Oct 28, 2016 12:00 AM

Author: Peter Chalmers, MD


As the temperature drops but before the snow falls, more and more people are hitting the gym instead of the trail. Weightlifting has multiple potential benefits – it may increase metabolism, reduce the risk of osteoporosis, and reduce stress. However, weight lifting can place increased stress on your shoulder and elbow, and injuries are common.

Whether you are weight lifting for fitness or aiming for the perfect “beach body” when spring break comes, here are some tips to reduce the risk of shoulder or elbow injury while pumping iron:

  • Favor low weights and high repetitions over high weight and low repetition. If you usually try for three sets of 10, reduce the weight and aim for five sets of 15.
  • If using free weights, modify your work-out so that your hands are always below the level of your shoulders. Consider trying row and raise exercises over military press.
  • Watch the placement of your elbows. Don’t let them flare out from your sides when lifting – especially while bench pressing. Holding your elbows in puts you in a stronger position and reduces the likelihood you will be injured.
  • Don’t forget the small muscles! When designing workouts, most people focus on the large visible muscles, like the pectoralis, the deltoid, the biceps, and the triceps. However, the shoulder is surrounded by smaller muscles that are critical to maintain shoulder and shoulder blade stability and reduce risk of injury. For instance, the four smaller muscles of the rotator cuff (the suprasinatus, the infraspinatus, the subscapularis, and the teres minor) and the multiple small muscles that control the shoulder blade (the rhomboids, the serratus, the mid and lower trapezius, and the levator) are often forgotten.

Be sure to follow basic gym safety rules as well: be aware of your surroundings and watch where weights are. One dropped weight can lead to several broken toes. Also, be sure when lifting any weight on a bar above your body that you have a spotter. As with all types of exercise make sure you are properly hydrated alternate work-out days with rest days, and ensure that you have an adequate cardiovascular warm-up and stretch prior to lifting.

Of course, there are times when injuries happen. If you get injured please seek help right away. Don’t think you can “walk it off” or that it will heal on its own. An orthopedist can assess if you have done damage that needs medical intervention. Then they can help you get back to the gym.

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