Weight training plays an important role in maintaining your overall health and fitness. So whether you’re a gym rat or you’ve made a resolution to begin lifting, it pays to lift smart. While weightlifting can build muscle, burn fat and strengthen bones, none of that’s possible if you’re sidelined with an injury.
Matt Pudvah is the head strength coach for the Sports Performance Institute at MAC. He knows a thing or two (lots more, in fact) about working out harder, smarter and — most importantly — healthier. We asked him for advice on hitting the weights while staying injury-free.
Follow these seven pro tips, and you’ll be lifting weights for years to come.
1. SAVE STATIC STRETCHING FOR LAST
“Static stretching creates instability at the joint, which will not help your strength-training efforts,” says Pudvah. Instead, he suggests opting for dynamic movements prior to a workout. Think air squats, lunges, high-knees and other low-impact exercises to warm up your body before hitting the iron.
2. BE SMART WITH YOUR EXERCISE ORDER
Start big and work small. In practical terms, focus on the large muscles first (Think: chest, back, legs) — which means biceps curls should never come before squats.
“The single most important factor of staying injury-free is recovery,” says Pudvah, “and it starts with a sound night’s sleep.” Aim for 7–8 hours each night.
4. STAY ACTIVE ON REST DAYS
Rest days are important, but rest doesn’t require a Netflix marathon on your couch. Try to incorporate something low-impact and low-intensity into your routine, like a bike ride, hike or leisurely walk.
READ MORE > EXPERT ADVICE ON OPTIMIZING YOUR REST DAYS
5. EAT MORE FAT
Specifically, eat more omega-3’s, which you can find in foods like salmon, walnuts, spinach and flaxseed. These will help to manage your body’s inflammatory response, which means healthier joints and quicker recovery time.
6. MAKE MODIFICATIONS
“Everyone is anatomically different, and we all have different health histories,” says Pudvah. So if an exercise doesn’t agree with your shoulders or knees, try something different or find a way to modify it.
7. DON’T GO TOO HEAVY TOO FAST
“This is probably the most common mistake made in the gym,” says Pudvah. “Your biggest and only competitor in fitness should be yourself. Don’t sacrifice form for weight, especially when staying healthy and injury-free is a priority.”
For general injury prevention, Pudvah also advises that we be kind to our trunks. Our spines are made to flex, rotate and extend, but neglecting some routine maintenance can lead to weaknesses, imbalances and — as a result — injuries. Pudvah notes that unloaded (resistance-free) movement of the spine is one of the healthier things we can do for our bodies. He suggests this simple exercise:
Side-Lying Trunk Rotation
Lie on your side with your knees and hips bent, and rotate your top shoulder so that the backs of both shoulders are touching the floor. Keep your knees glued together and touching the ground to really engage your trunk. Then, switch sides.