If You Don't Use Too Much Weight and Have Perfect Lifting Form, You'll Never Get Hurt

Posted on 30 Apr 2015 03:06

I'm currently reading a novel where the main character needs to put on muscle. Well, at least he thinks he needs to put on muscle. The author is confused. The character really needs to get as strong as possible as quickly as possible, which isn't necessarily the same thing at all. I won't tell you what book this is since you don't need to know just how much of a geek I am. OK, you forced me, it's sort of a time travel book about a guy who needs to fight an incoming wave of inter-dimensional monsters. See, I told you…

Despite the silly yet entertaining premise of this book, it reminded me of some common misconceptions about weight lifting, strength training, bodybuilding, resistance training, or whatever you want to call it. In the book, the character goes to a gym for the first time in his life and doesn't have any idea whatsoever how to start. This guy has never done anything other than run for exercise his entire life. He looks around and just starts randomly using some resistance machines.

Then, he gets another character, a huge brainless meathead with delusions of grandeur (a bad guy but our hero doesn't know this), to help him. This idiot runs him through a "workout" with weights too heavy, for no other purpose than to humiliate him and show the meathead's superiority. So far, it's not far from reality! Ask some random jacked up dude for strength training or bodybuilding advice just because he is the only big guy you know, and you are quite likely to be put through just this kind of thing. Although most strength people are not like this, the bad apples can be really rotten.

The protagonist knows, intuitively you might say, that using weights that are too heavy, etc. are likely to get him hurt. And, he cannot afford to get hurt, owing to the aforementioned waves of inter-dimensional monsters, from which he alone has the capacity to protect the human race. I know, happened to you just last week, right?

So, he knows that starting out super-heavy with weights he can barely lift will lead to disaster. But beyond that he still knows nothing. He wisely ditches the meathead and goes back to the gym alone. A scowling, but hugely muscular gym trainer watches him and, disgusted by what he sees, goes over and tells him he is doing everything totally wrong, and he is just going to hurt himself. In fact, says the trainer, "it's a wonder you haven't already hurt yourself."

The hero can't afford to get hurt, and he says as much: "It's important that I don't get injured." How many trainers have had a client's first words be something like this? Not many, I'll bet.

The trainer begins to see the the protagonist's willingness to listen and glimpses his determination, and agrees to help him. The trainer also turns out to be a good dude.

Strength training myth and muscle building myth: Injuries are always caused by too-heavy weight and bad form

So far so good, but here is where the author becomes confused. What follows is a description of "how not to ever get hurt." The basic rules are:

1. Use perfect from
2. Do stretching exercises
3. Do very complicated but vaguely described workouts
5. Don't use weights that are too heavy.

After this, our hero, driven by absolute need, goes on a bodybuilding and Martial Arts training blitz that would make the guys shouting about the "bodybuilding lifestyle" look like noncommittal weekend warriors. He uses apparently tremendous volume, and he hits the gym every day. He "always takes the extra rep," and uses lots of post-failure training. Post-failure training, in case you are wondering, is basically any kind of training where you do reps to failure, and then force out extra reps, either after a brief rest, or with cheating movements, or with a little help from a friend.

He also sets up an old beat up weight set and bench in his garage, and uses that between gym sessions, doing, for instance, lots of biceps curls to failure. When he's not doing this he's "training the bo staff," which he quickly masters (it's getting worse, I know), and punches an old heavy bag that he also got on the cheap.

The character has 3 months to get as prepared as possible. Ignoring the fact that he is training for the most mass, which is not necessarily the most strength, and also ignoring whether or not biceps curls will help you fight a monster alien from outer space, the author seems to be utterly confused about the nature of weight training injuries.

Our hero is training in a way that would almost guarantee a novice to get injured in the first 3 months or so! He is overloading his muscles, going past failure, and allowing almost no recovery. Despite all the chicken breasts and broccoli (of course!) and muscle building supplements (did I mention the supplements?) this is NOT the way to get ready for a monster fight!

Perfect form1in the face of ever-increasing volume and workload without adequate recovery cannot protect you from injury. Certainly, neither would complicated stretching and mobility routines. Most resistance training injuries result from cumulative microtrauma that comes from overuse. In other words, the hero of this story is training for injury. The author falls prey to a typical strength training myth: Injuries are always caused by too-heavy weights and "improper" form.

In the story, the character grows muscle like it's grass. Does this seem right? Well, there is of course not enough detail to know exactly what this training consists of, but yes, if you could manage not to get injured, and you could eat enough (and perhaps not worry about putting on some extra fat) you could grow a lot of muscle in a short time this way. You'd have to deal with almost constant severe soreness and you'd likely end up with some niggling joint problems, etc. What the hero has going for him is that he is young, a kid really, just twenty years old.

Injuries are Not Only Caused by Over-Heavy Weights

That's enough about the book. Let's just be clear about the point. Good technique and perfect form is not a magical shield that protects you from more out of control volume and training frequency. You can strain a muscle with weights that are much lighter than the heaviest weight you are capable of lifting. When you lift weights, your muscles are damaged very slightly. This is called microtrama. Think of it as very tiny tears in the tissue. It is thought that part of the muscle growth process is the body's response to this microtrauma.

Many people think that you must completely recover from a previous workout in order to get any results from the next. So, for example, this "microtrauma" must completely heal and then the body must compensate and grow, or you're next workout will just result in more damage and a recovery debt. This is not necessarily true and you do NOT have to completely recover from one workout to benefit from the next. This is because recovery starts immediately and is a continuous process. However, at some point, continued training volume and frequency with little time for recovery will overwhelm the body's adaptive ability and muscle damage can build up. This can result in little muscle tears (we call them "tweaks") that can become bigger tears during weight training.

In other words, you don't always get injured all at once due to picking up a weight that is too big. Instead, the damage from consecutive training sessions builds up to the point that you end up with a more serious injury. Clearly, no amount of perfect form can prevent this. If you think about it, though, if you use tons of volume and work to failure and past all the time, there is no way that you could use consistently good form. At some point, things would get sloppy. Sloppy out of control exercise form and a hella high volume post-failure training blitz go hand in hand.

Now, don't get me wrong, lots of volume and post-failure work are great for mass building. You just can't do an unlimited amount of it thinking that other ingredients that you put in your routine will magically protect you from the effects of muscle overuse. This may be another take-home you can use in your training:

Bells and whistles do not protect you from the negative results of improper training!

This page created 30 Apr 2015 03:06
Last updated 29 Jan 2017 00:47

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