The fundamentals of training with weights

by Sean Irving at AIA Vitality on Wednesday 25 May 2022

4 min read

If you’ve just started a weights program, it’s important that you structure your training properly so you can maximise results while minimising any risk of injury.

We’ve enlisted the expertise of Virgin Active's Personal Trainer, Ana Andreopoulos, and collated her top advice for training with weights safely and efficiently.

Don’t skip the warm-up

Ease yourself in with active stretches and some light foam rolling to prepare your joints for the extra weight they’ll need to bear. Also, be sure to drink plenty of water before, during, and after training to avoid dehydration.

Adaptation takes time

If you’re new to weight training – or starting a new program – you’ll need to let your body adapt to the movements you’re doing. Your aim should be higher reps of individual exercises (whether that’s bench presses, squats, curls, rows, etc.). Aim for around 12–15 reps per set, with low weight, until your body is used to the movements.

Progressive overload is the goal 

After giving yourself time to adapt, shift focus to overloading your body progressively. This approach to training was developed by a doctor, Thomas DeLorme, while treating soldiers returning from World War II, and it involves gradually increasing the stress placed on your body during exercise. You can build up this stress each time you train by altering your volume (more sets and reps) and intensity (fewer sets and reps with more resistance via added weight). This progression will promote muscle growth.

Form reigns supreme

It may take you a little bit of trial and error to find the suitable level of weight to be lifting for each movement in your training program, so use form as your baseline. It’s okay to lift heavy, but only if you can maintain strict form throughout each set. If not, reduce the weight.

Aim for constant tension 

Constant – or continuous – tension is a training technique that emphasises fluidity when executing lifts. People tend to rely on intra-set resting when training, which shifts the tension off the muscle they’re trying to work. For example, by bench pressing in a start-stop motion and taking a pause when the bar returns to chest level.

These pauses, though short, rest the muscle and increase strain on your joints, tendons, and ligaments – making you more prone to injury. By aiming for constant tension of four to seven seconds on the muscle as you complete the range of movement within each lift, you’ll up the intensity of your workout while reducing stress on the rest of your body. Using the bench press to illustrate, ‘constant tension’ means that from the moment you unrack the bar you’re engaging your chest, shoulders, and triceps as you lower and raise the bar for each rep. Your movements throughout the lift should be smooth and purposeful, with no pauses.

Think about what you’re doing 

When executing any movement, think about the muscles you’re intending to use. Creating a mind–muscle connection means you’ll be more likely to follow the full range of motion for each exercise, resulting in greater efficiency and, ultimately, better results. 

Switch things up 

It’s a good idea to vary your routine slightly on a regular basis. As you’re training, you’re placing the body under stress. Over time, you adapt to this stress, and you’ll start to see diminishing returns.

You can slow this process of adaptation by adjusting the volume and intensity of sets, or even by mixing up the sequence in which you perform your exercises. As for how hard you should be pushing yourself, aim to experience failure – the point when you can’t complete another repetition – at around 10–12 reps of any given exercise.

Find some balance 

A good program should provide plenty of opportunities for your muscles to recover. Rest, sleep, and good nutrition are priorities that you should account for. Alternating training days with some mobility work, like Pilates or yoga, is a great way to avoid injury, as is taking weekly rest days when you don’t train at all.

Weightlifting watch-outs

According to Ana, you can add these to the ‘don’ts’ list. 

  • Don’t use jerky movements: Jerky movements take tension away from muscles, increasing pressure on your joints. Use slow, controlled movements to keep tension on the muscle and minimise the risk of injury.
  • Don’t move weights too fast: Remember, you’re aiming for around seven seconds of constant muscle tension per rep. Try to avoid ‘locking out’ at the end of each movement, as this places undue tension on your joints, tendons, and ligaments.
  • Don’t get ahead of yourself: You might be tempted to push yourself to make that PB, but it’s best to take things slow. The more you exert yourself, the more likely you are to compromise your form – and that’s a recipe for injury.
  • Let's get moving and grooving: Now that you've got all the basics underway, plug in, and pump up the music to get going!

Not convinced strength training is for you? It turns out that strength training may do more for us than any other type of workout, from boosting brainpower to reducing the risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease. If you're new to weight training or need that extra bout of confidence in the gym, let a Personal Trainer help you on your fitness journey and talk to us today.

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