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Weightlifting is a vital part of functional fitness, and there’s no denying the benefits of exercise that barbells, dumbbells or other freeweights bring. However, it’s important not to start lifting without the necessary coaching and preparation.

These five weightlifting mistakes that gym members must avoid concentrate around the subject of Olympic lifts, but good form and learning the fundamentals are just as important for any member lifting anything, anywhere.

We speak to Darren ‘Foxy’ Fox, strength and conditioning trainer at Escape Your Limits for insight into what to do and what not to do when it comes to lifting heavy.

Mistake #1: Expecting to weightlift well without coaching.

It’s easy to watch the Olympics on TV and think ‘I could do that, but just with less weight’. But the Olympic lifts are some of the most completed movements you can perform in a gym.

In fact, people often don’t realise the importance of good technique in lifting even relatively light weights. This is why they grab some weights and get lifting without any thought of technique or form.

If someone doesn’t learn good form and develop good habits for squats, deadlifts, bench presses and so on from day one, they are putting themselves at risk of injury and won’t get maximum benefits from lifting.

FOXY SAYS: “To be able to pick up a bar and start snatching (or do any other weightlifting exercise well) the beginner needs to get some quality one-to-one time with a good PT or specialist lifting coach.

“It’s especially important that the beginner gets coaching at their level, and gets feedback on how well they are performing their lifts. That’s something that watching lifting videos on YouTube can never replicate.”

squat lift

Mistake #2: Going too big, too soon.

People often seem to want to get onto the big weights right from the start. Maybe it’s enthusiasm, optimism or something to do with the ego. Whatever the case, it’s an urge that has to be controlled.

Trying to use weights that are beyond your current capability can be very demotivating. More importantly, it can also lead to injury, even for someone whose general fitness is pretty good.

FOXY SAYS: “People should take their time, learn the basics and not be scared to start with light weights. In fact, it’s always a good idea to learn the correct movements first with a bar that has no weights fitted or something like a training bar. If someone can’t do the correct movement without weight, how will they be able to when the weights are added?

“Once the basics have been mastered, make small increases to weight over a prolonged period to allow your body to adjust to increased loads and ensure you maintain form.”

Mistake #3: Not setting fitness goals.

It’s fine to start training and lifting with no goals in mind to begin with. But pretty soon, not having a fitness plan will start to have a negative impact on motivation and progress.

FOXY SAYS: “Once someone gets past their first steps it really helps to set SMART goals and record their progress. As a guide, a novice lifter working out regularly could add up to 5% each month to their bench press and 10% to their floor squat. These are achievable goals and bring excellent progressive resistance into a fitness programme.”

Mistake #4: No warm up.

Expecting to be able to lift well and lift safely without warm up and mobilising the body first is unrealistic and dangerous. The body needs to be prepared before it can work out safely and effectively at the intensity levels required for Olympic or powerlifting.

FOXY SAYS: “Everyone – beginners and Olympic champions alike – should make sure they are fully warmed up before they begin lifting. When someone seeks coaching on lifting, they should make sure the coach also takes them through some warm up and mobility routines.

“Warming up can include some cardiovascular exercises to get the heart rate going, bodyweight exercises like a few push-ups, squats and lunges, a good mobility routine and work with rollers or other self myofascial release tools.”

be warmed up

Mistake #5: Choosing the wrong equipment.

Most gyms will have several types of lifting equipment available, for example a set of barbells and the combination of Olympic bars and plates. A beginner will probably pick up whichever one happens to be available at a given time, or the one that seems to be more user-friendly for them.

FOXY SAYS: “This is another area where the weightlifting coach can give advice that’s right for an individual. Barbells have their place and so do Olympic bars and Olympic plates. Beginners need to understand which option to go for in different circumstances.

“Be sure to get advice from your lifting coach based on your strength and ability and select your equipment wisely. Choosing the wrong collars or a cheap bar can be the difference between hitting that new PB or a frustrating failed rep.”

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