Weight Lifting Safety


Photo of a man lifting weights with a therapist.
Weight training can be beneficial after injury or surgery. Photo: Arthur Tilley/ Getty Images

Adding weights to a strengthening exercise regimen is an effective way to advance your rehabilitation program. Lifting weights, however, can cause serious injury if done improperly. By following some basic guidelines, you can learn how to use weight safely to progress your therapy program.

Why Add Weights to Your Program?

If you are trying to improve the way your body functions, sometimes it may be necessary to challenge your muscles.

That way, your body will be able to adapt to increased stresses and forces that may be placed on it throughout the day. Your physical therapist may have you add resistance to your home exercise program to help improve the function of a specific muscle group or to prepare you for athletic competition.

A few tips for weight lifting safety are as follows:


  • Check in with your doctor and PT before starting a weight lifting program.
  • Do warm up and cool down before each routine.
  • Do keep your back straight when lifting.
  • Do wear shoes with good traction.
  • Do use proper lifting technique when moving weights around the room.


  • Don't lift more than you know you can lift safely.
  • Don't continue lifting if you feel pain.
  • Don’t hold your breath.
  • Don't lift weights if you are lightheaded.

Following these tips will allow you to benefit from the addition of weights to your strengthening program without the risk of further injury.

Can I Lift Weights after Injury or Surgery?

After surgery or injury, you may be hesitant to start adding weights to your exercise program. Will the weight cause damage? Will your body be able to handle the increased stress and strain created by weight training? Generally speaking, you should be fine if you have progressed through your PT rehab program properly.

A typical progression for a muscle or joint after injury or surgery may be:

  • Passive range of motion (ROM)
  • Active assistive ROM
  • Active ROM
  • Stabilization of proximal muscles
  • Resistance training with weights or resistance bands

If you follow this progression properly and under the guidance of your physical therapist, you should be able to add weights to your rehab program with minimal risk of suffering serious injury.

Here's another trick to use when adding weights to your exercises after injury or surgery: change the position of the weights on your body. Remember that the amount of torque on a specific joint depends on the amount of force (the weight) and the distance that weight is from the moving joint. (Think back to physics; torque equals force times the distance of the lever arm.) By moving the weight closer to your joint when doing the exercise, the amount or pressure through your joint is minimized. This is most often used in s straight leg raising progression after knee or hip surgery.

By sliding the weight up your leg, you can minimize the force traveling through your knee or hip joint.

Adding weights may be an essential component to your PT rehab program. Talk to your doctor to be sure that weight training is safe for you, and then visit your physical therapist to be sure that you progress your weight training properly.

Edited by Brett Sears, PT, About.com PT Expert. Join in the convo on Facebook!


American Family Physician, Weight-Training and Weight-Lifting Safety, Jan 15, 2003.

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