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Tips for Making Your Workouts Safe and Effective

This is an excerpt from Fitness Weight Training-3rd Edition by Thomas R. Baechle & Roger W. Earle.

You will have a tendency to hold your breath throughout the entire exertion phase. Avoid doing this because it is dangerous! If you do not exhale, you reduce the return of blood to your heart and brain, which can make you feel dizzy and lightheaded and might cause you to faint. Holding your breath is especially dangerous when performing overhead exercises, particularly if you have high blood pressure. Put simply, proper breathing is extremely important during weight training.

When to Wear a Weight Belt

Should you wear a weight belt? The answer varies based on the exercise and weight of the load relative to the most weight you can lift for the exercise.
Here are two guidelines:

  • You do not need a weight belt for exercises that do not place any stress on the lower back. Common exercises that do not require a weight belt are the lat pulldown, bench press, biceps curl, and leg extension. In other words, do not put on a weight belt for your first exercise and wear it during the rest of your workout because most exercises—when performed properly—do not apply specific stress to your lower back.

  • You should definitely wear a belt when performing exercises that stress the back and involve the use of maximum or near-maximum loads. When using a belt, pull it snugly around your waist and remember that using a weight belt in and of itself will not protect you from back injuries—good technique will!

Train With Care

The following precautions will make training safer and more effective. Often such directions or warnings are posted on a wall in a fitness facility or on a sign attached to a machine or exercise station. Although many of these precautions seem sensible, you will often see other people not following them. So be aware of your surroundings, especially during the busy times of a fitness facility before work, during the noon hour, and after work.

Using Free Weights

Although free-weight exercises provide the greatest degree of freedom in movement, this advantage can be a liability. An increase in the options of how you can move a bar, dumbbell, kettlebell, or weight plate also means an increase in the number of potentially hazardous circumstances.

Load Bars Properly

Take great care to load weight plates on a bar evenly and with the proper weight. If the ends of a suspended bar (where it is resting on the upright supports of a bench or on the hooks of a rack) are not loaded evenly, the bar may tip, possibly resulting in injury. Learning to recognize the weight of various bars and weight plates will help you in loading the bar evenly and placing the proper amount of load on the bar.

Lock Barbells and Dumbbells

Lifting with unlocked barbells and dumbbells is dangerous. Weight plates that are not secured with locks can easily slide off the bar and land on your feet or other body parts. Before performing every set, check both locks for tightness. Do not assume that the previous person using the barbell or dumbbell tightened the locks.

Avoid Backing Into Others

An untimely bump into another person might cause a barbell or dumbbell to fall on your head (during an overhead exercise) or face (from a lying-down exercise) or on the head or face of someone training nearby.

Be Aware of Extended Bars

Extended bars are those that overhang or extend outward from machines (such as the lat pulldown exercise; see chapter 6), barbells supported on large racks (like on a squat rack), bench uprights, or bars held in the hands of other people who are working out. Pay special attention to bars that are positioned at or above shoulder height; serious facial injuries can result from walking into them.

Store Equipment Properly

Each piece of equipment in the weight training area should be stored in a special location. People can trip or slip on barbells, dumbbells, and weight plates that are left unattended or not placed in their proper locations. Make sure that you put your equipment away immediately after using it, both at home and when you are working out in a fitness facility. If you have children at home, you may face an added danger if they are able to climb on equipment or try to lift plates and bars that are too heavy for them. Secure your weight training equipment so that children do not have access to it without your supervision.

Using Machines

Although the mechanics of working out on a machine are less complicated, following a few steps will help maximize safety:

  • Insert the T- or L-shaped selector key all the way in the weight stack. Also, do not use any type of key that does not come with the specific machine.
  • Adjust the machine to accommodate your body size, and refer to the signs or illustrations (if provided) for the location of the adjustment knobs or dials. If there are no signs or you are not sure how to make adjustments, request help from a qualified person.
  • Check that the seat, pads, and arms of the machine are locked in place so they do not slip out of position when you perform the exercise.
  • Establish a stable base of support for exercises that involve placing your feet on the floor or positioning your head, torso, hips, or legs on or against the equipment.
  • Fasten seat belts securely (if provided).
  • Perform exercises through the full range of motion and always in a slow and controlled manner.
  • Do not allow the weight plates to slam against the rest of the stack during the lowering phase or hit the pulleys during the raising phase.
  • If a piece of equipment does not work properly, ask for help. Never place your hands or fingers between weight stacks to dislodge a selector key that is stuck, and keep your hands, fingers, long hair, and clothing away from moving chains, belts, pulleys, and cams.

Learn more about Fitness Weight Training-3rd Edition.

More Excerpts From Fitness Weight Training 3rd Edition