Around the month of March, 2005, I was performing a series of bench press tests to refine my training program in preparations for winning a national level show perhaps around the year 2008.
I have several weak points in my physique, and after being convinced by a Korean doctoral student in the University of New Mexico's Strength and Conditioning program about the benefits of the flat bench-press for releasing Human Growth Hormone (HGH) and Insulin-like Growth Factor-1 (IGF-1), I was being coached in a new program to rapidly accelerate my strength and size.
| What Is HGH, And How Does It Relate To IGF-1?
HGH stands for Human Growth Hormone (also known as Somatotropin), an amino acid produced in the pituitary gland of the brain. HGH plays an important role in human development by affecting skeletal growth.
HGH levels are high during childhood, and peak at adolescence. During puberty, HGH levels determine height and bone size. After puberty, HGH levels start to decline, and by age 61 decrease to 20% of what they were at age 21.
HGH is continually produced throughout the human lifecycle, and continues to regulate the body's metabolism. HGH is carried into the liver and partially converted into IGF-1 (see below).
(As rapidly as a steroid-free bodybuilder can increase in size and strength anyway.)
| What Are IGF-1, Somatomedin C, And NSILA?
IGF-1 (Insulin-like Growth Factor 1) was known as "Nonsuppressible Insulin-Like Activity" (NSILA) in the 1970s, and as "Somatomedin C" in the 1980s.
IGF-1 is a protein hormone similar in molecular structure to insulin. IGF-1 plays an important role in childhood growth and continues to have anabolic effects in adults.
IGF-1 is produced by the liver upon stimulation by HGH (human growth hormone, see above), and stimulates and regulates cell growth and multiplication in bones, cartilage, and nerve cells, among other things.
A few weeks into testing I was getting pretty comfortable with my routine of bench-pressing twice a week and was solidifying my future routine when I made a mistake. My mistake was not realizing the necessity of fully warming-up before exerting any effort in physical terms.
Hey, I've been training at the same gym for over 9 years now and with no real injuries to speak of, I've never really even taken any time off from training except for perhaps a week or two each year. My body has never been given any significant rest, as my goals don't really allow for this sort of thing.
This most likely contributed to my recent injury, but I probably could've prevented my new-found experience with a normal preventative routine. I didn't warm-up right, didn't use a spot for a weight I considered to be trivial, and just acted foolishly, to be blunt.
I damaged the ligament connecting my collar-bone to my shoulder in addition to the long head of my biceps. I'm pretty sure I felt it happen, but it wasn't too painful at the time, so I continued training. That was stupid.
Let me tell you this: when you feel pain in the gym, you'd better be conservative and take it way too easy rather than risk further injury. It's no joke.
I tried to train through it, thinking it would get better. After all, it was just a warm sensation on the top side of my shoulder and difficulty benching and maintaining my strength. It should go away, right?
Not so, which I was forced to face after about 8 weeks of not training at all. Well, maybe a few pull-ups in my backyard to maintain something, thankfully they didn't hurt. That's when I went to the doctor and asked what was wrong.
I thought it might be my rotator cuff, but it didn't quite act like what I had heard of a rotator cuff injury. I could still move my arm in everyday stuff, but I couldn't do more than 10 pushups without rapidly increasing pain, and even attempting a bench press with the only the bar was decently painful.
The doctor applied force to my arm and asked me to resist at varying angles and positions. The only position that hurt was when I held my right arm straight out in front of me, rotated my thumb until it pointed towards the floor, and tried to raise my arm against gentle resistance.
I felt sharp, immediate pain along the top outside edge of my shoulder, and between my collar bone and trap muscle.
The doctor suggested something called "Prolo Therapy", provided my shoulder didn't improve. The therapy was a series of injections directly into the injured area that caused the body to heal itself much faster.
| What Is Prolotherapy?
Prolotherapy is also known as nonsurgical ligament reconstruction, and is a treatment for chronic pain. "Prolo" is short for proliferation (or proliferant), because the treatment causes the proliferation (growth, formation) of new ligament tissue in areas where it has become weak.
The treatment is useful for many different types of musculoskeletal pain, including arthritis, back pain, neck pain, fibromyalgia, sports injuries, unresolved whiplash injuries, carpal tunnel syndrome, chronic tendonitis, partially torn tendons, ligaments and cartilage, degenerated or herniated discs, TMJ and sciatica.
He had undergone the same therapy for a similar sort of shoulder injury and swore by its very rapid positive results. I decided to get the injections done as soon as possible.
The day finally came. One of my sisters accompanied me to the doctor's office to take the photos for this article. Strange thoughts started going through my head.
Thoughts like, "this may not work and my shoulder may be screwed up for the rest of my life," and, "what if this is what takes me out of competition... that would mean no domination... Augh!"
Dr. Kaufman reassured me that everything would heal up properly, and if I could just take off my shirt he could get started. I had dwindled in size quite significantly and no longer looked like a bodybuilder, so the last thing I wanted to do was to take off my shirt.
Reluctantly I undid the buttons and placed my shirt neatly by my side as I sat on the black cushioning of the doctors exam bench. He started by getting out a marker and asking me to point directly to the source of the pain in my right shoulder.
I forced the feelings of embarrassment from my weenie muscles aside as I placed the pointer finger of my left hand directly onto the point of my pain.
Dr. Kaufman made a dot with his marker and started sterilizing the area with a cotton ball of iodine-colored liquid. I thought to myself, "Navy Seals don't whine when they're gonna get shots to ward off evil jungle diseases before cappin' bad guys in some God-forsaken country, so I'm not gonna whine when I see the needle plunge deep into my atrophied shoulder..."
The doctor told me that I didn't want to watch, and I took his advice, turning my head to the left and looked out the blinds of the tall rectangular window to the parking lot.
Dr. Kaufman told me what would happen: first there was the shot of novocaine, then the "prolo-therapy" shot which would propel a solution of sugar (I think it was specifically glucose) and something else into the injured area causing great irritation which would then heal itself.
As I stared out the window in anticipation, I suddenly felt a very slight prick, and then a spreading warm sensation somewhere inside my shoulder. There was almost no pain, which was impressive to me. Now, with the novocaine already injected, the other shot should be completely painless.
It was and in fact, before I knew what was going on, everything was over and Dr. Kaufman told me I could put my shirt back on. Thank goodness! Time to shroud my 3rd grader muscles under my Hawaiian cloak of secrecy (yeah, I was wearing one of my many Hawaiian shirts)! My sister told me she got some great photos, and that the needle went about 2 inches into my shoulder! Wow! Good thing I didn't watch that!
The important thing about prolo-therapy is to keep moving your injured area for the days following the treatment despite the pain and stiffness. The next day I felt like someone hit me in the shoulder with a baseball bat.
I could barely move my arm. The second day however, my shoulder felt nearly normal! By the third day, it was like nothing really happened, and I was actually able to start bench-pressing the 45 pound bar without any pain.
Within about 6 weeks, I was able to bench 185 with no pain, though my strength was greatly diminished. Pressing 185 wasn't a problem, but I could tell that if I were to try using anything over 225, I would possibly risk re-injury. It took probably about two and a half months before I could handle 225 for a relatively easy 10 reps again.
Now my strength is growing quite consistently and I haven't had any disabling pain in my shoulder any more. My curls are back, where before the damaged head of my long bicep made my curls strangely weak and quite painful.
My message is this, unless you want atrophied muscles and great psychological discomfort from that atrophy, not to mention eventually having to get a needle plunged 2 inches into a joint, warm-up thoroughly!
Now my chest day is quite different from what it was. I start by benching the bar, and only the bar. After a good fluid 10 to 15 reps, I move to very light front raises with dumbbells. Then I move to light shrugs and lateral raises.
After that I stretch, one arm at a time. I do that same routine for 2 to 3 sets, gradually moving up in weight, but not taxing my muscles in the least. Then and only then do I move on to the real weight on the bench press.
Another point of advice you may want to consider... don't use too wide of a grip on the bench-press bar. Too wide causes excessive shoulder stress, which may greatly increase your chance of injury. Also, when the weight is heavy, use a spotter to give you a lift-off.
I feel much safer in the bench press now, and my results are coming on like a freight train! I recommend consulting your doctor if you have chronic pain, and asking about the real benefits of Prolo Therapy!