The old adage goes something like this: Two guys try to chop down a tree. One is using an axe, and the other is using a sledgehammer. Both are working hard, but only one is working smart. Training can be the same way: smart training gets you results, and dumb training usually leads to an injury. If you lift weights long enough, chances are that you're going to suffer a few injuries. There's perhaps no greater frustration than to have the desire and the fortitude to train but not be able to because you're injured.
To make matters worse, when you finally see a doctor, he smiles and tells you to just take some aspirin and stop lifting weights. Stop lifting? Could Mozart have just stopped composing? Could Da Vinci have just stopped being creative? Would Sosa just stop hitting homers? Would Jenna Jameson just stop...well, you get the idea. So you try to "work around" the injury. Soon, you can't even open the door to the gym without pain, and again you have two choices: you could quit and spend the extra free time building your own Topanga shrine on the Internet, or you could seek out a real doctor, one who understands the needs of athletes. If you're lucky, you'll find someone like Dr. Ken Kinakin.
Dr. Kinakin falls into the same esteemed category as Dr. Mike Leahy. He's one of us. Dr. Kinakin has been involved with bodybuilding and powerlifting for over 20 years. He's a chiropractor and a certified strength and conditioning specialist. Not only has he created the revolutionary Society of Weight-Training Injury Specialists (SWIS), but he wrote the book — literally — on weight-training injuries. "The Encyclopedia of Weight-Training Injuries" is revolutionary in itself — a "virtual book" that's constantly updated as new information becomes available (call 877-220-7947 for more info).
Recently, Dr. Kinakin put together an International Weight-Training Injury symposium that included presentations by Dr. DiPasquale and Dr. Leahy (don't freak out just yet because you missed it — there's still a way you can see it in its entirety...stay tuned). In other words, Dr. Kinakin is the Da Vinci of weight-training injuries. By the time we finished our interview, I decided that he was also da man on the subjects of drugs, diet, supplements, and even ethics in sports.
T: Let's get started with a little background information. Tell us a little about yourself.
KK: I'm originally from Kelowna, British Colombia, Canada. I came out to Toronto in 1987 to attend CMCC, which stands for Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College, and I graduated in 1991. Then I went into associateship with a mentor of mine, Mark Percival, who's also a chiropractor and a naturopath. At the same time, I got into a partnership with a gym and opened a clinic inside of it — I did that for a couple of years. I opened up my own practice in 1995 in Mississauga and have been there ever since. I've been teaching weight training for a number of different organizations across Canada and into the United States. Also, I just recently created a new society for weight-training injury specialists.
T: You competed heavily in powerlifting before you became a chiropractor. What lead you down that path?
KK: Well, I'm a welder by trade. I used to build and develop machines and even bridges. I got tired of being on fire all the time, so I got into chiropractic.
T: Sounds like a good reason to switch professions!
KK: I got into chiropractic because I was getting ready to compete in the Canadian Powerlifting Championships. I had spent six months training for it, and two weeks before the contest, my right patella just ripped like a bed sheet. I went to a medical doctor, and his advice to me was, "Don't squat, do leg extensions." I said, "Yeah, like they're going to drag a leg extension machine out onto the platform!"
I finally went to see a chiropractor — which I didn't think was necessary because it was my knee, not my back. But I went anyway and underwent a lot of muscle testing and found out that my entire right leg was weak. I thought, "How can it be weak? I can squat 525 in the 165-pound weight class!" The doctor said that it was because of my back. He fixed it, and I was back to 100% in two weeks. I thought, "Man, this is cool — and the guy doesn't really even understand lifting!" So to heck with it, I went to chiropractic college.
T: Were you also involved in bodybuilding?
KK: I started bodybuilding competitively when I was 16 and did that for about three years. The drug situation was a little out of hand, so I left bodybuilding and went into powerlifting. But I found that powerlifting was actually worse than bodybuilding!
T: Do you mean as far as drugs?
KK: Yeah, but it's cleaned up unbelievably now. In fact, Canada threw out all of the powerlifting records in 1987 — actually retired them.
T: You Canadians are strict! We live on some of the stuff that's not allowed over there, like ephedrine and its derivatives, and even a lot of over-the-counter pain medications.
KK: None of those things — andro, melatonin — are legal. We do have more stringent testing. The whole Ben Johnson thing just kind of made it explode, and it's been pretty sensitive ever since.
T: Rumor has it that Johnson was actually using the least out of any of those guys in the race.
KK: That's probably true.
T: Speaking of ethics in sports, Brain Batcheldor once wrote about Olympic swimmers shooting helium up their asses so they'd be more buoyant in the water. What's the deal here? I mean, the Olympics aren't even going to be fun to watch!
KK: Well, it's like with the natural bodybuilding scene. A lot of the guys going in are on drugs. I know a number of guys who've won the different championships as "natural and drug-free," and they simply aren't!
T: Are they just beating the tests?
KK: Yes, I saw that when I went down to the states and competed in the American Drug-Free Powerlifting Association — they polygraph and urine test. We dealt with a group of athletes who were about 90% clean, and the other 10% were on drugs. A lot of these guys just weren't any good anyway or didn't know what they were doing.
T: I've judged and coached powerlifting a little on the amateur level, and I've seen these guys do some crazy and often scary stuff just to win a lousy trophy. What's it like when there's money and endorsements involved?
KK: Huge. It gets down to the morality of it. I don't promote or condone any of the behavior. If I drink a glass of wine or beer, how could I judge someone who's going to be on drugs? But if they're going to go into a competition that's supposed to be drug-free, then I have a problem with it. You know, play by the rules...but the rules keep changing. It's like the Mr. Olympia where they don't drug test — they did it once, and it was such a poor showing that they never did it again.
T: Now, what do you think of safe, sane, and relatively mild steroid use? Like say that a guy in his forties wants to get back what he had in his late teens. What do you think of that whole idea? It seems to be getting more and more popular.
KK: My attitude is that anabolic steroids are probably the most addictive drugs on the planet.
T: Psychologically, you mean?
KK: It has to do more with identity. If you go out and have a beer or smoke pot or do cocaine, then those are basically escapism drugs. You do it to change your state, to feel better. But with anabolic steroids, you take a kid who's 150 pounds benching 180, get him on drugs, and he balloons up to 180 or 190 as far as bodyweight. And his bench shoots up to 300 or 350 in six to eight months. All of a sudden, his friends are putting him up on a pedestal. The girls are attracted to him, and his whole identity becomes wrapped around looking that good. So, as soon as he tries to go off, he drops down to 160, his bench goes down, and he doesn't get the same respect. His friends actually make fun of him. So he goes back on to try and regain his identity.
That's why a lot of guys can't go off. Their entire identity is built on how much space they take up in a room. The self-esteem just isn't there. That's the real challenge in getting someone off. I've been trying to find alternatives to drugs but, unfortunately, nothing works as good. I'm not going to sit here and lie about all the scary stories, because they really don't exist. What I teach in schools is that there's use and there's abuse. "Use" is about equivalent to the birth control pill, so the side effects just aren't that severe. But unfortunately, we get into the mentality that if two is good, then four is better, and eight is spectacular. So the abusiveness will always be there because we want it more, now, and faster.
T: What do you think of some of the dietary approaches to doing that — like, say, the Anabolic diet?
KK: I think it's very interesting. It's the same thing as treatment: you have find out how people are biochemically. My brother used it last year for a natural bodybuilding show. He's 5'11" and was weighing 252 pounds in the off-season. He got down to about 195 and was just shredded. Even his personality had changed. His girlfriend went on the high-fat diet and, in two weeks, it damned near killed her! She couldn't oxidize the fats and walked around all dizzy and sick. She does better on more of a Zone diet.
T: So everybody is different in their abilities to handle certain diets?
KK: Well, I have a little blood test that actually measures your ability to tolerate carbohydrates. I think we're going to see some really exciting advances in the next few years with more precise testing. So when you walk in, you'll know exactly what you should use, how you should use it, whether you should use fats and what types, what kinds of protein, and everything biochemically at that point in time. These are really exciting times — it all has to do with biochemical individuality.
Some people need high fat, and some people are going to do better with high carbs. It's not just one type of diet or one type of training system. But even more important is to get yourself assessed at the very beginning to see what type of diet, supplementation, and training is going to work best for you. The technology for that is just starting to kick in. This is the direction SWIS is going with training — setting up protocols on how to access someone to see what kind of weight training they can handle.
T: Tell us about your Society of Weight-Training Injury Specialists. Sounds like something that's been needed for a long time.
KK: SWIS came from a need, but also from a bit of a frustration by myself. When teaching doctors and personal trainers, a very interesting pattern occurred. I saw that even the doctors had these myths — like "squats are bad for the knees" — without understanding where that rumor actually came from.
T: Where did it come from, anyway?
KK: That rumor started from research done down in Texas from a Dr. Carl Klein. He was trying to show that deep knee bends (squats) are destructive to the knees. So he created this study with 200 people — 100 lifters, and 100 nonlifters. He put this little apparatus onto the knee and pushed laterally to see if it would move. Pushing from the side like this showed ligament laxity. The little gadget on the knee showed just how much it would bend. The problem with the study was that, before you got on the table, he would ask you whether or not you were a lifter. So he would press harder with the lifters, and not so hard with the nonlifters.
T: So much for the validity of that study.
KK: All of the information was very biased. In fact, they've tried to repeat his studies, putting a pressure gauge on the outside to actually monitor the amount of pressure, but the study has never been duplicated. The problem was that this was in the '50s, and a number of books and even Sports Illustrated picked it up and said that squats were bad for the knees. That myth has stayed around for years and years!
Can squats be bad for the knees? Absolutely, but it's not due to the squat. It's due to either poor biomechanics or poor technique, but it's not due to the squat itself. In fact, Dr. Richard Harrack, the US Powerlifting medical doctor, has done studies to show that lifters' knees are actually in better shape radiographically (X-rayed) than the general population. And we're talking guys who squat 600 to 800 pounds. They've also found that lifters, in what's known as the "anterior drawer" test, have much tighter ACLs than nonlifters. This shows that lifters' knees are actually more stable due to their squatting.
T: Do you explain this to the doctors that you teach?
KK: Yes. I have to explain it to doctors, chiropractors, and physical therapists, and they're like, "Oh, I didn't realize that." In fact, squats are actually replacing exercises such as the leg extension in rehab.
T: Right. Hey, what exactly are we doing to screw up our ACLs these days? It's like you're not part of the cool crowd if you haven't been scoped!
KK: Two things. From talking to a lot of pro athletes, I think that a lot of the damage comes from Astroturf.
KK: Sure. When you play on Astroturf, it doesn't give like grass. So your knee gives instead, usually in a twisting-type fashion. For teenagers, it could be because the kids are just bigger, stronger, and more explosive. It may be partially due to genetics, partially due to proper training, and partially due to the drugs that are out there.
The second part is just that the general health of people has gotten worse. They just don't eat properly. Ligaments aren't as strong, but we're forcing them to push themselves a lot harder. Look at football — they're bigger, faster, and stronger. Each guy in the whole front line of a football team is over 300 pounds, but they were 240 or 250 ten years ago. And a lot of them are running really, really quickly at that heavier weight.
T: Are our muscles, in a sense, outgrowing our ligaments?
KK: Well, I think what has happened is that their ability to adapt and do it in a normal, timed fashion so that you can grow into it isn't there. We're demanding more from kids at a younger age.
T: Is there anything preventative that you can do to avoid an ACL injury?
KK: I would basically start from the diet.
T: Really? I was expecting an exercise recommendation.
KK: If you don't have proper nutrients and building blocks, it won't work. The food nowadays isn't as good as it used to be because of the different types of processing. I would definitely get someone on a multi-mineral, multi-vitamin — definitely work that in. But first, find out what they're actually eating.
For example, right now in Canada — and I think it's the same in the United States — we drink more soda pop than water as a society. So you're dealing with an extremely high-sugar content, virtually no water, and just not great food. After practice, a lot of pro teams are at McDonald's. That's the challenge we're dealing with from a food aspect, and then it's just proper training and conditioning. If you look at some of the greater players out there, they just condition the heck out of themselves all the time.
T: Tough off-season?
KK: Yeah, tremendous off-season training, and also proper recuperation.
T: What's the biggest problem that you see creating weight-training injuries?
KK: You need to understand just how much you can handle genetically. When I teach this, I use a metaphor that I got from Mike Mentzer, and I know how much you guys just love Mentzer (laughing). The metaphor is about getting a suntan. Everyone, genetically, has different abilities to handle the sun. I'm Caucasian, so if I were to go outside in August, I could handle a couple of hours of sun, no problem, without getting a sunburn. A black person, genetically, could tolerate a lot more. An albino, genetically, could take very, very little...maybe five or ten minutes.
So we have what I call genetic albinos — people who aren't able to handle as much training as, say, their training partner, yet they push and push themselves to the point where they just fall apart. This is what we see especially in the shoulders and pectorals. There was a retrospective study done on bench pressers to see why they tore muscle. It wasn't because of the exercise — it was due to under-recuperation.
Part II of "Smart Training" will be posted next week.