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Here are some recommendations for training when you have specific injuries which should not prevent you from stopping weight training entirely. Such injuries could be an ankle injury, elbow injury, etc. Injuries to more sensitive areas such as your neck, low back, and pelvic region should prevent you from weight training and you can only return to weight training with doctor's permission.
If you have an elbow, knee, or ankle injuries and have permission to continue weight training, consider learning about proper athletic taping techniques. You can get some ideas of how to be properly "taped" before going to the gym here.
You also may consider purchasing support gear such as neoprene sleeves that you would find at a sporting goods store.
If you recently overcame an injury and still wish to lift heavy weights, get your doctor's approval to do the exercises. Then you may wish to invest in some powerlifting equipment. If you are not familiar with powerlifting, it is a sport which tests the one-repetition maximums of weightlifters in three lifts: bench press, squat, and deadlift. Powerlifters use extra support equipment which you do not normally see at a commercial gym. They use any of the following:
A heavy-duty lifting belt
This type of belt is not commonly found in sporting goods stores and typically needs to be ordered.
These are long pieces of tight elastic material used to protect the knees and give a lifter extra "spring" when squatting.
These are similar to the knee wraps and the powerlifter versions are usually much thicker and tighter than wrist wraps you can buy in most sporting goods stores.
There are various grades of these specialty shirts which are very tight. Even the basic "single-ply" bench-press shirts will help you increase the weights you can use in the bench press and, more importantly, provide a small degree of safety for your rotator cuff region when you bench press.
Similar to a "singlet" worn by high school and collegiate wrestlers, a squat suit will help you stay tight in the bottom portion of a squat and help you spring out of the bottom (and riskiest) part of the lift. While there are numerous styles and designs for squat suits, a basic single-ply squat suit should help you stay safe when squatting; especially if you are first returning to squatting with doctor's permission after a lower back or hip injury.
Many powerlifters use their squat suits when deadlifting as well. While there are specific deadlift suits, the squat suit is usually comparable in performance. Powerlifters feel that they can save money with minimal difference in performance by using the squat suit again in the deadlift.
While you may not wish to ever compete in a powerlifting event, the basic powerlifting equipment can provide you with an added degree of safety and stability. Seek out competent instruction on how to use the equipment and keep you safe when doing heavier lifts such as the bench press, squat, and deadlift.
If you wish to pursue this further this article can help you get started.
If you have injuries or structural limitations which make lifting through the full range of motion painful, consider talking with your doctor about doing "partials." These are lifts where you only lift in the strongest range of the movement. For example, if you were to do leg presses you would keep the safety pins locked and only leg press the last few inches of the movement. If your doctor gives permission to do partials, and your strength allow for it, you even can use more weight than you would use if you did a full range of motion.
Training in your strongest range provides overload on your target muscle group, and you can gain some respectable strength if/when you ever transfer back to lifting in the full range of motion for that exercise. If you choose a weight training style where you train to failure then on one or two of those sets you can do a few partial repetitions at the end of the set. Do these only on machine exercises and be sure to have a competent spotter just in case.
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Advocates of high intensity training (HIT) have long recommended the occasional use of "static hold" exercises. This is where you would hold a weight in the strongest position for a certain length of time; occasionally it is for as long as you can hold it safely.
Did you know that you have a maximum amount of weight you can lower an item safely? And did you know that if you were to lower an item at your "lowering" maximum weight then you would NOT be able to lift it back up and put it back on the shelf or desk? The reason is that every human's body has much greater "lowering strength" than "lifting strength." In between your maximum lowering weight and your maximum lifting weight is your maximum "holding" weight. It is with this holding weight that you can gain muscle mass WITHOUT LIFTING A WEIGHT!
Let's say that your one-repetition maximum leg extension, after warming up and using safe form, is 100 pounds. Have your training partner place the pin in the weight stack at 110-120 pounds and raise the weight for you to the top position. At that point, all you have to do is hold the weight for as long as you can. After a short period of time you may notice that the muscles in your legs are firing and contracting to the point where you may see the muscle visibly "shaking." Hold the lift for as long as you can and then lower the weight slowly, safely, and under control. All you have to do is one "rep" of these holds for your exercise, although you are welcome to do a second "holding rep." Chances are that you will not be able to hold the weight for as long the second time due to your fatiguing the muscle.
Note that since you are using weights which exceed your normal one-repetition maximum, these static holds will be VERY draining and taxing on your system. The HIT advocates of static holds (including the late Mike Mentzer) recommend that you use these sparingly and that you may need an extra recovery day or two before you get back in the gym for your other body parts; this is because you have taxed your adrenal, lymphatic, and other body systems significantly.
If you have an injury such as a knee injury, talk with your doctor or rehabilitation specialist about static holds. Since your training partner is actually doing the first part of the exercise (the "lifting" part) and you are simply holding and lowering, your medical professional may give you approval. This is a great way to preserve or regain lost muscle due to your injury without straining the tendons and ligaments by actually lifting the weight.
The HIT advocates also recommend that you use static holds primarily on isolation exercises such as the leg extension, leg curl, machine chest fly, machine side lateral raise (for shoulders), and other machine isolation exercises. The only compound exercise on which they all agree is the lat pulldown. Your partner would pull the weight down to your chest (the "lifting part") and you would hold the weight for as long as possible, and then slowly and safely let the bar rise back to the starting position. Again, only do one "rep" per set for a MAXIMUM of two sets as these are extremely taxing on your body.
If you become strong enough to use more than the entire weight stack on the lat pulldown, simply replace the bar with a one-hand attachment and do a static hold with each hand. A repetition with each hand would constitute one "set." The same principle applies for static holds on the other isolation exercises.
Yes, it is possible to over train! This situation actually can cause problems, not the least of which is that you risk losing the lean muscle you gained. Remember that rest and recovery are key components of intelligent training, so make sure that you do enough work to stimulate muscle growth. Then get out of the gym, eat, rest, and get closer to your goals!
Now that you know how to prevent and deal with training injuries it's time to move on. Cardiovascular training has many benefits, and they aren't just aesthetic. Move on to the next part of the series to learn more.