The Secret to Staying Injury Free
Recently, I had the privilege of speaking with Bodybuilding Hall of Fame member and owner of one of the most perfectly proportioned physiques of all time (and one of my early idols in the sport), Lee Labrada. One subject I was curious about was how he managed to stay injury free during his entire bodybuilding career while so many others were constantly tearing muscles and getting hernias.
“I was never stupid with the weights, and I always listened to my body,” was his matter-of-fact reply. That brought to mind that many of today’s pro bodybuilders have developed incredible strength in lifts like the squat, deadlift and bench press, among other exercises. Even if they’re dieting, they continue to put up 600-pound squats and deadlifts, and they perform flat-bench and incline barbell presses with more than 400. While the intensity and heart are admirable and it certainly looks heroic in the athlete’s training DVD, that’s not the time to be setting personal records in the gym. With less cushioning and lubrication of the joints, thanks to less bodyfat and water, the risk of injury is notably higher.
Should you lift heavy during the precontest phase? Yes—but only as heavy as you can in good form, and not for very low reps. One fact I found surprising: Not only was Labrada injury free, but he didn’t even suffer from chronic aches and pains in his shoulders, knees, lower back or elbows, despite having trained hard for about 30 of his 47 years.
“Lifting superheavy weights for many consecutive years will wreck your joints, but I never went extremely heavy,” he said. That really inspired a sting of regret, as I know deep in my heart that the reason I have so many constant aches and pains is because I have pushed the envelope in terms of workout poundages far too many times over far too many years. If the secret to avoiding not only acute and horrible injuries like muscle tears but also the far more commonplace aching shoulders or knees is simply to use more manageable weight rather than struggle with spleen-busting giant dumbbells, then why don’t more of us do it? Clearly, ego and pride play major roles. You feel better pulling a 500-pound deadlift than you do with 300 pounds on the bar.
The big reason a lot of lifters train too heavy is because like most human beings, we can’t imagine anything bad happening to us. Some other guy might tear his pec, but not me. Some other poor fool will have major shoulder and lower-back pain when he’s 40, but it won’t be me. Yeah, keep telling yourself that, buddy. I too believed I was indestructible at one time. My body eventually made it known that it was not in fact hewn of twisted steel but of flesh, blood, bones, muscles and connective tissue—and all too vulnerable to injury should I do anything stupid. Not that it stopped me right away—I’m something of a slow learner, or maybe stubborn is more accurate. But I will say that if I’d known what training as heavy as possible all the time would lead to down the road, I would definitely not have done it.
Maybe it’s not too late for you. Listen to Lee Labrada, who is a wise man, and train like a true bodybuilder. Learn how to use good form and a strong mind/muscle connection to get awesome contractions and full-blown pumps without hoisting a ton of weight. It may not feed your ego, but preventing injury is something you’ll appreciate years later. If you fail to heed my advice, there will come a day when you’ll wish you had. Sorry if I sound like I’m trying to scare you—even though I am. If a little healthy fear keeps you injury and pain free, there ain’t nothin’ wrong with that.