.
And finally, breathe. Don’t hold your breath when lifting. Yes, I know there are advanced lifting techniques that use holding the breath for part of the lift, but for general lifting, don’t hold your breath. Exhale when you are putting out effort, and inhale when you are returning to the starting position.