One of the worst things that can happen to us weight trainers is suffering any type of injury that hinders us from training with all-out intensity and going heavy. If you’ve been lifting seriously for any period of time you already understand the importance of using proper form to avoid injury. But over time it’s inevitable that you’re going to injure yourself at some point; it’s part of the game. And once you hit your 30’s you may start noticing a few more aches and pains in certain areas. I can attest to this after pounding the weights for many years now.
Of course some injuries are worse than others. It’s one thing to feel some joint pain in your knees or elbows or shoulders from time to time. But it’s another when you suffer a blow that puts you out of commission for a while such as severe lower back pain, which is why I’m writing this. Fortunately there are ways you can still train to effectively build muscle without further hurting yourself.
Don’t get me wrong; we have to listen to our bodies and take time off from the gym accordingly. However, I’m more so addressing injuries in particular areas that do not necessarily require time away from the gym but where you have to take extreme caution with certain lifts. One of the main injuries that can throw your weight training off course, and I’m writing this from personal experience, is lower back injuries. In the summer of 2010 (about a year ago from the date of this article) I blew out my lower back and for a while I didn’t think I would ever be able to squat or deadlift again. As most of you will agree, this was quite depressing. I’ve never been super strong at those lifts but I know that both of these exercises will pile on slabs of muscle on your frame. Now I’ve had lower back issues throughout most of my adult life.
I don’t recall how this initially came about but I know approximately twice a year I would get lazy on a set or give on my form during a rep and snap; there goes my lower back. But I had never suffered such pain as the summer of 2010 when I was squatting on the Smith Machine (which I do not recommend; free weights are always better for squats in my opinion). I had hurt my lower back a couple of weeks prior and had some minor pain, but on this day I was extremely stupid and squatted heavy anyway. I won’t say how much weight I had on the bar but it was too much for me to perform strict, deep reps with squats. Anyway, on about the 4th or 5th rep my lower back completely gave out and I went crashing to the ground. Without dragging this out I was out of the gym for several days and remember having to crawl to the bathroom one night because I couldn’t stand up out of bed.
My days of super heavy squats and heavy deadlifts are pretty much over and I didn’t do either for about 6 months after this injury. But there was something I learned along the way as I gradually started implementing squats and deads back into my training program. For starters, this forced me to go lighter and use absolute perfect form on every rep. What I also realize is that often times your form gets sloppy on those last couple of reps that you’re trying to bang out. You hear me preach workout intensity and training until failure but there are exceptions and training around injuries (or to prevent injuries) is certainly one of them.
What I’ve found that has worked well for me due to my lower back problems is training with a bit higher volume and with moderate intensity on certain lifts; especially those that incorporate my lower back such as squats and deadlifts. Another note is that I usually do squats every other leg workout (every other week) and the same for deadlifts on back day (lately I’ve been doing deadlifts on an ‘off’ day every other week – this is sort of an extra power day where I do bench and deads on their own which I alternate deadlifts and pull-ups each week). Here’s a rundown of those 2 exercises:
Deadlifts: every other week with moderate intensity, 4-5 sets of 6-10 reps
Squats: every other leg day with moderate intensity, 3 sets of 8-12 reps
Of course this routine is specific to my lower back injury but I posted this because lower back injuries are common in weightlifters. But let’s say you have a shoulder injury; you may need to use this same training protocol on overhead presses. Remember, I do not go to failure on these exercises. For example, I rarely (almost never) go over 225 lbs on squats and I drop all the way down, keeping my entire body tight and squeezing my quads throughout the movement. I could probably get a good 12-15 reps but I often stop at 8 or 10 reps. The same goes for deadlifts as I don’t go super heavy on these and I stop before I reach the point of muscle failure. I can go to failure on most every other exercise but these I use to stimulate my core muscles and still get the overall dense muscle development from these exercises. And if I don’t feel 100% or my lower back is hurting for whatever reason on a day that I’m scheduled to do squats or deads, I simply don’t do them that day.
I sincerely hope this write up helps someone because I know how frustrating it can be after suffering an injury that seemingly keeps you away from certain lifts and going heavy, or keeps you from the gym altogether. This is hope that you can still train using those exercises you thought you were going to have to throw in the towel on; you just have to train a little smarter.
Train with Passion,