Aside from getting jacked and strong, becoming durable and resilient against injuries is the most captivating reason so many lifters naturally gravitate towards training.
But lets be honest, when’s the last time you set aside your ego and rationally looked at your program as a way to keep your body bulletproof?
There are a million and one different ways to progress in your training.
No matter if your goal is to enhance muscle mass or skyrocket your strength numbers, there’s no faking sound execution, programming based on foundational principles of exercise science, and having common sense.
Sure, injuries are going to happen but here’s the deal.
If you aren’t programming and training with injury prevention in mind, it’s just a matter of time until you get bit by the injury bug.
Here’s four of the most common ways lifters end up getting hurt in the gym, and how to avoid becoming a broken down lifter.
TRAINING DIRECTLY INTO PAIN
We are going to lead off with the obvious here, so bear with me. If it hurts, either execute the lift with tighter form, rhythm and tempo, or find another variation of the movement you are doing that you know… doesn’t cause your joints to feel like they are getting stabbed with an ice pic.
This isn’t rocket science, but knowing that pain is the number one predictor for sustaining a training injury should grab your attention. Pain is our body’s way of telling us that’s something’s up. Stop being stubborn and change up the way you are doing things that elicit the pain response.
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Very rarely do actual mechanical issues cause pain, but rather it’s set off by neurological stress signaling that is just trying to protect you. Remember that stuff about sympathetic fight or flight? This is a very similar response that pain causes to the sympathetic nervous system.
So the next time you try to bench press through the pain, remember that would be the equivalent of trying to fight the lion face to face instead of running away and hiding.
Coming to grips with your pain is the first step. Once you identify pain triggers, whether it is specific movements, positions or other stimuli to the system, it’s time to change your patterns and your movement.
Every movement pattern has a laundry list of possible variations, so try some out and see which variation you can train hard and heavy without pain. Trust me, if you do your homework and experiment, you’ll find one.
LINEAR PROGRESSIVE OVERLOAD
At one point in time, we’ve all been the guy in the gym that is riding his newbie gains adding iron to the bar seemingly every workout. Weren’t those the days? Without any concentrated effort or intelligently programmed strength schemes, you just seemed to get stronger, lift after lift, month after month and year after year.
That experience in the gym ends up pigeon holing the mindset of lifters for life. The thought that “I used to be able to get stronger” is a powerful one, and not easily forgotten. But as neural plasticity comes back down to reality and those neural adaptation gains are maximized, one is left with one single move; get mechanically stronger.
Progressing through intermediate and advanced training years is brutal, and a challenge from an execution standpoint, but also adds complexity to the schemes as well.
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This is usually too much for lifters to stomach, so instead of being smart about programming, exercise choice and loading, they inherently fall into the trap of linear progressive overload aka add iron to the bar at all costs.
The costs usually add up pretty quick in the form of a heavy plateau that sends your performance down the toilet pretty quick, or everyone’s favorite, a big injury that teaches you one hard lesson about the continuous progressive overload scheme.
I’m not here to tell you not to load up heavy and strive for bigger strength numbers in your compound lifts, but rather cautioning you to look at more than the metric of weight.
Varying set and rep schemes, manipulating tempos, ranges of motion and setups, and even altering frequency of training are all factors that can be implemented to break through plateaus in a pain-free way. The last thing you want to be doing is going into each set knowing it may be your last. Lets try to avoid that, shall we?
BLINDLY OVERLOOK ASYMMETRIES
While it’s important to understand that achieving “perfect” symmetry between left and right sides of the body and also between anterior and posterior chain. But that being said, there are acceptable standards when it comes to not ending up like Quasi Moto and trying to train for performance and aesthetics through nasty and dysfunctional asymmetries.
First and foremost, asymmetries between sides of the body need to be addressed, as these are usually easier to identify and remediate. How do you determine if you are asymmetrical? First, go through the mirror test. Stand in front of the mirror, or better yet, take a few snap shots of yourself from the front, back, sides and an oblique view.
Start by comparing side to side for postural discrepancies, muscle mass imbalances or just “red flags” of things that don’t quite look right.
Next, and more importantly, take an objective look at your performances, especially on unilateral movements like the lunge and dumbbell press. Does one side crap out mid set while the other side could keep cranking out reps with ease? This is a relative functional imbalance that may go hand in hand with your static postural imbalances.
And finally, we want to tap into our mind muscle connection and determine how movements “feel” side to side. This is the toughest to differentiate, but we’ll lead off by identifying pain and discomfort and lead from there.
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My goal with athletes and clients is to minimize the gap between strength, postural, and sensory asymmetries to when maximal intensities and loads are used, the weakest link is not an asymmetry, but rather based on physical performance like strength or muscular endurance.
The way we retrain these asymmetries starts with hammering home pillar stability through the shoulders, hips and core, and integrating a balance between unilateral and bilateral training in both the open and closed kinematic chains to elicit a new neuromuscular response.
While that sounds complicated, there is another common pitfall for many lifters that leads to injuries that is also associated with asymmetries as we will cover in the next section; anterior vs posterior chain dominancy in programming.
TRAINING THE MIRROR MUSCLES
No doubt that we all love to train the mirror muscles, aka the anterior chain consisting of the chest, biceps, and quads for the most part. But functionally speaking, this can be a slippery slope for long-term health and orthopedic wellness.
Our society lives in anterior chain dominancy secondary to static daily sedentary postures and hand held technologies. If you truly view training as a way to bulletproof the body against potential injuries, the golden rule needs to be set in place; train the back of the body with more volume, frequency and focus than the front of your body.
For a vast majority of general fitness population clients all the way to high performance athletes, we try to adhere to the 2-1 ratio between posterior and anterior chain work. So that means for every single rep of bench press, we are doing two reps of an upper body pull based movement. For every lunge, we are doing two reps of hinging with the glutes and hamstrings as the predominant movers.
For severe cases of people literally walking on egg shells around potential injuries, we kick that movement ratio up to 3-1, and honestly most people would highly benefit from this heavier ratio not only for long term pain-free training, but also looking stronger and having physical prowess.
Specific emphasized points to key in on for anterior/posterior chain asymmetries are the posterior shoulder girdle and the glutes/hamstring complex. Hammer home some great volume here and reap the benefits of your back and shoulders feeling like new while also developing some serious aesthetics in the process.