A topic that is will inevitably come up with everyone that lifts hard is injuries. Anyone who spends time in the gym for an extended period of time will incur injuries.
No matter what.
This article will go into the aspects of resistance training that are causing you injury. I won’t be going into biomechanics or anything but will look at program design, training frequency, exercise selection, and manipulating variables that can cause injuries, as well as prevent and manage them.
I’ve been training clients and consulting for a few years now and to say that you will never get injured while training is foolish. On the one extreme, look at any professional athletes career. These men and women are pushing their bodies to the limits in the gym, and on their respective playing surface. Despite the fact they’re using every performance enhancing drug known (and unknown) to man, they still get injured. Many pro athletes will say they took “this and that” in order to help them heal from injuries. One could argue that’s probably the main reason that these athletes use them. Obviously, being bigger, faster, stronger, and therefore more durable is a big bonus. However, athletes will use gear to help them manage injuries or help rehab from bad ones.
On the other end of the spectrum are just the weekend warriors. Younger people who want to look sexy as fuck to the opposite sex (or same sex if that is your preference). Older people still want to look good, but probably place more of a premium on staying healthy and feeling good.
This article isn’t to tell someone that they’re automatically going to injure themselves as soon as they walk into a weight room. I’m talking about smaller nags and strains as well as more sever injuries.
The point is, on both ends of the performance spectrum, people will get injuries. The trick is figuring out ways to work around these injuries in order to keep performing at whatever level you are currently at. A broken leg will severely cripple you, keeping you out of the gym for a while, unless you’re John Broz. An annoying ache in your shoulder does not need to keep you out of the gym at all.
Let me talk about my injury history real quick. I’ve never broken a bone in my body (that I know of). I’ve been training with weights for 8 years. Pretty hard through that whole time. I used to play a lot of basketball and have sprained my ankles more times than I can remember. So I have one ankle that has awful dorsi-flexion. When I move my knee as far over my left ankle as possible, it begins to hurt and is asymmetrical when compared to my right foot. From training I’ve had only small aches and pains throughout my entire “career.” I usually always have some sort of small pain in my shoulders or elbows. Nothing severe though. There are certain exercises I know I can no longer do as much as it pains me (dips… I will always love you). These small aches and pains don’t affect me on a day to day basis. Sometimes they do, but the little ones are usually only aggravated when I do something stupid that I know I should not have done.
This is why you should not do things that hurt. I tell my clients this all the time. Most of them listen, but some of them don’t, or they hide their pain. It’s annoying, but they want to work hard. Pain is not good muscle soreness is fine. Try and understand the difference! Now, back to subject at hand. Let’s go over a few variables in your training that can cause you pain. Let’s also take a look at how we can change these things to help prevent and/or manage injuries.
Anyone who follow me knows that I’m all about training frequently.
Is it for everyone?
The majority of people cannot train frequently because they simply don’t have time. Others don’t really like training, but do it because it makes them feel better, they like how they look as a result of training, or thousands of other reasons. Anyways, training frequency of a given lift can contribute to pain. For instance some people will find from experience, that they cannot perform a specific exercise or movement pattern multiple times per week. I have a client with a pretty bum knee, as a matter of fact he doesn’t really have one. He can’t squat, but can do a few other lower body exercises. We usually only do knee dominant exercises once a week. If we do too much work on his knee, they get annoyed.
In my case, I can’t bench more than 2 times per week. I’ve experimented with increasing my frequency and it has been a huge fail every time I give it a shot. My shoulders begin to get sore and tell me to fuck off and stop bugging them. I listen. For me, losing time in the gym means a lower total at my next meet.
I’m not about that.
So listen to your body, try and find patterns in specific exercises or movement patterns that annoy your joints. It doesn’t necessarily mean you need to completely stop doing that particular exercises, it just means that you may need to limit the amount of exposure to that particular exercise. You may have some mobility and stability issues that would clear up pain for a given exercise as well. If you are having chronic pains you might think about seeing a physiotherapist to help you figure that out. If you have a good trainer, he should have screened you to make sure that you’re good to go on specific movement patterns. He shouldn’t be taking you through movement patterns that are dysfunctional or in pain.
This pretty much goes hand in hand with my babbling on movement screens. It’s important to understand that at this point in time you may not be able to perform a specific movement because your body isn’t quite ready for it. Through mobility or motor control training you might be able to improve your chances or adopting that movement pattern. You might need some manual therapy to help. You might not be able to perform a movement pattern for the rest of your life. Shitty, I know, but that’s the case for some. Your program should address any aid you might have in mobility and stability. Your program shouldn’t be telling you to do exercises that hurts the moment you start it.
You might get a program and realize that there are some changes that need to be made. For instance, maybe you are trying to follow a specific program that calls for performing flat barbell bench press once a week. You know that you can’t bench without your shoulders giving you the middle finger. However, you know that you can do bench presses with a football bar. The neutral grip makes all the difference in the world. So you switch to football bench presses and you’re good to go.
You might have specific training sessions where you develop a new ache or pain. When I was just starting to train I would’ve pushed through these little aches. Now I realize that I need to either stop doing the movement and move on to something else, or just call it a day. You aren’t a loser for calling it a day when you are feeling shitty. The chances that you will make the ache worse by pushing through it makes you an idiot.
Don’t do it.
Realize that sometimes you need to punch the clock and get out early at some points. In the long run it will allow you to train more and get the results you are seeking. If you aren’t in the gym, or can’t walk, you aren’t going to be able to lose as much fat as you want, or get bigger. It’s just not going to happen at a fast rate. So do everything you can to try and keep yourself in the gym rather than out of it. Sometimes that means you need to spend a little more time out of the gym in order to spend more time in the gym.
This also goes hand in hand with program selection. Some people don’t follow programs though. Instead, they blindly do this and that because ‘Big Joe’ told them to. You see Big Joe is a massive bodybuilder, and he know everything. Forget the fact that he was completely jacked when he was 17 doing pushups and crunches, he obviously knows what he’s talking about…
The point here isn’t that muscular guys are stupid, it’s that’s sometimes their advice on weight training is. They don’t train clients, they know what works for them, and them alone. They know that one exercise made their chest grow, and another exercise hurts their elbow. Does this mean the same exercise will make your chest grow, and the same exercise will hurt your elbow?
It means that you need to experiment with exercises to see what works for you. I can’t talk enough about this because some people continuously beat their joints up and keep aggravating injuries out of stupidity. If an exercise hurts here is what you need to do:
- Stop training that exercise
- Stop training a given movement pattern
- Switch to a different exercise
- Make subtle changes to the movement pattern
- Get a saw and hack off the limb 2-3″ above the painful joint (my personal preference)
So, next time you get a bad ache, look at the list above, pick one of those options and make the necessary changes. If you have had any aches and pains in the past I’d love to know specifically what you did to help alleviate them in the comments section below.