Lifting Techniques: Strength Training Principles and Guidelines

Selection, Sets, Sequences

Barbell Lifting at Strength Training Class
Barbell Lifting at Strength Training Class. Hero Images/Getty Images

What is the proper lifting technique for lifting weights? To get the most effective workout and prevent strain and injury, use these guidelines. Personal trainer Chad Tackett provides these strength training principles and how to avoid common mistakes.

Weight Lifting Form and Technique

With each lift, you need to know the correct form. Too often you are tempted to lift more weight than you can do with proper form.

You see the grey-haired guy on the next weight bench lifting a heavier weight and you aren't going to let him be doing more than you. Or, you are trying to impress your workout buddy with how much you can lift.

You end up using momentum to lift the weight rather than smoothly contracting the targeted muscles. It's also a mistake to lift at a fast speed. That results in using momentum and doing things such as arching your back or bending backward in a shoulder press, or extending your hip or back to start a bicep curl.

Exercise Through Your Full Range of Motion for Each Lift

When you take a muscle through its full range of motion loaded with a weight you get the most benefit for building muscle strength and joint flexibility. Each lift has a target muscle or muscle group, the prime-mover or agonist muscles. When you are doing a biceps curl, you are targeting the biceps to develop your gun show.

You want to do each lift through the full range of motion for that muscle, from full extended to fully contracted on the positive phase of the lift. Then again, you want to go through the full range of motion on the negative phase  back to the fully extended position. This stretches the antagonist muscles for the lift, such as the triceps in the biceps curl.

Exercise Selection - Balance Your Muscle Groups

All of your major muscle groups need to be worked during your strength training program. You don't want to neglect your legs and only work your upper body. You don't want to overdevelop your hamstrings and neglect the quads, leading to imbalance in your legs. You need to know the different major muscle groups and ensure your program is targeting each one. It's acceptable to break up your workouts by body area, doing an upper body workout one day and a lower body on another day, but you need to make sure you actually do both.

This can be a mistake you make if you only enjoy one type of lift. Do your research and make sure you are also working out the anatagonist muscle groups so your body will stay in balance and you will have less risk of injury.

Exercise Sequence - from Large to Small Muscle Groups

The order in which you perform your exercises is also important. The rule of thumb is to start with the larger muscle groups and through your workout progress to working the smaller muscle groups. Trainer Chad Tackett says this lets you get a maximal workout from the large muscles while you are still fresh, and often they enlist a smaller muscle group in the same move, warming it up.

Once you have become accustomed to your training routine, changing the sequence of exercises and which exercises you do in a session can help challenge them in new ways. It also can keep your workouts from becoming a boring grind.

Sets and Repetitions

A repetition is performing an exercise or lift once. An exercise set is the number of times you repeat an exercise or lift in succession without resting. You will often see a workout listed with the exercise or lift, number of repetitions per set and number of sets to be performed.

Workouts vary with how many repetitions and sets are performed, and how much weight or resistance is used.

Heavier weights are usually done with fewer reps per set, as you work the muscle to overload or exhaustion with fewer repetitions.

A warm-up set is often done with 12-20 reps of a lighter weight. A strength and power program may have three or more sets targeting the same muscle group.

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