How dangerous is it to lift heavy weights? Actually, not as unsafe as it looks…
If you’ve never lifted a weight before, then you might look on at those in the gym who do with fear. They often drop big, heavy bars, they have joints and muscles strapped up and supported and they look red and like they’re struggling. Much nicer, safer and easier to go for a run or do a HIIT circuit, right?
While lifting weights that are heavier than yourself over your head does come with some risk, should it really be enough to put you off? We think not, especially considering the huge benefits of strength training.
Interestingly, a study found that when playing everyday sports, like football, rugby or hockey, you are up to 10 times more likely to get hurt than if you hit the gym for some heavy weightlifting (although don’t let that put you off sports either, as the risk is still incredibly low).
Weightlifting safely is all about the preparation and execution of the movements. To teach us about the risk vs reward, we turned to Strong Women Collective members Alice Miller and Emma Obayuvana. Here’s what they had to say:
Is weightlifting dangerous?
“For most people, lifting weights is a safe and healthy thing to do. Most injuries to do with weightlifting are just normal aches and pains, such as DOMS, that can be fixed with recovery, ice or heat. The more intense weightlifting you do, like CrossFit or Olympic Weightlifting, the higher the risk of injury, but even then it’s not as dangerous as you might think.
Weightlifting is safe if you are doing it with proper form and proper load. You need to know what your limit is and leave your ego at the door. If you cheat and use bad technique to lift a heavier load, you might sustain an injury, but otherwise I say it’s not dangerous.”
“If you are moving well, lifting weights is not dangerous. I have been weightlifting for seven years now and I’ve never hurt myself badly in the gym. I’d say that the main cause of injury is going too heavy too soon: it can hurt our lower back when we do movements with heavy weights without learning first how to engage our muscles correctly. If you practice first, it’s not risky.
Not only is weightlifting safe to do but by building a strong body it actually reduces the risk of injury in the real world. We can be injured from gardening, from picking something off the floor, from doing any form of movement, but weightlifting can bulletproof your body from these everyday injuries.”
Is weightlifting bad for your heart?
“If you are focusing on power or going for explosive movements then your heart rate may spike, which could explain why people think it is dangerous. If you have heart issues then you need to make sure that you sign off any exercise with your doctor to make sure it is appropriate for you. But if you are healthy, without heart issues, and have been signed off by a doctor then weight training is actually very good for your heart, not dangerous!”
“When you’re lifting heavy on compound lifts like squat, bench and deadlifts at around 85% or more of your maximum lift, we take a big breath in before picking up the weight. This creates intra-abdominal pressure, switching the muscles on in your midline and stabilising your spine so we can lift more weight. Because we are holding our breath, it causes a small, temporary spike in your blood pressure. For the majority of the population this is safe, but if you are at risk of heart issue or stroke, you need to make sure you are allowed to perform moves like this.
I want to stress that not everyone has to or should be lifting that heavy though. The majority of the population can lift at around 75% of their max, stay safe and still get results. It is important to remember that everyone is different with a different medical history, but generally, lifting weights is healthy and one of the best things you can do for your heart.”
How can we practice safe weight training?
“There are steps we can take to reduce the risk of danger when training. If you’re not sure what to do, I’d always say find a trainer to help coach you through it. The next most important thing is to practice with proper technique: if you are compromising on form to shift heavier weight, you are risking injury.
We also can properly control the breath to make sure we stay safe. That means properly exhaling when we take the load. And it’s also so important to recover properly. The less quality the recovery you have, the more risk there is of sustaining an injury as you won’t be prepared for the session ahead.
Remember: if you are feeling unwell, light headed or just not quite right, stop training. You shouldn’t be feeling dizzy when lifting weights.”
“If you are unsure about what to do in the gym I would invest in your body and health and pay for a few sessions with a trainer. You don’t have to buy a huge block but if you want to learn to move well I would recommend having someone teach you.
The most important thing to do to stay safe in the gym is to master the basic movements with your bodyweight and only pick up the weights once you have the perfect shapes. You can get a great workout in without weights and you can progress to adding load once the movements feel good. Your ego is the main cause of injury – so don’t lift too heavy too soon without correct form.”
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Images: Getty / Benjamin Youd
Chloe Gray is the senior writer for stylist.co.uk's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).