Healthy weightlifting

Jed Campbell-Williams
Workplace Health Operations Manager at Bupa UK
07 September 2022
Next review due September 2025

Weightlifting has many health benefits. But if you are new to it, it can be hard to know how to get started. You may be afraid of getting injured or using the wrong technique. Here I’ll explore the benefits of adding regular weightlifting into your routine, as well as how to do it in a healthy and safe way.

woman lifting weights in the gym

What types of weightlifting are there?

There are many different types of weights, and each kind has its own benefits. You might choose to try weightlifting as part of your gym routine, or you may wish to get started at home. Either way you have many options to choose from. You could try:

  • Dumbbells – these are smaller sized weights that you can do many types of bodyweight exercises with. You can get these in a range of different weights depending on your current fitness and strength levels. They can be used during squats and lunges to give you an extra challenge.
  • Barbells – these are the weights you attach to the ends of a longer pole – and they are mostly used for deadlifting. This is where you lift the weights from the floor up and over your head.
  • Kettlebells – these are good if you want to get a more intense cardio workout in too. You can do a range of dynamic movements with these, including the famous ‘kettlebell swing’.

How healthy is weightlifting?

When you think about exercise you may picture someone running or biking. And cardiovascular exercise is important – it strengthens your heart and your lungs. But weightlifting and other types of resistance type exercise are equally important.

Weightlifting can offer you:

  • Increased muscle mass – which is useful as you age
  • A stronger body – this can help you with sports and in daily life
  • Improved bone health – essential for women post menopause
  • Mental health benefits – such as reduced stress and anxiety

But it is important to weightlift safely, to prevent any injuries, aches, or pains.

How much weightlifting is healthy?

The UK government’s exercise guidelines recommend that you do a strength-based exercise such as weightlifting at least two times a week. When these sessions are combined with regular cardiovascular exercise, you will get a wide range of physical and mental health benefits.

Doing a lot more weightlifting than this can mean you don’t have enough time to repair and recover between sessions. When you lift weights, you put your muscles under stress. This is a good thing as it allows them to adapt to the challenge and become stronger. But your muscles need a little time to repair themselves from the microtears which happen through exercise. So, mixing up your workouts to include cardio, mobility work and stretches can help your muscles to recover. And adding in a rest day once or twice a week is a good idea – on these days you could take a walk or practice yoga instead.

How can I weightlift safely?

Following a few key tips can keep you safe as you weight lift and can prevent you from getting injured.

1) Warm up well

Before you start weightlifting do some dynamic movements and light cardio. This is so you can prepare your muscles by bringing fresh blood flow to them. Movements such as squats, lunges or jogging on the spot are ideal.

2) Use a good technique

It might be tempting to use a heavy weight in order to get quick results. But it is safer to focus on using the correct technique with a lower weight. Over time this will still build the strength you desire, but it will help to prevent you getting injured. Consider taking a session with a trainer or an experienced weightlifter to help you learn good form.

3) Train both sides of your body

Try to avoid doing too many unilateral moves. This is when you focus on one side of the body only. Doing this can cause muscle imbalances throughout your body. Instead, train both sides of your body equally to ensure overall strength and mobility.

4) Cool down safely

Cooling down from weightlifting is important. Because it can speed up your recovery and prevent muscle aches and pains later. Try to include mobility work and stretching. You could consider an occasional sports massage to ease any tension in tight muscles.

5) Listen to your body

If you notice pain or discomfort in any movement – try to modify the move and seek advice from a healthcare professional. For example, if a full squat feels too intense, try not to go so deep into the move to reduce the load on your joints. Getting enough sleep is also important – as is fuelling your body well with good nutrition. Make sure you get enough protein. Aim to have between 1.2 to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of your body weight each day.

If you have a muscle, bone or joint problem, our direct access service aims to provide you with the advice, support and treatment you need as quickly as possible. If you’re covered by your health insurance, you’ll be able to get advice from a physiotherapist usually without the need for a GP referral. Learn more today.

Jed Campbell-Williams
Jed Campbell-Williams (he/him)
Workplace Health Operations Manager at Bupa UK

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