Tips For Weightlifting With AS

Since I was a teenager, I have always enjoyed lifting weights at the gym. It was probably the first hobby I had that didn’t get me into trouble! I loved how I felt after a workout; my stress levels decreased and my mind become clearer. It also made me feel like my muscles were growing enough to impress the ladies  - unfortunately I was very much mistaken about that one!

When AS rocked up into my life, I feared I would be forced into an early retirement from weightlifting. However, I was determined to not let my new autoimmune condition steal my gain and my favorite hobby that didn’t involve alcohol.

After much trial and error, I worked out that I can still work out despite having AS. So I thought I would share a few tips with you guys on how it can still be done.

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Stretch before and after

This is probably the first rule to working out for everyone. Although in my pre-AS days, I most definitely skipped this part in 98% of my trips to the gym. I now realize just how important it is. AS is already trying its hardest to damage my body, so I’m not going to give it a helping hand.

Not only can stretching help avoid pain and injury, but it can also reduce the stiffness levels that AS causes. This helps me feel a lot better in myself and also makes it much easier to perform exercises correctly & safely. Sometimes I have a hot bath with Epsom salts beforehand to really loosen up all my joints for a workout.

Pay attention to form

Back in the day, I was guilty of swinging dumbbells in an rather unruly fashion. Either because I didn’t properly know what I was doing, or in an attempt to appear alpha, I was taking on weight that was too heavy. Not only did this make me look like a tool, it also put me at risk of causing my body some serious damage.

When it comes to lifting weights, do it properly or not at all. So if you‘re unsure of how to properly perform any exercise, it’s a good idea to get a trainer to show you. Alternatively, you could also study videos online. Practice the exercise with a lower weight until you get the proper form right before moving up to a heavier weight.

Start light

Starting out on a lighter weight should not be limited to when you’re learning an exercise for the first time. Having a condition as unpredictable as AS means we never know how much our body can handle on any given day & that can make lifting heavy weights risky.

So when performing a lift that requires a bit more weight or moving it into a potentially dangerous location, I take extra precaution. I like to start on a light weight and gradually move up with each set until I find a weight that my body is comfortable with. This way I don’t receive a painful surprise if I attempt something that my body isn’t capable of on the day. I also try not to make drastic jumps with the weight I add each time, just to be safe.

In an ideal world, I’m sure all of us would love to slug around massive weights and show off how strong we are. Of course it is still possible to have AS and lift heavy, but it’s important to be smart with how we get there.

Bring someone along

Not only is working out always more fun with a friend, but it also makes things safer. Having a friend spot me makes me feel a lot more confident that I won’t drop and crush myself with weight. And course it can stop that happening in the (hopefully unlikely) event that my body fails me mid-set!

Also, if you can find a particularly considerate friend, you could ask them to help you set up equipment and carry weights across the gym for you. If you are lucky enough to find someone willing to do this, it can be a good way of minimizing the stress on your joints in between sets.

Get your outfit right

Don’t worry - I am in no position to give out any fashion advice. What I mean by this is pick clothing that isn’t going to cause discomfort or get in the way of things. For example, if you have any inflamed joints, wear something that is looser around that area without being so baggy that it gets in the way of things. Make sure to wear a pair of comfortable and supportive shoes too.

Also if you have any joints that you particularly struggle with, speak to your doctor about finding some appropriate support for them. You will find that there are wraps and belts available that can provide support and protection for whatever you need help with. Personally, I often struggle with pain and stiffness in my fingers. I have invested in a pair of wrist wraps which allow me to get better grip when lifting weights and lower the risk of dropping them on myself.

Know your limits

All of us with AS are more than familiar with the phrase "listen to your body" than most. That can quite literally be the case when it comes to lifting weights. The movement can cause our joints to snap, crackle and pop like a cereal brand that is not paying me to mention them in this article.

Not all these sounds are necessarily signs to stop immediately, but if they are accompanied with any pain or discomfort, then it is probably best to call it a day. Pay attention to your energy levels as well. If you start to feel fatigue creeping in then be careful – the last thing you want is to run out of spoons and drop a heavy weight on yourself. There is no shame in stopping a workout early to protect yourself.

I know they say "no pain, no gain" but in this case I like to see it as "more care = less flare."

Do you have any tips for weight lifting with AS? Let me know in the comment section below.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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