One of the most common problems among the lifting community is the plague of injuries. It’s hard enough to make gains in the gym, without an injury getting in your way. For professional bodybuilders and powerlifters, it can be debilitating and career ending. For the average lifter, it can derail your gains and set you back weeks or months. Luckily for you, we’re here to help. By implementing the following principles into your training, you can decrease your chance of suffering an ill-fated injury.
Many people miss the most important part of their workout, the warm up. Lifting weights without warming up is like driving your car in really cold weather without letting the engine warm up. It may not lead to a complete breakdown, but it’s definitely not good for it. A proper warm up is crucial to preventing injuries.
Warming up does several things to prepare your body for working out. Warming up elevates your heart rate, gets blood flowing to your muscles, elevates your core temperature, and loosens up your joints and tendons. When you warm up, your joints get the proper lubrication they need to move through a full range of motion. You also get more oxygen to your muscles, increasing their pliability. It could also trigger hormonal changes necessary for muscle growth.
A proper warm up should be at least five minutes, preferably ten minutes depending on the severity of your training. For example, doing squats or lunges are going to be much more strenuous on your joints and tendons than training your arms.To warm up you can do body weight exercises, use an elliptical, treadmill, or rowing machine. Just make sure you do something. It’s first on this list for a reason.
Stretching is another activity that often gets put on the back burner. It’s hard to make yourself put in an extra 10-15 minutes of warming up and stretching in addition to your hour long workout. I once heard the quote “If you don’t have time to warm up and stretch, then you don’t have time to workout.” Stretching should be done after warming up. You shouldn’t stretch a cold muscle. You could strain a muscle if you stretch it while cold.
Dynamic stretching is the preferred method of stretching now days. Everyone used to do static stretching, but it’s now believed that dynamic stretching is more beneficial before exercising. In fact, some people think that static stretching can decrease the amount of strength your muscles are able to exert when lifting.
Dynamic stretching is done while moving, which puts your muscles through a better range of motion than static stretching. Choose several different dynamic stretches specific to the muscles you are going to work and a couple for your entire body.
Take Rest Days
When you are putting your body through a strenuous workout day in and day out, you body isn’t going to have time to repair itself. The stronger you are, the more this applies to you. It also applies to beginners who are over anxious to put on muscle. Many of the most famous bodybuilders workout five or even six days a week.
Many lifters, in their quest to put on muscle, mistakenly follow these professionals routines. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s six day a week routine is a perfect example. For the majority of lifters, this much frequency could quickly lead to overtraining or an overuse injury. People need to realize that Arnold had freaky genetics and is the exception, not the rule. The same applies to most professional’s routines.
For the majority of lifters, the ideal number of training days is 3 or 4. Another factor to consider is central nervous system (CNS) fatigue. Every time you workout, you strain your central nervous system. For every consecutive training day you have, this fatigue accumulates. Your immune system can also be suppressed from training too many days in a row. Training too many days in a row and too much volume can lead to Overtraining syndrome.
Overtraining syndrome can lead to multiple negative symptoms including: hormone suppression, sickness, insomnia, headaches, muscle and joint pain, strength loss, chronic fatigue, and loss of appetite. Taking rest days allows your muscles, joints, tendons, CNS, and immune system adequate time to recover from a workout. Experience is the best teacher. Unfortunately, many lifters don’t have enough years under their belt to know this. You don’t have to take our word on rest.
The famous trainers, Vince Gironda and Arthur Jones were both huge advocates of rest. Gironda recommended three hard weeks of training, then a week off. Jones guaranteed he could put a half inch on people’s arms after one workout or he would pay for their expenses to and from Florida. Jones would have the lifters rest and sleep for three days before putting them through a workout. More often than not, he made good on his promise.
Drinking enough water throughout the day has so many benefits. One of the lesser known benefits is that of joint lubrication. This is really important for lifters to avoid injury.
Do Several warm up sets
The stronger you are the more warm up sets you should do. It prepares your muscles and joints for the heavier weights you are going to lift. There are too many lifters that start with their “working weight.” This is a sure fire way to get injured. You may not the first time, but the more often you do this, the more likely you are in the long run.
If you are a beginner or are using light weight, this isn’t as big a concern. You may only need one or two warm up sets. If you know anything about powerlifting, they ramp up or use multiple warm up sets before doing their heaviest sets. Compound lifts require more warm up sets than isolation lifts like barbell curls.
Don’t Go Too Heavy
Leave your ego at the door is a good piece of advice. Many lifters “ego lift.” They do too much weight trying to impress others in the gym. This is especially true when an attractive woman is in the room. Maxing out is great to do every once in a while, but shouldn’t be a weekly occurrence. This really stresses your joints and CNS, but does little for muscle growth. A good rule of thumb is if you have to compromise your form to lift a weight, you’re going to heavy. Cheat curls at the end of set aren’t as bad as cheating on a Bench Press.
Use Proper Form
Many lifters not only go too heavy, they also use poor technique when lifting weights. It’s extremely important to learn to use the proper form when lifting. Instead of just lifting a weight for the sake of lifting it, they should aim to control the weight.
Performing the proper tempo when lowering the weight is of the utmost importance. Lifters tend to focus too much on the positive (Concentric) part of a lift and not enough on the lowering (Eccentric) phase of a lift. The tempo should be a 3-1 or at the very least 2-1 second ratio. If it takes you one second to lift a weight, it should take 2 or 3 seconds to lower a weight. This typically applies to people trying to gain muscle.
For some athletes, Olympic lifters, and powerlifters, this may not be applicable. They may be trying to work on their explosiveness which would change the tempo entirely. However, they should still use proper form on their lifts to avoid injury. Cleans and Jerks, Snatches, Squats, and Deadlifts are technical lifts and have a steeper learning curve. It would be advisable to get a trainer or someone very experienced to teach you these lifts before you injury yourself.
When you are attempting your heaviest compound lifts, it’s good to use a spotter. They can help you in case you fail during a portion of a lift.
I’m not talking about wearing gloves or using steroids. I’m referring to wearing a belt, wrist wraps, knee wraps, lifting straps, and elbow and knee sleeves. These can protect your joints and keep them warm throughout your workout. You don’t have to wear them the whole time, but after you’ve done your warm up sets, it’s a good idea to put them on.
Strengthen Your Core and Lower Back
Almost all the major lifts engage your core and lower back. When either is weak, your lifts will suffer and you will be more susceptible to injury. If you dedicate a certain portion of your workouts to strengthening these key areas, you should be stronger on all your compound lifts. You will also be more functional in everything you do outside the gym.
Use multiple planes of motion when training
This is rarely talked about by the average gym crowd. Most people do the basic bodybuilding lifts which are almost entirely done in the sagittal plane of motion such as: Bench presses, squats, deadlifts, lunges, rows, barbell curls, and tricep extensions.
A few exercises take place in the frontal plane of motion like the Pulldowns, Pull-ups, Lateral Dumbbell Raises, and Overhead Presses. Movements in the Transverse plane of motion are usually neglected the most. These movements require some type of rotational movement. They make your body more functional and prepared for real world movements. Athletes in particular should be including more transverse exercises into their workouts.
Bring Up Your Weaknesses
Many people get injured when an area around a muscle is weak. They may be fatigued and relying on these “assistance” muscles when performing a lift. Many experts such as Jim Wendler and Westside Barbell’s Louie Simmons are big advocates of performing assistance exercises to strengthen the areas around a particular muscle.
Make sure you are doing more than just the big three exercises (Squat, Deadlift, and Bench Press) when it comes to lifting weights. These may be the meat and potatoes of your workout, but many other muscles come into play to perform these lifts. If you have strong hamstrings but weak glutes, certain portions of a lift will be weaker. When this happens, you may fail at this portion of a lift, increasing your risk of injury.
Make sure you do some accessory work and you’ll see improvements in these lifts and decrease your risk of injury. Some of the area you should look to improve are your glutes, spinal erectors, hamstrings, hips, obliques, rear delts, and rotator cuffs.
The use of some rehabilitation exercises are good to include in your warm up. They help increase your range of motion and prepare your muscles and joints for the lifting you are about to do. Wall slides, shoulder dislocates, hip mobility exercises, and resistance band exercises are all good to include. Including a few of these before your workout can pay dividends for your long term joint health.
Improve Your flexibility
Flexibility has so many useful benefits. It can improve your power, explosiveness, strength, muscle pliability, ability to recover from workouts, and reduce your chance of injury. When you increase your flexibility, you increase the range of motion in your muscles and joints. The increased range of motion will keep your muscles from being tight. Tight muscles are more likely to get injured. Furthermore, you will be able to withstand more physical stress to your body and create more tension in your muscles, leading to a greater strength output.
We can't guarantee you won't suffer an injury but by following this time-tested advice, you can significantly reduce your chances of getting injured. We hope that you have enjoyed this article and that it will help you stay healthy and injury free.