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I saw it coming, but it was too late. By the time I started to tell Randy he was rounding his back, something snapped and he screamed like a girl. I would like to say everyone in the gym stopped to see what had happened, but the truth is they were so used to me inflicting pain on Randy that it drew only a couple casual glances.
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Everyone Was So Used To Me Inflicting Pain On
Randy That It Only Drew A Few Glances.
Just those two bodybuilder knuckleheads at it again. The barbell loaded to 185 pounds was dropped like a hot potato, landing with a clang of metal that reverberated throughout the gym. He had been doing his second work set of stiff-leg deadlifts, our second exercise on leg day after squats. I knew that this workout was over.
"My back, ow, my f----ng back!" he yelped, his face a grimace of agony and anguish. This was a momentous occasion, though not one to celebrate - Randy had just suffered his very first training injury. And as he was about to learn from the master of getting hurt, the injury itself isn't the issue. It's how you manage and deal with it that truly dictates the outcome.
A Few Strokes Of Luck
My chiropractor got a new patient that day, and luckily for Randy he was able to see him within the hour. Another stroke of good fortune was that Randy hadn't done anything as serious as herniated a disk. The diagnosis was a muscle strain in the lumbar area on his left side, which could be treated with several daily ice-pack applications, and getting adjustments and massage therapy every other day. It was a good thing Randy's health insurance covered all this, or he might have had to choose between healing his back injury or getting the Mustang GT convertible he was planning on for the summer.
I had a feeling the Mustang would have won, too. I called him at home that very night to check on his injury, and more importantly, to see how it was affecting his attitude. His back problem was going to have an impact on his training, but the level of that impact was really up to him.
"How are you feeling, junior?" I said with as much cheer as I could muster.
"Awful," Randy whined. "It hurts even when I take off my shoes and socks."
"Well, if you were married like I was at your age, you would have a wife to do that for you. That's what you get for still being a player, studmuffin." Normally Randy got a little ego boost when I reminded him of how popular he was with the young ladies, but I could tell from the silence on the other end he was dwelling on the ache in his back.
Getting Back On The Saddle
"How long do I need to take off from training, do you think?" he asked solemnly. "A couple weeks, a month?"
"Be there tomorrow at the usual time," I responded.
"What? Are you trying to kill me? My back is all messed up."
"Don't worry," I cut him off with. "Just trust me. I won't let you hurt yourself any more. I have been in your exact situation many times."
"I don't know, Ron, I think I would be better off just resting for a few days," he said with a bit of pleading in his voice.
"Nine o'clock," was all I said, and hung up on him.
He glowered at me, sitting on a flat bench with his gym bag, ready to leave if I wasn't able to convince him my intentions were good.
Perhaps he thought jealously had finally overtaken me, and I was taking this opportunity to put him out of commission for good before he grew into the great bodybuilder he was destined to be. I would be lying if I said I wasn't a little envious of Randy's potential.
With my help, he was going to go much further in bodybuilding competition and at a markedly faster rate than I had. Plus he is much better looking and will get a lot more publicity. But he should have known I considered him a little brother and would never do a thing to hurt him - unless it was the constructive type of pain that made him bigger and stronger.
"Ready for some shoulders and biceps?" I chimed pleasantly.
"You're kidding me, right? Is this some kind of test to see if I'm too dumb to know when to take a break?" I shook my head.
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"Kid, I hurt my lower back for the first time when I had just turned eighteen, and in the fifteen years since then I've probably hurt it another thirty or forty times. Sometimes it was so bad I had to get in and out of bed like a robot, keeping my body perfectly straight. Out of all those times, how much training do you think I missed altogether?"
Randy shrugged. "I don't know, a few months?"
"Try none. I was always right back in the gym the next day I was supposed to train."
"You're crazy," he said, shaking his head.
"That may be true in general. I used to go out and bark at the full moon when I was a kid and thought it would make me turn into a werewolf so I could go attack all the bullies at school. But I wasn't crazy when I trained with a hurt lower back. The fact is, you can train around almost any injury if you know how to."
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I Used To Bark At The Full Moon When I Was A
Kid Thinking It Would Turn Me Into A Werewolf.
Training Around Injury
"I'm listening," Randy said, finally with a hint of optimism. I knew that left to his own devices he would have begun to wallow in self-pity like most bodybuilders do when they get hurt. My wife Janet used to hate when I was injured, not so much out of loving concern, but because she was the one stuck listening to me bitch and moan about it. And I'm sorry to say that if they had an Olympics for complaining, I would have brought home the gold several times. Even the formidable Russian team would have crumbled before my incessant whining.
"Instead of telling you how to train around this, let me show you."
Everything we did in the following hour was designed to work Randy's shoulders and biceps hard without putting his back at risk of any further damage. So that he wouldn't have to press heavy weights overhead, we started with seated lateral raises to pre-exhaust his delts. His back was safely supported by the seated bench. From there we did seated front presses on a Smith machine, and again he kept his back pressed flat against the seat back to prevent him from arching and putting pressure on the strained muscles.
The weight was moderate, and I had him slow the reps down and pause in the bottom position to make it feel even heavier than it was. Rear delts were done lying face down on an incline bench with dumbbells, and everything we did for biceps was at the preacher bench or a machine. Just to show him how involved the lower back is in almost every exercise as a stabilizer, I had him do a light set of standing alternate dumbbell curls. Just a few reps in he winced in pain.
"You felt it, right?" He nodded. "Until you hurt your lower back you have no idea how huge a role it plays in nearly everything you do in the gym. But now you know."
"Ignorance was bliss," Randy quipped.
"But you see what I mean? You can train around this until your back is feeling better again. You just have to be creative and very careful. Look, the way we train as bodybuilders, there is always an inherent risk. If you want to play it safe, slap on a headband and do the machine circuit with baby weights three times a week. I very much doubt this will be the last time you get hurt. But you are learning now how to deal with this when it happens. It's how you handle yourself when things go wrong that really separates the winners from the losers."
"Quitters never win and winners never quit," he replied.
"Man, we just sound like a bunch of bumper sticker slogans today, don't we?" I joked. But Randy didn't look too happy.
"I don't know how I'm going to squat now," he sulked.
"You won't squat for a little while, you'll just do leg presses instead. Hey, I won't tell your legs if you don't."
"How long do you think this is going to take to get better?"
"I can't say. You're young and resilient, and as long as you keep getting treated and be careful, you'll probably be back to the old Randy in under a month." That brightened him up. "And I tell you what else - don't be too surprised if the modified way of training ends up delivering some new gains. It's completely different from what you have been doing these past few months." Finally he seemed to lift out of his gloom and smiled.
"That would be cool."
"Ready for something else you would see on a bumper sticker or a T-shirt? When life gives you lemons, make lemonade." Randy groaned, and I didn't blame him.
As it turned out, Randy's back was free from pain in just over two weeks. We started doing weighted hyperextensions twice a week instead of once to strengthen his lumbar muscles as a form of insurance policy against re-injury. And did our young hero shrivel down to nothing in that time? Quite the opposite - he gained three pounds. Had he taken two weeks off from training as he had originally planned, he probably would have lost at least five pounds, especially with his metabolism.
Yes, there was no stopping my little grasshopper now. He had shown that nothing was going to stop him, and that is exactly the type of mental toughness that will keep him going when most of the others have given up. This one wasn't going to let me down.