How To Lift Weights The RIGHT Way

The way your body moves is unique to you and the specific set of circumstances it’s in. I'm a physical therapist, and after working with so many different people, I've found that the way your body moves and functions is based on a long, complicated history. If you rolled your ankle badly in a high school soccer game or have shoulder pain from years of tennis — the way your body moves now will be a result of those injuries.

We all have layers of tightness, injury, postural habit, trauma, and even surgeries that create the need for the body to deviate from its usual pattern of movement and pick the path of least resistance.

We’re taught, way back in high school gym class, how to lift that dumbbell off the floor, or maybe later on in our CrossFit class how to incorporate a proper lifting technique. The problem is that your body, with all of its unique (and effective) movement patterns, may not jibe with the rules someone is laying down.

Aside from a few really bad lifting choices (combining a forward bend with a twist and not bending the knees before you lift something off the floor), there might be more room to bend the rules of lifting than you think. It’s about figuring out how your body wants to move and using that movement as a balancing and healing tool.

1. Your body will show you what it wants to do.

It does this by allowing you to move in certain ways with less effort, tightness, tension, or pain. This path of least resistance is how the body is trying to heal itself. If you feel tightness, tension, or pain, you need to find a better way. Ignoring the pain and pushing through it is a recipe for disaster. "No pain, no gain" is an old rule. Ditch it.

2. Find the easy way.

During movement there will be a natural, easier way. Find what your body likes and try doing it that way. This theory of movement is called Total Motion Release. I learned it from the founder, Tom Dalonzo-Baker, many years ago in my physical therapy career and have been teaching it to my clients ever since. The focus is to balance the body by using the natural instinct of moving toward our more effortless side.

3. Relax!

In most gyms, I see people frowning and grimacing. And I see the body full of unnecessary muscle tension. Adding tension into a system that is already being maxed out can cause injury. See where you can relax and then try the movement from there.

4. Do corrective exercises.

The best way to perform your bilateral gym routine (or any form of physical activity) is to be as symmetrical and balanced as possible before you do the activity.

5. Avoid movements that cause undue compression on your spine.

The biggest problem I see in the weight room is movement that compresses (squishes) the spine. The best example of this type of exercise, is the overhead press (the arms press up and weight pushes down on your body). Another example is the inverted leg press, where you are lying on your back, with feet raised at an angle and on the platform, then you push the weight with your legs. The weight is creating lower spine compression through the legs.

Every body has a certain size and resulting capacity for lifting. These exercises become dangerous when people are pressing too much weight for their body size and not paying attention to form. When you max out the ability of your muscles and then continue to stress the body by taking on more weight than it can handle, you cause compression and strain. This may result in muscles spasming, straining, tearing, or ripping, in an effort to protect your joints.

6. Never lift without practicing awareness.

To avoid the scenario above, use awareness during all of your lifting or exercise sessions. If you are chatting with a friend, listening to music, or otherwise totally checked out of your body, you risk not hearing the messages it’s sending you. Practice staying awake and aware in your body at all times.

I invite you to join me in the comments with questions. What’s the biggest challenge you’ve had with your workout routine? I look forward to hearing from you.

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