My 10 Best Injury-Management Tips
By Charles Staley, B.Sc, MSS
Director, Staley Training Systems
Tip One: The Hyper-Warm-Up
If you're hurtin' and you start your squat session with 135 on the bar, keep reading…
Look, if you're young, healthy, and stupid, you can skip the warm-up- for now. But if you've got a few miles on that chassis and you're not yet ready for replacement parts, it'll serve you well to institute the hyper-warm-up:
Step 1: The Early Bird Gets Burned:
If you can, your joints will appreciate a later workout as opposed to an earlier one. Synovial joints, for example, aren't fully lubricated with synovial fluid until a few hours after waking. Think of your first few hours after waking as part of your warm-up- and in fact, you'll immediately find that your exercise warm-up will be faster when you train later in the day as opposed to earlier.
Step 2: The Long, Hot Shower:
This is another example of success by "doing the opposite:" Take your shower before your workout, not after (well, OK, you can take one after too if you like). How long? How hot? As long and hot as you can comfortably tolerate- 15 minutes is probably plenty, but play around with it and you'll come up with the best duration. Warm tissues respond better to training- which is where the term "warm-up" comes from in the first place).
Step 3: Dress For Success:
Even if it's warm out, try to wear Under Armor-type sweat-wicking material. There are a number of materials available now, but the salient idea is that these new fabrics wick sweat away from your skin as you train. Why is this important? Because evaporating sweat cools your body- the exact opposite of what you're trying to do. I love cotton when I'm not training, but in the gym, forget it- I'm sold on Synthetic sweat-wicking materials. If you haven't yet tried them, I urge you to give it a go and see what you think.
Step 3: Joint Custody:
Neoprene joint sleeves help to warm your joints faster, and they also keep those joints warm through your entire workout. At Bed & Barbell, we like sleeves made by TK and Rehband, but a number of brands are available. If you haven't yet tried joint sleeves because you view them as "cheating" or "giving in," you're really missing out!
Step 4: Sweat:
Your general warm-up should be sufficient to generate a sweat. You don't need to be pouring sweat mind, you, but if you're still dry, you're not warmed up. I like skipping rope, but whatever works for you is fine.
Step 5: Come In Through The Back Door:
If you've got a "problem" joint, muscle, or body region, try training it last in the workout. Now here's why you'll probably dismiss this idea- your "problem" areas are likely to be related to exercise you deem important to you. For example, if you love to squat and/or you're a powerlifter, and your knees are a bit cranky, try squatting at the end of the workout instead of at the beginning. I know this violates the old axiom that important exercises should come first in the workout, but your HEALTH is what's really important, correct? Use your upper-body exercises as a general warm-up, and you'll find that your knees will respond better to the squats as a result.
Tip Two: Control Variables
If I've got a client who needs/wants to squats, but he's got orthopedic issues, I'll always do everything I can to ensure we're using consistent technique on every rep. For example, squat depth can be made more precise by squatting down to a box or bench. Similarly, tempo can be monitored/timed as well.
Tip Three: Hold Load Constant And Use The "O" Rating
If you've got a nagging injury that you're determined to train through, consider this tip: Every time you perform a/the exercise that tends to aggravate joint pain, use the same load, and the same set/rep bracket. For example, if you're benching with shoulder pain, you might work up to 185 pounds for 5 sets of 5. Then, every time you bench, in your training journal, make a note of your joint pain on a 1-5 scale (0 meaning no pain, 5 meaning you had so much pain you had to stop). If, over a series of bench press workouts, your "O Rating" increases, you'll need to reconsider your plan. On the other hand, if your O Rating decreases, you're probably on the right track.
Tip Four: Stop the Vicious Cycle
When you've got an injury, you might need to rest it, but if you never return to training, you'll be victimized by the "vicious cycle:" the initial injury tends to cause reduced activity, which causes atrophy, which further reduces activity, which leads to further atrophy, etc. You've gotta break that cycle somehow. And that might mean medical intervention by the way.
Tip Five: Train Injured Parts Last
This was already addressed in the first tip relating to the Hyper Warm-Up, but it bears repeating: don't hammer your hurtin' joints right out of the gate, even if that's the way you've always done it. The more a joint hurts, the later it should be trained, if at all.
Tip Six: Your Warm-Up Remains The Same
Consistent with the idea of controlling variables is the concept of using a consistent warm-up routine. Here's mine for Olympic snatches:
44 pounds (2x3)
66 pounds (2x3)
110 pounds (2x3)
132 pounds (2x2)
Then I proceed to my heaviest weights for the day, whatever they might be.
Notice that I always use the same weight jumps, and also notice that I perform each weight twice. This provides me with a basis of comparison- if, for example, my second set with 110 pounds feels better than the first set with that weight, I know my warm-up's working for me- I can feel myself becoming more prepared for the heavier weights to follow. Without this approach however, I don't benefit from this comparison
Tip Seven: Be Efficient
If you're a competitive lifter, are all those joint-trashing exercises really necessary? For example, let's say you're looking for a bigger bench and your elbows are becoming problematic. Further, your pecs (not your triceps) are the weak muscle group in the bench press. So why are you still doing heavy triceps extensions?
Tip Eight: Is Pain An Ibuprofin Deficiency?
OK, it's probably irresponsible for me to suggest this, but the point is, anti-inflammatories can really help. Ask your doctor, not me.
Tip Nine: If All Else Fails, Rest
I know, you don't wanna take a layoff. But if you're O Rating is climbing and your Ibuprofin purchases are breaking the budget, you might have to do it. Take heart: after a very recent three-week layoff, I hit a lifetime PR power snatch right out of the gates, at age 49. Sometimes the upside of healthier joints are worth the downside of detraining.
Tip Ten: If That Fails, See Your Doc
Here's a wild thought for ya: if you know what's actually wrong, you might be closer to finding a solution! I know, you don't want your doctor to tell you to stop lifting, but obviously he will, so just get over it. Knowledge is power. Get the knowledge, make a plan, get those joints healthy, and get back to the gym already.
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