Ok, so let me be clear, the days of strapping some weights to your head, as many of the top boxers used to do in order to strengthen their neck muscles, have pretty much gone. The risks associated with putting that amount of strain on the neck has since proven to potentially cause more harm than good! What I mean by the phrase ‘lift with your head’ is simple… use your brain when you next come to lift a load, especially one that is outside of your normal longitudinal plane, such as when twisting in order to reach and pick up a weight.
Risk of injury when performing resistance work
There’s an unfortunate and morbid saying in the fitness industry when it comes to injuries…
‘It’s not IF you’ll get injured, it’s WHEN’
(Some guy in the gym)
Quite ironic then that the thing we do to keep up us fit and healthy can actually cause injury and pain! However, injury isn’t the foregone conclusion that everybody makes it out to be. I’ve had my fair share of injuries including 2 broken ankles, several ligament sprains and muscle strains, a slipped 4th and 5th vertebrae, and a spontaneous pneumathorax (collapsed lung) just to cap it off, so by no means am I meaning to preach, but I can at least say I have some experience. However, this is exactly why I feel this subject needs to be addressed, and why I am pretty well equipped to discuss the matter. Most of my injuries were inflicted by another person on the football pitch, but one was because of poor form attributed to fatigue, and another was because of an erratic, uncontrolled hyperextension at the beginning of a movement.
So if we can avoid the onset of unnecessary injury, then it obviously makes sense to do so.
Train smart and avoid injury
There’s another saying in the fitness industry (just call me Aristotle)…
‘The best athletes are the ones that can stay fittest, for longest’
(Some other guy in the gym)
Those of you that have been injured will be familiar with the frustrations associated with playing ‘catch up’, and having lost your gains whilst injured. Amazing how something that can take you months to gain, can be lost in a matter of weeks! So to minimise the risk of unnecessary frustrations, be sure to focus, channel your thoughts into your set, and wait until you’ve finished said set before you admire the stretching spandex over on the limbering matt! I would bet that many an injury stems from exertion without control i.e. lifting a weight without giving it your full attention. Myself and Scott have written articles on the mind muscle connection when performing resistance work in order to maximise muscle contraction, well the same principle holds true when minimising injury risk.
Lift your weights with control
If you lift a weight make sure you do it in a controlled manner, the speed of the movement can be fast, but the key is to keep it controlled, and if a heavy load is applied, keep it in a constant plane of motion. For example, a bench press can be performed at a count of 1 second up to 1 second down, so long as the movement isn’t jerky and is performed in a relatively fluid motion. Locking of elbows is a ‘no no’ and so too is a change in angular motion, any force that changes its axis abruptly is at far greater risk of causing injury than those that stay in the same line of motion. So when you next perform a press be sure to keep a smooth up and down motion, and if the weight feels like it’s falling away then don’t try to correct it…let it go! A crash on the floor is better than a pop in the shoulder.
Some practical applications
Picking up weights - Next time you pick up a weight, for goodness sake don’t be lazy and bend at the knees and not the lower back, but if you absolutely have to then be sure to stick your backside out and chest forward to engage the erector spinae and create a strong concave arch in the lower back.
Lowering weights – NEVER, and I mean never lower a weight to the floor when performing dumbbell presses. There’s a big difference between some meat head dropping the 50’s down from the top of a rep to someone dropping the weights after a hard set of 10 reps. Lowering the weights to the ground may look like a considerate thing to do…but you know what’s not considerate, the application of a physio’s elbow into the shoulder joint to free up a trigger point (knot or spasm in the muscle), or the incision made by a surgeons scalpel because you’ve pulled your anterior deltoid (front shoulder) or ruptured a ligament from courteously lowering the weights to the ground!
Getting into position when starting a set - This is applicable to any exercise, but one of the main causes of shoulder injury is the initial movement during the pec fly on the pec deck. Many of the pec deck machines have a starting point that is beyond the regular starting point of the fly, meaning you are placing a lot of strain on the shoulder in the initial first few degrees of movement. If your pec deck doesn’t have a foot pedal in order to get you started in the movement, then it would be prudent of you to turn and pull one side of the pec deck to the finishing point of a fly, and then reaching round and doing the same with the other side. This enables you to start from the end point of a fly and perform a negative rep in order to get you into rhythm and not exert a heavy, static load on the small, unsuspecting anterior deltoid.
Injury is an extremely unfortunate inevitability when it comes to the acquisition of muscle mass. An injured athlete is, on the whole, a useless athlete (harsh but true), so it makes sense to take every precaution you can to preserve a clean bill of health! A structured training plan will keep you tuned in, many people find music helps them to concentrate, and allowing plenty of time to train is also good to prevent rushing (most accidents happen when exercises are performed in haste).