You've got all your training goals laid out for one helluva year. This is going to be the year! You know, the one where you're the biggest, leanest, and strongest you've ever been.
The wheels are set in motion and you're making amazing progress. Then bam! You begin what figures to be the first of many trips to the disabled list.
I've seen sections on other websites that are dedicated to washed-up meatheads; older guys that are still hitting the gym heavy. I can appreciate that. I hope someday I'm considered a washed-up meathead. In your case, though, you're not washed-up, you're just jacked up!
I get a handful of e-mails daily from injured strength athletes, and I always do my best to give them some clues as to how they can fix themselves up. Quite often, the reasons they get injured are simple and fixing them doesn't require a degree in rocket science or quantum mechanics.
If you finally decide to heed some of my advice, this could be the year where you actually attain the goals you've been dreaming of, while remaining relatively injury-free in the process.
Reason 10: You Still Don't Warm-up Properly
I'm constantly in awe at how many times people ask, "Do you warm-up?"
Seriously, is this something we still need to discuss?
If you're still unconvinced that warming-up is necessary, here are some of the benefits associated with a warm-up, according to Michael Alter (1):
• Increased body and tissue temperature
• Increased blood flow through active muscles by reducing vascular bed resistance
• Increased heart rate, which will prepare the cardiovascular system for work
• Increased metabolic rate
• Increases in the Bohr effect, which facilitates the exchange of oxygen from hemoglobin
• Increased speed at which nerve impulses travel, and thereby facilitation of body movements
• Increased efficiency of reciprocal innervation (thus allowing opposing muscles to contract and relax faster and more efficiently)
• Increased physical working capacity
• Decreased viscosity (or resistance) of connective tissue and muscle
• Decreased muscular tension (improved muscle relaxation)
• Enhanced connective tissue and muscular extensibility
• Enhanced psychological performance
Now, I know that some people say you should be prepared to perform at any time; therefore, you don't need to warm-up. After all, if you meet a bear in the woods, you better be able to sprint without warming-up, right?
I get the gist of it, but there's a difference between what you can do and what's optimal. You can probably get by for a while without warming-up, but much like that grizzly, at some point in time it's going to catch up to you.
Reason 9: You Continually Fail to Stretch
Stretching is one of those ridiculously easy things that everyone can do, yet very few actually get around to. You don't need any equipment whatsoever. If nothing else, a little open space and some free time will suit you just fine.
As well, there are numerous types of stretching you should be performing, and each type has some unique benefits.
Pre-Training – Dynamic Stretching
I won't beat a dead horse. If you want the "why's" behind this one, re-read Reason 10.
Post-Training – Eccentric Quasi-Isometrics
Eccentric quasi-isometrics, or EQI's, are an excellent choice for post-workout stretching. Tony Schwartz covers these in-depth in Christian Thibaudeau's book, Theory and Application of Modern Strength and Power Methods. I won't steal Tony's thunder, but I like dumbbell EQI flies post-workout on upper body days, and a Bulgarian split-squat or lunge variation on lower body days.
Before Bed – Static Stretching
The more research I read about static stretching, the more confused I get. Does it really improve flexibility? Is it just a modality to make you feel better? Will excessive static stretching reduce your strength and power to levels on par with your 90-year-old grandmother? Okay, the last one was a little sarcastic, but you get my point.
To be honest, I'm not totally sure. What I do know is this: When I consistently stretch four to five times per week, my body feels better. When I don't, I can tell a huge difference in regard to my overall levels of tension and a reduction in my body awareness. The same can be said of almost every client I've worked with. Once they begin a consistent and dedicated static stretching program, a lot of those little aches and pains that used to plague them seem to vanish.
Those factors, in and of themselves, are enough for me to continue stretching until I find something better.
Throughout the Day – Low-Load, Long Duration Stretching
We all know that sitting for extended periods throughout the day isn't good. Not only does our body effectively become more efficient at sitting, but from a physiological perspective we can actually drop sarcomeres and have adaptive shortening of our musculature. Quite simply, we lose the length of our muscles.
One way to combat this is low-load, long duration stretching – or creep-based stretching. When I'm sitting in front of my computer for extended periods of time, I'll actually take ten, fifteen, or twenty minutes, throw an Airex pad down, and perform some variation of a lunge stretch to get my hips back into extension. It's not sexy, but it's remarkably effective. If you haven't tried this before, start out with two to three minutes and work your way up. Going for twenty minutes right off the bat may kill you!
Oh, but it can be sexy.
Reason 8: You're Oblivious to Stressors
I feel that stressors are vastly overlooked. When people talk about training, they're generally referring to "training stress."
However, your body doesn't look at individual stressors any differently; the only thing that changes is the magnitude of the stress, and how your body responds to it.
With that being said, stress can hit you from a number of different angles:
• Spouse/significant other
• General life stress (the guy who cut you off and the subsequent swearing)
So why do I put training last? Because it's the one you have the most control over!
I've met people who are on the verge of divorce, bankruptcy, and losing their job, and they're stilltrying to kill themselves in the gym. Now, I'm all for using the gym as a source of "purging" if you will, but you have to understand that in the situation above, your body is under an inordinate amount of stress.
Feel like your world is about to come crashing down?
In all honesty, expecting to see some appreciable improvements in strength, size, or body composition at this time is pretty ridiculous. I've seen many high-level executives see their biggest improvements in strength or body composition when they train less frequently and simply get more rest.
Reason 7: You Refuse to Take Time Off
Jumping off from the previous point, I've said it before and I'll say it again: Planned recovery weeks are one of the best things you can do to ensure long-term progress in the iron game. The guy who hits the gym with the same intensity week-after-week is most likely going to repeat the same performance and boast the same physique, week-after-week.
With relatively young lifters, or those with a young training age, performance improvements are seen from session to session. They may only need one de-load week every six to twelve weeks. However, you have to remember that most beginners can see strength gains using as little as 40% of their one-rep max! They just can't incur all that much fatigue.
Contrast that with someone on the level of Dave Tate or Jim Wendler. These guys incur a massive amount of fatigue each and every workout. Someone at this level may need to take a planned de-load week as often as every three to four weeks to make sure they're consistently driving their numbers up.
Dave Tate's massive back undergoing some massive fatigue.
Reason 6: You Fail to Recognize the 23:1 Rule
First things first, if you're unfamiliar with the 23:1 rule, here goes:
Even in an ideal training world, you probably only have one hour per day to train yourself or a client. In contrast, there are twenty-three hours out of that same day to reinforce bad postural habits and hold back progress. Sweet!
Sitting at a desk all day is the perfect example. Watch most people sit at a desk and you'll see an exact reproduction of their standing posture on a smaller scale. If they sit with a head forward posture, they'll demonstrate that standing. If they sit for extended periods of time, they'll probably sustain some shortening of the hip flexors, and therefore the inability to achieve full hip extension when standing.
This is something you must address if you want to achieve optimal results from your programming. Here are a few options:
• Get your hips in extension from time to time. Try the low-load, long duration stretches I outlined in Reason 9.
• Lie length-wise on a foam roller with your arms out to the sides to allow your anterior shoulder musculature to stretch out.
• If you're forced to work on a computer all day, consider purchasing a stand-up desk to combat the need to sit all day long.
Aim to do the opposite of what you do all day, every day, and you'll be much better off.
Reason 5: Your Workouts Lack Progression
Here's a little nugget: Glute bridges are great for getting your glutes firing, but they're only the start. If they're all you do for glute development over the course of your lifting career, well, your glutes sure aren't going to be a strong point!
Progression is an integral part of your training that must be accounted for. So while glute bridges are great in the beginning, eventually you need to move on to more demanding variations that still work the same muscles (single-leg glute bridges, hip airplanes, bowler's squats, etc). As body awareness, posture, and alignment improve, you'll be able to do less and less activation work and focus more of your training time on big bang exercises.
Here's another example: People love the prone Y that Chad Waterbury and Alwyn Cosgrove discussed in their previous article, 8 Weeks to Monster Shoulders. Sure, it's a great exercise because it develops the often weak lower trapezius, but what do you do after that? Is it just as simple as loading up on prone Y's till the end of time?
Not quite. Although, I'd be impressed seeing them performed with big wheels in each hand!
Prone Y's are great, but they're a long lever exercise, which makes it difficult to make progress on them. In contrast, you could start performing lat pull-downs with a clearly defined scapular depression, which would work the lower trapezius. After that, move into chin-up and pull-up progressions. Soon you'll have the lower trap development to make all the ladies swoon!
Reason 4: Your Mobility Sucks
For the last three years I've been labeled as one of the "mobility guys." And you know what? I've totally come to grips with it.
When Eric and I first released Magnificent Mobility, I don't think we realized how powerful a tool it'd become. It's not going to cure hunger or promote world peace, but there are tons of people out there with terrible mobility that needed this.
Look, I don't care which mobility program you follow. Obviously, I'm biased and like Magnificent Mobility for the lower body and Inside-Out for the upper body (although both cover much more than mobility training). However, I think Z-Health is a great resource as well, and I'm looking to attend more seminars by Dr. Cobb in the future.
Here's the bottom line: Improved mobility from the correct areas is going to enhance your performance inside and outside of the gym, while keeping you healthier to boot. If your mobility sucks, I'll bet cash money on the fact that it's only a matter of time until you get injured.
Reason 3: You Think Posture is Best Left to Science Geeks
I could get into an all-out biomechanical assault on how posture affects performance. We could even talk about length-tension relationships, sub-optimal alignment of actin and myosin, or how neural output decreases when the body is imbalanced.
Here we see actin and myosin... ah, screw it.
I'm not stupid though – I know you don't care. You just want to lift big iron, and I can appreciate that.
However, please understand that the whole reason I got interested in improving people's posture was to improve their performance. More succinctly, if improving posture didn'timprove performance or the weight lifted, I wouldn't care about it either!
For a host of reasons that Eric Cressey and I outlined in our Neanderthal No More series, sub-optimal posture is going to lead to sub-optimal performances. Period. A muscle that's chronically over-stretched or too short won't be able to produce the best possible levels of force.
Correcting posture is an on-going battle, as everything you do in life affects it, either positively or negatively. However, by constantly working to improve it both via training and behavior modification, you give yourself a fighting chance to stay healthy.
Reason 1B: You're Clueless About Program Design
The next two points go hand-in-hand, so instead of having one ranked higher, we'll have 1A and 1B.
I'm still shocked at how few people know and understand how to develop solid programming. A few weeks ago, I was reviewing the site of the self-proclaimed "best trainer in Indianapolis," where she described her ideal training split as:
Monday: Chest, shoulders, and triceps
Wednesday: Back and biceps
I mean, didn't she get the memo that you have to bench every day to really make gains?
In all seriousness, when you get down to it, programming is equal parts art and science. You can understand all the biomechanics in the world, but if you don't listen to your body, you simply won't stay healthy for all that long. On the flip side, you can be totally in tune with your body, but if you don't know where to place certain exercises, or why you're doing five reps versus ten, then you'll probably be jacked up before the year's end as well.
If you're unfamiliar with writing programs, there are numerous articles here on Testosteroneto help you out. Alwyn Cosgrove's Program Design manual wouldn't be a bad investment, either. A key word I like to use in my seminars is rationale. In other words, can you rationalize the following in your programs?
• Why'd you choose that specific exercise?
• Why'd you choose that specific set/rep scheme?
• Why'd you choose that specific rest period?
• Why'd you choose that specific tempo?
And the list could go on and on. In essence, though, you'd better be able to rationalize every section of your training. If you can't, why's it in there?
Reason 1A: Your Technique Still Sucks
After a grueling search, you've finally found the perfect program for yourself. On top of that, you're doing everything else correctly – stretching, warming-up, de-loading – the works. There's just one small problem.
Your technique still sucks!
Let's be honest here. You could have the best program in the world and be dialed in everywhere else, but if your form sucks, you're not going to get the most out of it. And worse yet, you're probably going to wreck yourself (so check yourself).
I'm the first to admit that technique can slip in the blink of an eye. Since moving down from Ft. Wayne two and a half years ago, I've trained largely by myself. When I first began videotaping some of my lifts a few months ago, I was more than little shocked at their execution! Ever since, I've been videotaping almost every workout and things are getting back to normal.
So, if your technique sucks, you have a few options:
• Hire a competent trainer. The key word in that sentence is competent. This option is ideal if you're a beginner.
• If you're in a commercial gym, find someone in your gym with the smarts to help you out. Please note this doesn't always equate to the biggest or leanest person there. Find the one whose technique is the best and ask them for assistance.
• Get the hell out of the commercial gym and find a real gym or key club where everyone knows what they're doing. When I trained at Westside several years ago, it was as though I had ten coaches all helping me out at once. In that situation, you've got no choice but to get better.
Now Go Ice Your Ego
Well, there you have it, the ten reasons why you're still jacked up.
Whether it's a bum knee, aching shoulders, or a stiff lower back, nothing can bring your progress to a screeching halt quicker than an injury. However, don't make staying healthy any harder than it needs to be. Following the tips above is a sure-fire way to get, and stay, healthy for now and years to come.
Good luck, get healthy, and make this your best year ever!
1. Alter, Michael. (2004). Science of Flexibility, 3rd Edition. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.