There’s nothing quite like lifting heavy. Getting under a bar with a heavy load and banging out a burnout set leads to quite a euphoric sensation. Every rep is increasingly difficult, but the personal gratitude grows with it. You don’t want to stop. Set after set you stack on those plates and crush those reps. Feeling excited and proud, you record yourself to show the whole world how hard you’re working. Weeks go by, and you’re running through your program like a madman. Sure you’re feeling some aches and pains here and there, but you’re still trucking. Then one day, you feel a pop, and now you’ve succumbed to an injury. How could this be? The numbers were progressing so well, and you were so close to setting a new personal record. Could this have been prevented?
I have been there more times than I like to admit. There’s nothing like falling into a groove and steadily pushing your numbers. Nothing is more demoralizing than an injury. No matter how small, you just don’t want to slow down when seeing the gains increase so steadily. The good news is that most injuries can be prevented long before they happen. Injury prevention doesn’t necessarily require a lot of work, but it does require discipline. Injury prevention is rather a behavior or a daily habit as opposed to a to-do list. Instead of being worried about the raw numbers all the time, we need to do what is necessary to make sure that we are focusing on quality rather than quantity.
Leave Your Ego at the Door
Staying humble and letting go of that big ego is probably one of the hardest things necessary for any meathead, myself included. We all want to be big and strong, but that part is out of our control to an extent. The science is simple: if you continuously eat a nutritious diet and lift weights consistently, you will become bigger and stronger over time. Sure, we can optimize our programming and diet to maximize our gains, but in general, we just have to let time take care of the rest. What we absolutely have total control over is how well we move in the gym. If we want to continue to lift and push our limits for however many decades we choose to, we have to make sure that we focus on the quality of how we move. For instance, we all love squatting heavy weights. It’s a proper display of strength. However, if you have to force yourself to the point of pain to hit depth or your knees cave in on the way back up, you’re setting yourself up for an injury at some point. It is absolutely imperative to spend time practicing good movement patterns and addressing the weaknesses in them. Either you have the discipline to work on it yourself, or you’ll possibly find yourself in an orthopedic surgeon’s office.
Add Mobility Training
We could all benefit from improving our mobility. Part of reinforcing healthy movement patterns is making sure that we do not have impingements in our mobility. You’re probably thinking that you’re going to have to dedicate a day to mobility. Go look up your favorite strength coaches or physical therapist and you’ll find hundreds of different mobility exercises. Every reputable coach will have a laundry list of exercises that they provide for the possibly thousands of athletes that walk through their gym. That doesn’t mean you need to start stressing over rewriting your program or figuring out how you're going to schedule in another several hours of training into your week. Unless you’re rehabbing an injury or have a severe impingement, mobility work can be done in less than ten minutes. You only need to pick two or three exercises that reflect what you’re going to be training that day. On my overhead press days, I like to do band pull aparts to engage my upper back and use a light band tied off to a rack to work my rotator cuff from four different directions. On my squat day, I like to perform goblin squats with a dumbbell and use a heavy band tied off to a rack for good mornings and hip thrusts. These all together only take about ten or so minutes. Adding mobility work to your program doesn't have to be difficult or time consuming. It does, however, need to compliment what you’re training on a given day. It also needs to be taken seriously. Don’t let your meathead ego get in the way of using light weights and bands. Take the time to focus on the movement, and you will be better for it.
Incorporate Unilateral Exercises
Everyone of us is familiar with bilateral exercises like the squat and the deadlift. You’re using both of your legs and arms in conjunction with the rest of your body to complete the exercise. As the intensity of the exercises increase over time, you might develop some flaws or weaknesses in your movement patterns. For example, my right hip has poor flexibility. As a result, my left hip is unbalanced from the right side and the shear load of the squat and deadlift is placed on my lower back to some degree. What I have learned from Dr. Aaron Horschig of Squat University, is that unilateral exercises help exploit and strengthen those flaws. So, in my case, I like to use single leg RDLs and touchdown single leg squats from a box. Those two exercises allow me to isolate the individual parts of the lift and strengthen independently from each other. There are many unilateral exercises you can explore to help address any weaknesses you might have or prevent them from developing at all. The difficult part is diagnosing those weaknesses. In my case I had a doctor do an assessment of my movement to help me reach that conclusion. The best thing for me to have done is to have incorporated those exercises before I started experiencing pain. If you feel like you need a medical assessment, make sure you find a doctor who has experience with athletes and lifters. If you live in the Baton Rouge area or nearby, I would highly recommend paying a visit to Jon Hymel at Hymel Sports and Wellness Center. He has a great deal of experience working with athletes, and I always feel like I not only get rehabilitated, but I get better than I was before after seeing him.
Take some Weight Off the Bar
Sometimes you have to take a step back to progress forward. It’s not always necessary to lift at a 95% load. Especially when things feel achy and you’re having recovery issues, take some weight off the bar and assess your lifts. Record your sets and take the time to analyze your lifts. Videos of your sets is hard data of what you’re doing in the gym. You can scan for weaknesses and flaws in your technique and address them. The sooner you start analyzing your lifts honestly, the sooner you can get a jump on injury prevention and fixing your mechanics. This all boils down to humility and discipline. Practicing this behavior will keep you healthy and extend the longevity of your lifting career. Whether you’re a competitor or just training for your own personal health, the measures you take now will pay dividends in the decades that follow. Put in the work to take care of yourself now so that you’ll be a healthy and mobile person when you are old.
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