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How to Lift

Proper technique will help you get the most out of weightlifting, and will help prevent injuries.

Reps and Sets

For each exercise in the Programs, we indicate reps and sets.

  • Rep is short for repetition, or one complete movement (up and down or back and forth), of an exercise. Completion of a rep means you return to starting position.
  • A set is a fixed number of reps.

How Much Weight?

Use enough weight so you can complete the prescribed sets and reps fairly comfortably, but the last rep should feel difficult. This will give your muscles the right amount of resistance (weight) to start building them stronger, but not so much that you injure yourself. As you make progress, and the last rep of the set starts feeling easy, increase the weight -- using the same principle.

Proper Position  

In a standing position, keep feet a little wider than shoulder-width apart and balanced fore and aft. Keep head and neck straight. Many lifting injuries are caused by twisting the head, neck, or trunk. When the spine is twisted, leverage is not as good and muscle injuries often occur. Always go through the full range of motion with each exercise. For bench position, see p. 8.


Inhale at the start of the lift, momentarily hold your breath during the most difficult part, and exhale as you finish. Breathe in and out through the nose and mouth. Do not hold your breath.


  • Use collars on barbells. It’s tempting to save time by leaving off collars, but the weights can slip off the end and cause injury.
  • Use proper positions. Study the drawings.
  • Don’t jerk or twist when lifting. These movements increase stress and can cause injuries.

Day of Rest 

This simple principle is called progressive resistance training. Always take a rest day in between weight training sessions. A 24-hour rest period allows the muscles you’ve been working to adapt to the increased load. In weight training, you can easily stress or “overload” the muscle beyond the demands of previous activity. When this is followed by a rest period, the muscle(s) rebuild with greater strength.

Notice How You Feel

On your day of rest, spend some time noticing the benefits of your training, a new and pleasant sensation of physical awareness. Almost immediately you’ll feel firmer, improved muscle tone. You’ll have more energy and a strong sense of how good it feels to move and be more active.

If you don’t have that good feeling, you need to train harder. Increase the weights, add a few more reps to each set, or move ahead to the next level in the Programs. On the other hand, if you feel excessively sore or stiff, cut back some. You can expect a little discomfort as your muscles and joints adapt, but you should not feel pain.

from: Getting In Shape © 2002
Shelter Publications, Inc., Bolinas, CA

  1. Stretching for flexibility 
  1. Lifting for strength 
  1. Moving for stronger heart and lungs and better circulation
These activites are designed to be done in and around the office.

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