lift heavy without injury

by Jason Stallworth

November 30, 2020

How many weightlifters and bodybuilders have you seen that can barely walk or are hunched over and have a hard time moving?

Perhaps this is you. And it’s not just older folks. You’ve probably seen younger lifters that suffer from things like knee, elbow, or lower back pain from lifting heavy.

But the problem isn’t lifting heavy weights…

Injury can be caused by a number of things that aren’t necessarily related to the weight itself or the exercise.

In this post, you’re going to learn how to lift heavy while avoiding, or at least greatly reducing the risk of injury.

And this isn’t going to be the typical ‘lift with good form’ answer. I’m going to go much deeper and share some insights that will help you not only avoid injury but also gain more muscle and strength.

In fact, you may want to go mix up your pre-workout drink because you’re going to want to hit the gym after reading this!

1 – Study (Don’t Just Read or Watch) How to Properly Perform Compound Exercises

Legs - Squats for mass

One of the biggest problems today with learning how to properly lift heavy weights is the overload of information, from social media to YouTube videos, and even blog posts (like this!).

Because of this, two things happen:

  1. We end up just skimming over the information at a high-level without really digging into the details.
  2. We become so overwhelmed by the amount of (and often conflicting) information that we don’t absorb any of it.

Where there’s something to be said for learning on our own, through trial and error, you still need to learn the proper way to perform heavy compound exercises.

More so, you need to really dig in and study not only how to perform these exercises, but how your muscles and body are impacted by these movements.

In addition, learn how to adjust the position of these exercises for your specific body type. In other words, don’t just read, study this information.

How to Squat Properly

Mike O’Hearn goes into detail about how to squat properly in this video below. And as you’ll see in the video, Mike doesn’t just say ‘here’s how you squat.’ He goes into great detail about every aspect of doing a proper squat:

How to Deadlift Properly

In the same series, here’s another video below with Mike O’Hearn teaching how to properly perform deadlifts. Mike also shows you the different styles of deadlifts that cater to certain body types.

Like squats, this is another key exercise for heavy lifting:

I encourage you to also learn how to properly do bench press, barbell rows, and overhead press. Again, don’t just read or skim over the information. Study it.

Study the movements and the way your body responds to them so that you can perform these exercises correctly and build muscle while reducing the risk of injury.

2 – Learn from the Success and Failure of Other High Profile Bodybuilders and Weightlifters

One of the most powerful tools you can use is leveraging the experience of other bodybuilders and weightlifters. Learn what has worked for them as well as learn from their mistakes.

The cool thing about the world of bodybuilding is that many experienced lifters are more than willing to share tips with you. Even recreational weightlifters like myself have a genuine passion for helping others and seeing others succeed.

In my early years of lifting, I learned training methods from bodybuilders like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Dorian Yates, Kevin Levrone, Flex Wheeler, and several others from those eras (not personally, but by reading their books or articles in bodybuilding magazines).

You can also learn from others in your gym. Of course, don’t bother people while they’re working out. But if there’s someone at your gym with the physique you desire, you may want to approach them later and pick their brain.

Just as well, many are willing to share their mistakes. And when it comes to preventing injuries from lifting heavy, you’ll learn more from what not to do.

An example is something I learn from an elite lifter in a gym I used to train at in my early days. He taught me how to perform barbell rows without rounding my lower back. This simple lesson probably saved me from some serious back injuries.

Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself.

Eleanor Roosevelt

3 – Don’t Lift Heavy When You’re Tired or Drained

squat rack with belt

The worst thing you can do is try to lift heavy weights when you’re feeling tired or you’re not 100%. And there’s a difference between not being motivated to train versus not being prepared.

Much of this comes down to preparation before your workouts, which we’ll get to in the next section.

If you try to lift heavy weights feeling tired or exhausted then you’re setting yourself up for injury. The reason is obvious – you’re prone to making a mistake during the lift.

On that note, you’re probably already aware that all it takes is one slight wrong move, and BAAM, you just tweaked your lower back or hurt your shoulder or knee or something.

In that split second when you lost focus, you created a scenario where you could be out of the gym for days, if not weeks. And sometimes those injuries can stay with you long-term, causing other problems.

Not being 100% focused often results in what I call a lazy lift. We start to just go through the motions and moving the barbell from point A to B, almost mindlessly.

And what happens is that our focus shifts from making the muscle do the work to merely performing the movement, and not necessarily with proper form in mind.

4 – Prepare Physically and Mentally Before You lift Heavy

This may be the most important section in this post. Everything else we’ve talked about (and will talk about) starts here.

The quality of your workout and performance will always be based on your preparation, both physically and mentally.

Physical Preparation

Let’s talk about physical prep first. That’s actually the easy part.

Here are some practical ways you can prepare to have the best workout and to prevent injury:

  • Make sure you’re well-rested the day (or night) before you train heavy
  • Do some sort of dynamic stretching or light Yoga the night before your heavy workout (you’ll also want to stretch after your workouts)
  • Do however many warm-up sets you need to do that day before jumping into your heavy working sets
  • Make sure you have the adequate fuel to train heavy by eating a pre-workout meal an hour or two before you train or the night before if you train in the early mornings (I train in the early mornings and find that having a hefty meal before bed gives me the fuel I need for those early morning workouts)

Taking a pre-workout supplement like 4 Gauge is another great way to physically prepare yourself for those heavy workouts.

Mental Preparation

Try to recall the last time you had a poor workout or a workout where you knew you weren’t at your best. Can you pinpoint to reason why? I’d be willing to bet it was more mental than physical.

The lack of mental preparation can really throw off your training. And when you’re training heavy, you need to have 100% mental focus.

Here are some things that can help you be focused every time you step foot in the gym:

  • Do not listen or watch anything negative before your workouts (this may mean staying away from the news or social media)
  • Don’t engage in arguments or negative conversations before you train
  • Listen to something encouraging or motivational on the way to the gym
  • Visualize yourself going through your workout (not the entire workout, but specifically those heavy exercises you’ll be doing)

Being both physically and mentally prepared for your session will reduce your risk of injury when lifting heavy, and in general.

5 – Stay Focused Every Second During Your Workouts, Especially When Your Going Heavy

Incline Barbell Press chest

You can be physically and mentally prepared for your workouts but there’s another step to training heavy without injury. And that’s having a deeper level of focus during your workout.

When you’re in the gym it’s easy to get distracted. There are several things that can throw your workout off like…

  • Chatting with gym buddies between sets
  • Having the news on the TV in the gym
  • A song you don’t like comes on the gym radio
  • The last person didn’t put their weights back (this is a valid reason to get pissed off…lol!)
  • You get a text from someone
  • You just get some random negative thought that pops up

The list goes on…

Obviously, some of these things are easily avoidable. If you’re like me, you have your headphones on listening to music, like Heavy Metal Workout.

But you see how easy things can come up, even during your time at the gym. So here are some practical ways to stay 100% focused during your heavy workouts (and all workouts):

  • Set a timer for your rest times between sets; this will really help you stay focused
  • Visualize your next set, going through every detail of the movement before you perform that next set
  • Listening to heavy instrumental music without words can help you stay focused and distraction-free (click the link to the Heavy Metal Workout album I mentioned)
  • Many pre-workout supplements have ingredients to help stimulate mental focus, like 4 Gauge.

It’s important to stay focused throughout your entire workout, especially when training heavy. Remember, all it takes is one small wrong move and you can be out out of commission for who knows how long.

Heavy Weight Training and Assistance

I didn’t cover lifting with assistance, such as using weightlifting belts, straps, knee wraps, and such. Those are things to be assessed by each individual.

For example, if your goal is to increase your deadlift or barbell row strength, you may want to consider using straps (wrist wraps) as your grip is prone to give out before your muscles do.

However, if you’re wanting to increase your grip strength, then maybe you’ll not use straps for the first few sets (or you may use the over-under grip for heavy sets).

As far as weightlifting belts go, some like them, and some do not. Some bodybuilders feel it helps protect their lower back while others feel that it restricts those assisting muscles from getting stronger. I don’t know that there’s a right or wrong answer here in regards to preventing injury. Again, it goes back to the individual.

As I mentioned in the first section, do your own deep research and study these things. Then experiment and find out what works best for you and your body type, and what will help you reach your goals.

I hope this post helps you train heavy while reducing your risk of injury. And if you’re ready for the next level be sure to check out my elite programs here.

Train with Passion,

Jason