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It’s no secret that I’ve had to endure countless injuries and set backs over my lifting career. But it’s these set backs and my desire to overcome them that has made me a better lifter. I’ve had to look at many different avenues and have tested all of them. Some helped while others were thrown to the curb.
Below are some of the issues I have had to deal with over the past 10 years. I know each of these all too well. For many years I just figured it was part of the process of getting strong. This way of thinking has lead to a list of injuries to extensive to list including two full pec tears, one shoulder surgery, compressed and herniated disks and a groin injury that lasted over 14 months.
It has always been in my nature to ignore the pain, wrap it up and press on. I feel most lifters and athletes are the same way. We do not have time to deal with injuries. It is easier to look for the quick fix than it is to take care of the problem in the first place.
- Can you sit into a wide stance squat position without a box or warm up without pain?
- Do you hips feel tight?
- Are you dealing with injuries that just don’t seem to get better?
- Is it hard for you to get off the floor from a lying position?
- Do you shoulders hurt when you raise your hand over your head?
- Does it take you half of the training session to feel warmed up?
- Do you feel like someone is pounding your biceps tendon with a hammer?
- Does your groin hurt when you squat?
- Are you spending all your training time trying to come back from injuries?
- Do you walk with a limp for a day or so after each squat session?
- When you wake in the morning, is your back in a knot?
- Do your pecs feel like it is one rep away from ripping off?
- Are you traps tight most of the day?
Believe me when I say this, I am not an expert of training, pre-habilitation, or rehab. If this were the case I would not be dealing with, or have had to deal with all the injuries I have sustained. I am no different then most of you. It took an awakening to look deeper into my training program. In the past when I got hurt I would just take some Advil, wrap it up and it would go away in time. As my training years increased this was no longer working. What used to take a week to recover from was now taking months. It all came to a halt in the spring of 2004. My squat got to the point I had to wear 2 squat suits to train with 315 for my safety squat bar dynamic box squats. I also could not get on the floor to play with my kids and getting out of bed was a challenge each morning. Rather then listen to my body I kept pressing onto to the point that training became something I began to dread.
At this point I decided that I was done with competitive powerlifting and had to find something else to do. I cut back on my training weights but my problems were not getting better. Now it was not about getting strong again but my quality of life was being hindered. My hips felt shot, my groin was a mess, my right hand was numb most of the time and I would wake three or four times a night in severe shoulder pain.
I had to do something so I called Buddy Morris and Thomas Myslinski who were then at the Cleveland Browns. I asked them if they could help me with my problems. They informed me that over 90% of their job was dealing with injuries. They had a team full of so many injuries that they had to learn how to address them all to keep them in the game. They also told me that they use a therapist named Allen Degenaro as a consultant for much of the rehab and prehab work and he was going to be at the complex the following week. I marked it on my schedule and told them I would be there.
I arrived at the complex eager for help. I figured Allan would do some active release therapy, massage, muscle activation therapy or some type of Guru magical therapy and I would be back in the gym 100%. In the past I have had great luck with all types of treatments such as chiropractic, acupressure, acupuncture, MAT, ART, deep tissue massage, e-stim, land cold laser. You name it I did it and in many cases it got me back in the gym. The difference is this time none of those things were working. I needed something new and was hoping Tom, Buddy and Allen would share with me the special “fix you up” therapy.
After some small talk they got to work on me. Allan asked me to run through a few simple movement patterns. First he asked me to take a shoulder width stance, place both arm over my head and squat as low as I could. After a few second he said, “Okay Dave you can squat now”. The funny thing is I was already as low as I could go. I got down maybe 3 inches. After a few more tests I noticed Tom watching, calculating, planning and taking it all in. Buddy on the other hand had this look on his face like he was going to die laughing. While I was being twisted around in different positions, Buddy said that I was by far the worse he has EVER seen. A few tests later Allan and Tom both agreed with Buddy. I failed every test so bad that Allan began to turn white. Moments later he disappeared into the bathroom and threw up. He thinks he may have had food poisoning but I still think I was so bad I made him sick.
I then asked what I needed to do to get ready to bench the next day and squat two days later. They all look at each other like I was out of my mind. I was told to not squat or bench for the next three weeks and spend all my training time on mobility movements. They showed me a few movements to do and all I could think is how well these movements would go over at Westside Barbell Club. I was also told to do these movements every day for three weeks as see how I felt.
Allan asked me how long I have been powerlifting. I told him my first meet was in 1984, 20 years ago. He then asked when I quit all other sports and just focused on power lifting. This was after finishing high school in 1986. He then went on to explain that my body has been doing the same movement patterns for over 18 years. My body was trained for squats, benches and dead lifts. All my accessory work was targeted to strengthen the same planes as the power lifts. I had done nothing to strengthen or keep the other movement planes firing. In short, I had lost joint mobility and could not move well out side of the main lifts and after 20 years it was now affecting my training. Let me explain it this way. Every sport has a certain level of GPP (general physical preparedness) required for the sport. Mobility is one of many functions that make up the GPP of a given athlete.
Every sport has it optimal level of required mobility. Each sport also has a minimal level required. Think of it as having a min and max level. Anything over the max level will not make them a better athlete and would be overkill, any thing under the min level and their performance would suffer. For example on a scale of 1-10 a power lifter would have a max mobility level of 6 with a min of 4. BTW: these numbers are provided to make a point. I do not know of any such chart that exists. If a power lifter has a mobility level of 8 then added mobility training is not that important and would only have to me maintained. They should place their focus on other aspects that need to be increased. In my situation I feel under a 4 mobility level. This would mean that it fell below the required level needed to train for my sport. Because of this I could not train and keeping the focus on other training aspects became pointless.
On the drive back home I kept thinking about how I got into the situation I was in. I never had problems like this in the past. It has only been the past few years that I have been dealing with these issues. Yes, I have always had injuries and still feel that they are part of the game. I was once told if you are going to lift big weight you are going to get hurt. I all reality this is not any different than any other sport. If you want to play ball you are going to get hurt. It is only a matter of time and severity. The longer you are in the game the worse your odds get. Could my problems be because of my age? I am getting closer to 40. I decided this was bull crap because of the number of other lifters I know who are older than me and coming in at the top of their game. Most lifters I know really do not begin to peak until after 30 anyhow. While age is a factor I believe it is your training age that matters. How long have you been lifting and at what level? While this is a factor, I decided it was not the main cause.
Once again, I know many other lifters who have also been in the game as long as I have (and yes they are beat up) but they are still plugging away. I decided the main reason I wound up in this position is my training, or should I say lack of. Years ago I wrote about the importance of GPP and have learned this lesson more than one time. When one component falls off the entire unit breaks. Over the past few years because of family and business my priorities have changed. When these changes happened I dropped much of the extra work I used to do (sled work and accessory movements). I changed my focus to getting the most out of the least. This is called training economy to some. I put all my time in those things that would make me strong and relied on the main movements to drive my lifts. It did take sometime but in the end it is the supplemental movements you need to drive your lifts. I knew this and have spoken about it in seminars but was not living it. Now I had to figure out how to deal with my situation. I could go on forever explaining why but unless you take action to fix it nothing will get better.
I now knew the problem and had to figure out how to fix it. Buddy, Tom and Allan told me to quit doing the movements I had been doing and replace them with movements I had never done or have not used for many years. This was also supposed to be complimented with some of the mobility drills they showed me. The mobility thing had my attention but they only showed me a couple things. What if I was to do mobility training for all my joints, not just what they showed me? When I got back I began to review all the materials we have in our warehouse on mobility. I reviewed the Parasi DVD’s on mobility, viewed the Jump Stretch tapes, read Core Performance Training by Mark Verstegen and several of the flexibility books by Paval. I also spoke with Jim Wendler and several other coaches about mobility training. Many of these coaches spoke about dynamic warm up drills that required running and skipping. I knew this was not going to happen so I had to find a way to put all the information together in a program I could do in the weight room. I few days later I had a plan and began to put it to use. I could not believe how sore I was getting from doing these exercises. By the end of the first session I was whipped out. I really did not do that much but my body was not used to any of it. I stayed with it for the next few days and within on week I could not believe the difference. Come that Friday I was ready to squat but Jim Wendler talked me out of it and told me to stick with the plan for 6 weeks. He told me it took 20 years to get this way and it was not going to be fixed in 3 weeks let alone 3 days. I stayed with the plan for three weeks and go better every day. I had better mobility than I have had in 10 years. Almost all of my pain had gone away and for once in the past three years I felt good. I decided from the start that I would squat on the forth week since this was the one movement that suffered the most.
The Fourth Week
After what seemed like an eternity, the forth week squat session finally rolled around. I began the session with my new warm up mobility plan and then moved to the squat rack. I have squatted with briefs and a suit for the past 10 years but decided to take to bar in my shorts. I used the safety squat bar because this was the last workout I did before the trip. The last time I used this I did 315 for 4 sets of 2 with briefs and suit on a 18 inch box and had to stop after the 4th set because of groin pain.
The bar felt so good I decided to drop the box to 14 inches. This is my meet training box and a box I had not been able to use to 2 years. With out suit and briefs I decided to work up. I trained with 405 for 8 sets of 2 reps with zero pain. After this session I was sold. The weight was not huge and I really should not have been excited about this but I was. Finally, I now felt like to could get back on the platform. So I thought…
I did feel great and continued my training. As the weeks went by I took my mobility training from 6 days per week down to 4 days per week (on my training days). Dropping the extra days did not have any ill effects on my training. Actually my training was going great and I began to look for a meet to train for. My first test was going to be a bench press competition. While I am not a big fan of bench only meets I did see it as the first step in getting back into a full meet. Training was going great and I was on par for a huge PR in the bench press. The best thing was I was pain free and could handle the training. As the meet got closer I slowly began to drop my mobility work. First it was dropped to only on squats days, then only half the movements and then dropped all together. My training did not suffer and the meet did not go as planned. I was strong but ended up bombing out of the meet due to bench shirt reasons. My third attempt was with a 700 bench (would have been a 90 pound record for me). I missed it at the very top.
Regardless of the out come I felt I was ready to begin training for a full meet. I set my plan picked my meet and began training. Eight weeks into my training I found myself back in the same position I was 9 months earlier. Everything hurt, my hips got tight, my lower back was tight and I ended up with a knee injury. We are all creatures of habit and while I knew better I did not keep up with my mobility work. I thought I had solved the problem and was moving on. Now I found myself right back to where I started and had to pull out of the meet. Mobility is not something that you fix and move on. You have to fix it and then maintain it. Now I found myself setting up another mobility program but this time I am smarter than I was before.
The plan I have created is based on my past experience, speaking with other coaches, the sources listed above and some common Under the Bar knowledge. This plan is not only mobility work but also includes some very basic pre-habitation work for many of the most common strength training injuries (pec tears, sore elbows, knees, lower back and shoulders). There are exercises for flexibility, mobility, Prehab and self message. This list of movements is the most complete list I can come up with without any over kill. Every movement should be preformed for one rotation with no rest between sets. This warm up should not take longer than 15 minutes and should leave you ready for training. If you are now in the same position I was in then I would suggest doing this 6 days per week with the addition of a second set after the first week. After the third week drop back down to three to four days per week for one set. For those who do not have mobility issues than only do this warm up on your training days for one set. You should also only do one half of the movements of the first session and the second half on the next. The reason for this is that mobility is not you r weakness you only need to maintain what you have. Spend your training time working YOUR current weakness.
Warm Up Movement Chart
- Stability Ball Hips (forward, back side to side, squats, squat rolls, Russian twist) – perform as many reps as needed to loosen up.
- Hip Crossovers – 10-15 repetitions per side
- Scorpion – 10-15 repetitions per side
- Side Bench Step Over 10-15 repetitions per side
- Front Bench Step Over – 10-15 repetitions per side
- Forward High Kicks – 10-15 repetitions per side
- Side Kicks – 10-15 repetitions per side
- Butt Kicks – 10-15 repetitions per side
- Shoulder Circles – 15-20 repetitions
- Arm Circles – 15-20 repetitions
- Med Ball Hot Toss – 10-15 reps per arm
- Band IT (glute) – 5-10 reps per leg
- Band Hamstrings – 5-10 reps per leg
- 4 Way Hips with Band (forward, inward, outward, backward) – 10-15 reps per leg for each movement
- TKE’s – 15-20 reps per leg
- Kettlebell Good Mornings – 10-15 reps
- Kettlebell Swings – 10-15 reps
- Forward Lunge – 8-10 reps per leg
- Side Lunge – 8-10 reps per leg
- Wide Stance Squats – 10-15 reps
- Pillar Bridge (Front/Side) – Hold each position for 30-60 seconds
- External Rotator Cuff – 15-20 reps per arm
- Band Shoulder Traction (front, side, bottom, top) – Perform each position with slight movement for 30-45
- Foam IT Band – Perform as many passes as need for pain to disperse.
- Spike Ball Rotators – Perform as many passes as need for pain to disperse.
Written by Dave Tate
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