Performing well in strength sports isn’t so much about moving big weights all the time.
Rather, it’s about consistently spending time under the bar, mastering your craft. But it’s hard to spend the necessary time under the bar if you’re hurting. Staying relatively injury-free allows you to maximize the quality of your training time and reach more of your potential, but it’s not always easy to do.
Below are some key points to consider in order to help prevent injuries and keep you coming back to the gym feeling ready:
Warm up sufficiently
It is far too common to find lifters walking into the gym, half-heartedly doing some foam rolling and stretching for two or three minutes and then getting under a bar. It’s unlikely that routines like this prepare you properly for your training session.
A decent warm up routine will embody the following:
- It will increase body temperature - We actually need to get warm in order for our bodies to function at their best. Breaking a light sweat should be enough.
- It will contain movements and drills which will prepare you for the session ahead - For example, if you’ve got a big squat session coming up then your warm up might contain a bit of extra lower body preparation that day.
- It will be individualized to address the areas YOU need it to - If your shoulders and hips are really tight, then you’ll probably need to do a little extra work in those areas than someone else might. Be honest about what issues you might have and do at least one thing to address them before you start lifting.
Your warm up routine does not need to be extensive – 10 to 15 minutes will suffice for most people. Just do what needs to be done, and get to training.
Understand the difference between normal soreness and pain
As strength athletes, we are bound to have some aches and pains. It comes with the territory. But there is a difference between ‘normal’ soreness and pathological pain or other symptoms.
Some general considerations are:
- Is this pain lasting longer than it normally does after training? Is it more intense than normal?
- Is it interfering with my training? Am I having to deviate from the training program due to my pain?
- Is this pain interfering with my daily activities and/or general well-being?
If the answer to some or all of these questions is ‘yes’, then there may be an issue present that needs your attention and possibly the attention of a professional.
Watch for links between training factors and your symptoms
Quite often there’s a relationship between what our training looks like and the symptoms we experience. Exercise selection, exercise technique, training frequency, training volume, training intensity, overreaching/peaking for a meet are all examples of the factors we need to consider when trying to pinpoint what’s causing our troubles. If you’re experiencing some nagging pain, some things to consider trying are:
- Playing with your stance or grip to make a movement more comfortable - wider, narrower, full vs. false grip, more toe out, etc. Sometimes a little tweak to your setup is all it takes to get around some of your problems.
- Try an exercise variation which allows you to train hard but without pain - If low bar squatting is troublesome then perhaps try high bar squats, front squats or safety bar squats, just to name a few. Our main goal is to get a training effect without wrecking ourselves and, thankfully, there are many ways to do that.
- Alter the volume, intensity or frequency with which you perform a particular lift - Changing your programming should not be a primary option (provided that you’re a reasonably well-constructed program to begin with), but sometimes it’s a necessary step to allow enough recovery of the body part in question.
Team up with a healthcare professional who ‘gets it’
I’ve heard horror stories of athletes seeking advice from healthcare professionals for their pains, only to be told to “lift lighter weights,” “stop squatting below parallel,” or to stop lifting altogether. I think this is the product of poor education in school in exercise prescription, as well as a lack of personal understanding of what’s involved in strength sports (or any other sport, for that matter).
"Finding a healthcare professional who understands what you need to do to perform your best is essential."
Look for someone who has a good track record of helping other athletes, ideally strength athletes. Databases like the Clinical Athlete Directory exist for exactly this purpose. Don’t be afraid to look around - you do what you can to be a great athlete, and you deserve to work with someone who ‘gets it.’
Hopefully these tips bring you gains for a long time to come. Happy lifting!
About the author
Jared Maynard, PT, MSc(PT), HBSc Kin, CSCS is a Registered Physiotherapist in Ontario, Canada, Co-owner and Coach of Axolotl Strength, Clinical Athlete Provider, and a raw competitive 93kg powerlifter in the CPU. He is passionate about sports medicine, exercise science and bridging the gap between rehab and strength/conditioning.