Like much in the world of health and fitness, the subject of injuries is riddled with broscience and paranoia. Some guys will tell you to never squat past parallel because it will ruin your knees. Others say that touching the bar to your chest on the bench press is bad for your shoulders. And we’ve probably all been told that deadlifting is going to wreck our lower backs.
The reality is many guys just use the boogieman of injury to justify their poor training habits. Research has shown that weightlifting just isn’t a very dangerous activity. One study found that injuries sustained during recreational and competitive weightlifting are substantially lower than injuries from other sports such as football, gymnastics, and basketball.
That said, weightlifting injuries are on the rise, which is likely because it’s becoming more and more popular among both men and women. Trendy workout routines like Crossfit don’t help either, as a poor instructor is all it takes for everyone to become more injury prone.
(On an observational note, every person I know that was new to lifting and started with Crossfit got hurt within their first 6 months. In every case they were trying to hit heavy Olympic lifts, usually at the encouragement of the instructors.)
In this article I want to talk about common mistakes that increase your risk of injury, and how to speed recovery if you’re currently injured, or sustain an injury in the future.
Lifting More Weight than You Can Handle
According to research conducted by Center for Injury Research and Policy, the most common mechanism of weightlifting injury is people dropping weights on themselves. And what’s the best way to increase the risk of this happening? Be an ego-lifter.
We see these guys all the time, stacking plates on plates and hoping for the best. Just recently I saw a skinny dude load 405 on the squat rack and I actually felt compelled to warn him that he’s about to break himself. He shrugged it off and proceeded to do quarter reps with a spotter. Way to go, bro.
The bottom line is if you can’t get full reps, you’re using too much weight, and increasing your risk of injury. All it takes is a momentary lapse in tension, or a jolt of pain, and the weight can come crashing down. If you can’t perform full, controlled reps without any assistance, lighten the load.
Using Bad Form
People that make the first mistake usually make this one as well.
Heavy half-reps are what give big compound lifts like the squat, deadlift, and bench press a bad name. It puts excessive strain on joints, tendons, and ligaments. Using proper form, however, ensures that you’re using weights that your joints can actually handle. Research has also shown that you make better gains by using a full range of motion, and even improve flexibility.
Form mistakes go beyond half-reps, though. You can work with proper loads and use a full range of motion and still put yourself at considerable risk of injury.
For instance, if you hunch your back as you pull a deadlift, or hyperextend it at the top, you’re asking for trouble. If you roll your shoulders at the top of the bench press or flare your elbows out to a point where they’re parallel to the bar, you will probably start to ache at some point. If you bow your knees in when you squat, even if you go deep, you can cause serious injury when going heavy.
Most exercises have quirks like these, and you should take the time to learn proper form across the board. Bodybuiling.com’s videos are a great resource for this, and you may also like my articles onhow to deadlift and how to squat, as these are two vitally important lifts that many people do incorrectly.
Ignoring the Signs
This one is pretty obvious but it needs stating.
If something is hurting, stop your set. If an exercise always bothers you, do something else. If you’re sure you’re not going to get another rep, rack the weight (you don’t have to go to absolute failure every set to make gains).
Probably the worst injury I’ve witnessed was a guy in his 60s at a bench meet. He had just barely struggled out one rep with about 350, and then started rubbing his elbow. He then told the guys to load more weight so he can go for a PR. Everyone was rooting him on. He gets under the bar, unracks it, gets halfway down and we hear a POP above the noise of the crowd. Fortunately, the spotters were on the ball and saved him from what looked like a near decapitation. His elbow was blown out, and I overheard an idiot telling him to just ice it and he’ll be fine. Solid advice.
The point is don’t be stupid. Aches and stiffness and such are common enough and usually go away once you warm up, but ignore and try to “alpha” your way through pain, and you’re asking to get hurt.
What to Do If You Get Hurt
If you ensure you don’t make the above mistakes, your chances for injury are quite low. But sprains and strains can still happen, so let’s talk about what to do if something happens. (And if the injury is serious or chronic, it may require physical therapy, and you should see a doctor.)
The most important part of recovery is rest, of course. Don’t put any stress on the affected body part(s) until they’re fully healed. People that violate this simple principle can wind up with chronic injuries that become quite a problem.
Once the injured area feels healed, start slowly in training it again. Work with lighter weights and see how you feel the next day, and gradually work back into your normal routine.
Ice helps you heal by reducing swelling and internal bleeding from injured capillaries and blood vessels. I’ve strained various things over the years and what I did was simply keep two ice packs at the office. I would use one with the other waiting in the freezer, so I always had one ready.
Keep a damp cloth in between the ice pack and your skin to avoid discomfort, and don’t apply ice for more than 15-20 minutes at a time. As long as there is pain and inflammation, ice will help.
This hastens the healing process by reducing swelling and inflammation.
Use elastic bandage or a compression sleeve, and wrap the injured part tightly, but not tight enough to impair blood flow. You can combine compression with ice by wrapping over the ice pack.
By raising the affected part above your heart, you speed the blood’s journey back to your heart, which reduces swelling and aids in removing waste products from the area.
Heat stimulates blood flow, which helps your body bring more nutrients for healing and remove waste products.
You don’t want to use heat right away, however, because it aggravates inflammation. The general advice is to use only ice for the first 3 days to reduce swelling, and then to introduce heat, and alternate between the two.