Monday, August 4, 2008

Safety: Free Weights

By Courtney Westlake

Note: This is part two of a series focusing on safety and proper form when exercising.

Exercise machines are designed to keep you on track and using proper form, but when it comes to free weights, the risk of injury or unsafe practices is much greater. It is vital to learn how to properly lift free weights.

"It's very important to practice safe measures when lifting dumbbells," said Amanda Jillson, assistant director of fitness and instructional programs at the TRAC. "You want to make sure that if you are standing and lifting, your feet are parallel and shoulder-width apart. Don't lock your knees up; keep a natural bend in your knees and your arms."

When weight lifting, you want to breathe in and out at a consistent pace, Jillson said. Breathe in on the contraction of your muscle and release your breath on the extraction.

For example, when performing bicep curls, you should breathe in when lifting the weights up and breathe out when you release down.

"For bicep curls, you should also make sure your arms are close to your body and your elbows are in," Jillson said. "Curl up and get the full contraction of the bicep."

To do a shoulder press with free weights, keep your elbows out and even with your shoulders, then extend up in upward motion, Jillson said. Stop at a 90 degree angle.

"You don't want to go too low because it puts your shoulder out of alignment and puts pressure on your shoulder joint," Jillson said.

The tricep extension or tricep kickback "sounds like a complicated move because of all the steps for proper form but it's really not difficult," Jillson said.

First you should stagger your feet, bend at your knees slightly and tilt your hips and your chest out and down. Bring your shoulders back and move your elbows straight back and up.

Then extend your dumbbells backward in an upward motion, making sure to keep your elbows high. Straighten your arms all the way back and keep your elbows high and stationary. This exercise works your tricep muscles on the back side of your arms.

To perform shoulder extensions with free weights, you can do a front extension or a side extension. For a side extension exercise, hold weights at your side and then lift in a lateral motion. The weights should be level to your shoulder when you lift. This exercise is working your deltoid muscles.

For a front raise, lift the weights out in front of you with the dumbbells together, and again, don't go past your shoulder plain, Jillson said.

When it comes to lifting free weights, don't be afraid to ask for assistance, Jillson said.

"If the weights are too heavy, you always want to have a spotter," she said. "If you're not sure of the proper form, you can always ask questions of the TRAC staff. Personal trainers are also available to assist you in lifting as well as create a workout for you."