Injuries - Lemons into Lemonade

January 17, 2003 08:34 AM

Let's go for a ride down Injury Lane. At times, the pursuit of fitness seems like a journey from one injury to the next, a period of impressive gains and progress, then BAM? Ouch! Sometimes the injury is merely a speed bump on the highway to fitness glory. Other times, it's like crashing through the guardrails, off the cliff and into fitness purgatory. Screaming, "Why me, why me?", while starring at the x-rays. When this happens the pain is so much more than physical. You feel anger, helpless and depressed when your fitness world is ripped away from you, even if for just a few days or worse perhaps months. (Wait, there is a movie scene crawling around in my head. "The dingoes stole my baby!").

At least I feel some satisfaction from helping the economy. My doctor, chiropractor and massage therapist consider me job security, or at least a car payment, when I walk in the door with that "oops" look on my face and an icepack covering some joint.

For years, I considered injuries just "life in the fast lane" until this last September. A week before the RKC Seminar I reminded myself why I don't bench press very often. I tore up my left shoulder going for more weight than I should or could have done. (BAM! followed by the sounds of barking dingoes.) With the RKC a week away, the shoulder needed rest so I worked out twice instead. (Damn barking!) And course the pushups, presses and snatches at the RKC went well. I sat each night on the floor in front of the hotel ice machine with ice cubes falling on my shoulder. (The barking is getting louder!) It occurred to me on the 13 hour drive home that something might be wrong when I couldn't keep my left hand on the steering wheel and that I might have to layoff for awhile when I got back. (Has anyone seen my baby?) Well, enough of "driving off the cliff' and wondering why the "fitness baby" is missing. What's the lesson here?

Reflecting back on the common story behind all of the injuries of my training partners, clients and my own, one cause leaps out, it is SUCCESS! Yes, you read it correctly. When even the slightest progress is made the desire to continue and further accelerate those gains opens the door to injuries (and dingoes). It's only human nature. If I just did 10# more, why not 20, perhaps 30 or even 40# and do it again tomorrow? LEMONADE LESSON #1: Consolidate Success. Resist the temptation to immediately push further, take a deep breath and allow the recent improvement to settle in. This concept reinforces the importance of periodization training as discussed in Power to the People! Just remember that the small dot in the fat part of a yin-yang symbol represents the seed of the opposite color, therefore the seed of injury is lurking at the peak of success.

Returning from the RKC Seminar with increased knowledge/skill and an injury created an interesting alchemy. The tension between need for healing and the desire to training produced LEMONADE LESSON #2: Basics & Form. Presses, snatches and clean & jerks were out. The shoulder would have none of it. So the desire to train went searching for "now what?" "Now what?" turned out to be one very important but constantly overlooked treasure, Basics. We sent hours at the seminar working on KB Swings; the stance, box squats, weight distribution, hip snap and many other small but important details. Why? Well because without the KB Swing you cannot do the other lifts correctly. You can get away with bad form with a light weight but when the weight goes up so does the risk of injury. Bad swing technique also prevents the power of the hips and thighs from fully contributing, thus limiting future progress in any KB exercise. As you can probably guess, I've spent a lot of time doing swings over the last two months; one and two-arm swings, high rep sets, rep ladders, weight ladders and combinations with deck squats and other drills. You might say that I was just trying to "get the swing of it"! (Damn dingoes are barking again, must have been something I said. SORRY)!

The two-hand swing consisted of high repetition sets of 20 reps to as high as 60 reps with a period of active recovery after each set. At the seminar, we would jog around an open field for approximately two minutes after each set and then reduce the rep count for each succeeding set of swings (ex. 60x, 40x, 20x, and 10x). At home, I substituted rowing on a WaterRower and climbing on an X-iser mini-stepper for the recovery jog and used a digital kitchen timer to bark at me like an angry dingo to get back to work. The active recovery aerobics serves to replenish ATP, a key fuel of muscle contraction, by bringing large amounts of oxygen to the work site. This oxygen abundance also increases fat utilization. So let's review, a necessary KB skill for future success, improved endurance strength and fat loss at the same time, sounds good to me!

For variety, I did one-arm swings, alternating hands every 10 reps. One-arm swings served to re-groove the body for the one-arm snatch when the shoulder was ready to go again. I also did "you-go/I-go" ladders for another challenge. Starting with 5 reps, pausing just long enough for an imaginary training partner to do the just completed rep count and then added another 5 reps every set until I couldn't continue. Brutal! But if that wasn't enough evil, I did "weight ladders" by lining up my KBs in increasing order of weight and then proceeded to do 5 reps each with the 16, 24, 32 and the 40Kg KBs without rest. After a short one-minute pause, I repeated the set 3 to 5 times. My Dachshunds would hide from me in fear that I might grab one of them by mistake and start swinging them around. (I think that they are somehow related to very short Dingoes).

Each injury presents its own unique opportunity for growth and new understanding. With this injury, I had to explore what the shoulder would tolerate each workout and develop a plan around that. I tried to include as often as possible an upper body push exercise (ex. see-saw press, side press, bent press, etc.), an upper body pull exercise (ex. pull-ups), a leg exercise (ex. pistols, front squats, Olympic bar squats, etc.), a full body ballistic movement (ex. swings, snatches, clean & jerks and deck squat combos. etc.) and abs (ex. Pavelizer and hanging leg raises). I found the shoulder pain to be self-limiting and a guide to new ideas all at the same time. If the shoulder did like the press idea on a given day, I'd work on one-legged deadlifts or deck squats in combination with a drill that the shoulder could do (ex. cleans). Before the injury I would not have given the humbling one-legged deadlift or deck squat combos a second thought. The focus on new skills took my mind off of what I thought was missing in my usual workouts and all of my energy had to be on technique and proper exercise form.

Steve Maxwell said something at the RKC that really caught my attention. "For every one bad rep it takes ten good reps to makeup for it". If you think about it long enough, you could spend a lifetime working on good reps just to correct all the bad reps you've done in the past. Well, I did think about and I got depressed. So I decided to learn from the past, focus on Form and not create any more bad fitness karma. If reps are taken to the point of sacrificing form, the risk of injury goes up exponentially. It is simply not worth it! Besides training to failure is the equivalent of driving over the cliff with a barking dingo in the backseat. However, do not mistake the lack of training to failure to mean easy. Proper form includes high tension. If you need further clarification please review Power to the People.

You have been kind enough to have stayed with me so far so let's go to the bullet points and get on with our lives.

1. We are responsible for our own injuries (you decided to do one more rep or jump the weight).
2. We can choose to learn from injuries or repeat them until we do.
3. Beware of ego's reaction to success (it can drive you over the fitness cliff).
4. Allow improvements to normalize by using periodization (honor the success, don't trash it).
5. Basics must be revisited often (daily if necessary) to insure progress.
6. Form is more important than the weight (sorry, but it's true).
7. Finally, a true professional knows what to do and when to stop doing it.

Thanks for riding along. Sorry about that "dingo" thing, the movie line was stuck in my head and I had to get it out somehow.

Peace & Power

Rick's fitness odyssey began at age 10, in 1957, with the purchase of his first York barbell set and courses from Bob Hoffman. This quest for the "Fitness Holy Grail" has taken many twists and turns including: bodybuilding, powerlifting, martial arts, long distance running & biking, yoga, tai chi and competitive rowing. The last forty plus years has also included the continuous formal and informal study of exercise physiology, anatomy and kinesiology. In essence, he has been an experiment of one, an exercise renaissance man, seeking the "ultimate fitness path" and assisting others through private training and consultation to find solutions to their health and fitness needs.