How To Lift Weights Properly

This article contains tips to help you to start strength training on the right foot. 


Why Are Weight Lifting Techniques Important? 

When people do not engage in proper techniques when strength training, they do not get the full benefits of their workouts, overstrain their bodies, and they open the door to possible injuries down the road. It’s important to keep in mind that strength training is a LIFELONG habit. When you first start, you might not be able to do a full movement with any weights, and that’s fine. Mastering technique is far more beneficial than doing a movement without proper technique to accommodate more weight. Trust that you will progress and that you’ll start seeing some major results without any weights. 


Understanding Weight Lifting Basics 

Understanding and mastering the eight foundational movements for weight lifting is the best place to start. If you are new to lifting, you can create a program with these eight movements. It’s also a good idea to work with a trainer to master these movements, as these movements will be the foundation for strength training for the rest of your life. Mastery of these movements means big mobility gains and keeping yourself safe from injury. 


How To Lift Weights Properly 


Breathing is important to harnessing your own power and using proper form when weight lifting. Breathing properly during a movement takes conscious practice. A general rule of thumb is to always exhale on the exertion portion (the hardest part) of a compound movement. Inhale deeply prior to beginning of the movement and exhale forcefully as you exert effort on the concentric portion of the movement. Once you get this basic technique down, you can establish a consistent breathing rhythm throughout your lifts. Another good rule of thumb is to not hold your breath or mouth breathe. Taking nice deep breaths through the nose is good practice. 


However, if you’re engaging in heavy lifts, diaphragmatic breathing (holding your breath, and bracing your core) will properly support your lift. Again, this technique only applies to lifting heavy. Learn more on diaphragmatic breathing and bracing here.  


For isometric movements, keep the core engaged and take deep belly breaths throughout the movement. Breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth.


Wear Proper (or no) Footwear 

Flat shoes are preferable for lifting. Ditch the cushioned running shoes, they are not stable enough to keep your feet flat on the ground and your ankles in a safe position. Any cross-trainer shoe will usually work. Converse shoes are also a good choice if your feet are more narrow. Bottom line, you want a shoe that is flat with a sole that is sturdy and has grip. 


If you’re more serious about lifting, there are minimalist lifting shoes available. There are also shoes that have an elevated heel for deadlifts. These shoes should not be used if you are working on the stability of your feet for lifts or beginning lifting.


Many people opt to lift barefoot. Lifting barefoot is something that needs to be worked towards, as you need to build the small stabilizing muscles of the feet. Lifting barefoot might not be appropriate at a commercial gym. 


 Weight Selection: How to Choose Intensity

Knowing your weight selection for movements will take some finetuning. If you’re a beginner, start with lighter weights and focus on mastering your form. Sometimes this may even mean starting with no weight at all and going through the full range of to make sure you can get a movement down first.


You can also gauge what weight you need by measuring your RPE or rate of perceived exertion on a 0 to 10 scale: zero being no exertion and 10 being maximum effort. When you’re beginning lifting, your RPE should be at a 7 or 8, meaning that when you’re finished with a 10 rep set, you feel like you have 3-4 reps still in the tank. As you become more advanced, a RPE of 7-8 (feeling like you have two more reps in the tank after a set) is what you want to aim for. Knowing your RPE will help you fine tune weights for your movements. And, a reminder, if you’re just starting lifting, form is most important. You will see results even if you aren’t using any weights. Listen to your body. If you cannot complete a movement with proper form, you’re lifting too heavy. 


Knowing your weight intensity is something that a trainer can help with. Working with a trainer is the best way to strength train, but if your budget is tight, hiring a trainer for a short amount of time to design a program with the right weights is worth the investment. 


Mind Muscle Connection

There is a lot of research on how your mind muscle connection enhances muscle engagement and muscle fiber recruitment. Concentrate on the muscles being worked and focus on contracting them each rep. This will help with isolating the muscle groups that you are working in a certain movement. Coordinating breathing with slow and controlled movements is ideal. Common muscles that are hard to connect to and the back muscles and glutes. It’s best to work with a trainer to help with that connection. The mind muscle connection speaks to how important it is to lift with quality over quantity. Reps and weight are always secondary to proper form. 


 Warm Up 

Warming up is important to get heat moving through the body and to activate your muscles before lifting. Engaging in mobility movements geared towards specific muscle groups you’ll be working on a given day is ideal. These mobility movements will activate your muscles without fatiguing them before doing bigger, more compound movements. If you want support for your warmups, we offer a free mobility primer that has movements and instructions for your warmups. 


Proper Programming

When figuring out which movements are best for you, choose compound movements majority of the time. Compound movements work more muscle groups, which means you get a bigger bang for your buck. Progressive overload is also key to proper programming. Progressive overload means you are gradually increasing the intensity of your workouts over time. If you’re new to lifting, this could mean starting with just your body weight. Introducing novelty along the way is important to progressive overload as well. You can add novelty by adding periodization or working towards mastering a skill


Rest and Recovery

Rest and recovery is just as important as strength training. If you’re beginning strength training, you only need 2 days of full body workouts a week to start seeing results. Give it a few weeks before you start increasing your workouts. Learn more about rest, recovery, and sleep here. 


Final Thoughts On How To Lift Weights Properly

If you’re just starting to strength train, patience is key. Be patient with yourself and with the process. Have a solid strength training program to follow, and focus on your mind muscle connection in your movements instead of focusing on weights. Allow yourself the space to recover, and add more workouts over time. 


Want to learn more about basic strength training? Listen to The Stronger Than Your Boyfriend Podcast Episode 179: Basic Tips for Strength Training


Want some help with warmup movements? Get our free mobility primer.

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