Getting a good workout is not just about running on a treadmill or using a stationary bike. Weightlifting is another important part of any gym routine—especially if you're trying to slim down. Increased metabolism from growing muscles can speed up fat loss, and lifting weights can also create stronger skeletal muscles and bones. An hour of vigorous weightlifting can burn just as many calories an hour of playing basketball, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. But if you don't train properly you may not achieve the results you want—or, worse, you might even injure yourself. So before you pick up the free weights, take a look at our list of the top mistakes to avoid when weightlifting, according to Joe DiAngelo, a New York City certified personal trainer of more than 10 years.
1. Eating Badly If you aren't eating a proper diet, weightlifting may actually make you bulgy, not buff. Combining a fatty diet with squats and free weights, for example, can make your butt look bigger. Why? Because you are building glute muscles but keeping the fat layer the same size. So the muscles will push the fat forward and the butt will look bigger. But with a healthy, low-fat diet, you'll get lean muscles and burn the fat away. According to DiAngelo, your diet needs to consist of foods with a low glycemic index, which generally have less of an impact on blood glucose levels. These include fruits like apples, pears, bananas and grapefruit; vegetables like broccoli, asparagus, cauliflower and beans; brown rice and whole-grain foods. (Foods that are high on the glycemic index—like white bread, mashed potatoes, pasta or cookies—cause fluctuations in blood sugar and insulin that interfere with the breakdown of fat.) Want some ideas? Here's a sample meal plan from DiAngelo, who is also a licensed sports nutritionist. Breakfast: 3 or more egg whites with 1 cup of cooked oatmeal. Snack: 1 cup blueberries. Lunch: chicken breast with vegetables like asparagus, broccoli or green beans. Snack: A half cup almonds or cashews. Dinner: tuna or salmon with vegetables.
2. Underestimating Your Strength A lot of people believe that using lighter weights and doing a lot of reps is the way to go, but that can just be a waste of your time. In order to build muscles you have to stimulate them, DiAngelo says. "Many people use too little weight, so they never stimulate muscles to grow and never see results," he says.
3. Trying to Be Macho On the other hand, if you train with weights that are too heavy, you can strain or overtrain your muscles so they are not able to grow. It's also easier to injure yourself when you're working with heavy weights. Wondering how much you should be lifting? DiAngelo suggests an easy trick. If you do 12 reps, you want to pick a weight that feels comfortable for the first few reps but is heavy enough that you'll be struggling a little by the 12th rep. If you can do more than 12 reps without much effort, the weight is too light and you should increase it.
4. Having Bad Form If you're using the wrong form, you can lift weights for years and never see a positive difference. In fact, you can do more damage than good. If you're doing bicep curls incorrectly, for example, you may be using your back to swing. If that's the case, your biceps won't be stimulated, but you may put unnecessary strain on your back. Another common mistake? Not having a full range of motion. For example, DiAngelo says many people don't bend their knees deeply enough when they squat to get the full benefits (like well-toned thighs and butt). Not sure if you're training correctly? Ask a certified trainer. Many gym trainers will offer free advice; some even offer one complimentary session. Check around.
Once you've got the right form, weights and diet, you'll no longer have to wonder whether your weightlifting routine is making a difference. You should be able to see it.