How Weight Training Can Wreck Your Joints and the Science that Fixes It

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Injuries from weight training can be avoided, but only if weight training is treated not as a sport, but as an extension of biomechanics. In his new book, Congruent Exercise: How to Make Weight Training Easier on Your Joints, personal trainer Bill DeSimone explains the science and gives practical tips on how to apply it.

Getting hurt exercising has to be the most counter-productive result you can get.

As more people train with weights, unfortunately more people get hurt training with weights. The injuries can be dramatic, or they just add to nagging aches and pains. But according to a new book, Congruent Exercise: How to Make Weight Training Easier on Your Joints ( many of these injuries are avoidable.

Bill DeSimone, author of Congruent Exercise, developed the approach after rupturing his own biceps and triceps in separate training accidents. “I thought I knew what I was doing, and according to my exercise books and certifications, I did”, he said. So he put aside the exercise material, and picked up textbooks on anatomy and biomechanics. What he found was almost as disturbing as his injuries.

“Much of what I had learned about weight training was directly contradicted by the biomechanics material,” he observed. He realized that many barbell and machine exercises put the joints in vulnerable positions and risked strains and more severe injuries. He rebuilt his own exercise program by comparing conventional exercises to biomechanics texts and making adjustments. This effectively made weight training easier on his joints and spine, and he began presenting the material in seminars and YouTube videos. Links to many of these presentations, articles, and videos are available through his blog (

Most recently, he put the material together as Congruent Exercise. “Congruent” refers to matching the actions called for in an exercise, to proper muscle and joint function. In addition to essays explaining where exercise conventions differ from biomechanics, Congruent Exercise demonstrates exactly how to do the exercises in both pictures (the print version) and video (with the Kindle version linking to each exercise instruction Individually).

It’s not necessary to avoid weight training, according to DeSimone, because there are numerous benefits, but neither should the risks be ignored. Here are a few general tips for safer weight training from Congruent Exercise.
*Maintain your posture during weight training exercises, especially the curves in the spine. When the overall spine is in its normal curves, the pressure on the discs is even. The safest strategy is to maintain the normal curves under load; especially if the exercise makes this challenging. Reduce the weight if necessary to maintain the safe spine posture.

*Don’t let the weight push you into a stretch. Articulating a joint for mobility should be separate from weight training for strength. Stretching the joint with a weight generally takes the muscle away from the optimal length for muscle force, and puts the joint in a vulnerable position.

*Don’t put a barbell over your face, neck, or spine without structural barriers…or at all. The safest way to use a barbell is to keep it off the body. If the goal isn’t Olympic competition or power lifting, there is a choice between the much-touted benefits of barbell work and the obvious safety concerns. Sure, many use barbells without incident, but the incidents that are reported are crushed spines, jaws, and knees. And exercises with a barbell can challenge the nuances of safe joint function.

Any physical activity has risks; especially weight training, which inherently requires a bit of challenge. Pre-existing conditions may get worse in spite of best efforts otherwise. But exercise should not create new problems. The science -biomechanics- to make exercises safer and more productive, has been available all along; just not applied in a practical way. Congruent Exercise applies textbook biomechanics to free weight and machine exercises to make them safer, easier on the joints, and more productive, resulting in a more sustainable program and benefits for the long run.

About Bill DeSimone and Congruent Exercise
Bill DeSimone, an experienced personal trainer, provides one-to-one training and consulting through his studio, Optimal Exercise in Cranbury, New Jersey.

Congruent Exercise is his approach to joint-friendly exercise in book form. He also presents the material in a blog ( and video (, as well as seminars and conferences.

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