A muscle tear is a serious injury for a bodybuilder, or anyone for that matter. A muscle tear will force a bodybuilder to take a layoff and can potentially affect their training for years.
How should one recover from a muscle tear?
What should you do if you think you?ve strained a muscle?
What are some ways to prevent a muscle tear?
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Anybody who trains seriously knows the true meaning of intensity. It is just you against the weight, and there are only two possible outcomes: you either complete the lift or you fail. As you get under the bar for your final set of the bench press you know what you need to do.
You visualize in your mind unracking the weight, lowering it slowly to your chest, and pressing it back up in one calculated, fluid motion. You take one last deep breath, grasp the barbell, lower it down, and press it back up with all of your effort. You just set a new personal record and are ecstatic.
But what if things happened a little differently? All to often, when people try to handle more weight than they can properly lift, and there egos get the best of them, injuries can prevail. The human body can only withstand so much and be placed under so much stress till it gives out.
Addressing the issue of injury, specifically muscle tears are important. It needs to be understood that you are not invulnerable and can be subject to injury if lifting improperly or with too much resistance.
Knowledge regarding injury and injury prevention is limited, as people are often far more concerned with the latest training program or the quickest way to gain ten pounds of muscle. It is time to address this issue and bring to light the proper protocols regarding injury and recovery.
Before I start addressing the topic at hand, I believe a little story is necessary first. Back in the day during high school I used to lift weights with my friend Mike. Mike was the biggest kid in our school and had an ego the size of a football field.
Chest day was his favorite day of the week and his favorite exercise was the flat barbell bench press, no surprise there right? He would routinely train with extremely heavy weights and low reps, and even after achieving muscular failure, would call on me to help him perform forced reps.
Despite my constant advice and nagging that he would one day receive injury, he would always dismiss my claims stating that despite his heavy weights and low reps, he would always use perfect form (which he did) and being at the youthful age of eighteen, was at a low risk of injury.
One day while we were training chest, he prepared for his last and final set of barbell bench press. He told me beforehand he was going for two reps and under no circumstances was I to help him. He loaded the barbell with two hundred and seventy-five pounds, got under the bar, and un-racked the weight.
His first rep went down and up smoothly albeit significant struggle. I asked him if he wanted a spot for the second only to be snapped at, "No! Don't touch the bar!" I didn't say anything in response but anticipated I would have to lend a helping hand.
He brought his second rep down slowly, touched his chest and began to press it back upwards. Just before he reached midpoint of the ascent, I heard him scream in agony and the bar came crashing downwards slamming onto his chest.
Caught off-guard by the seemingly instantaneous nature of the event, I grabbed the bar off of him as quickly as I could and racked the weight. We rushed out of the gym as quickly as we could and I drove him to the hospital. He had suffered a full tear of his left pectoral muscle and was out of the gym for two months.
I tell this story because what happened to my friend Mike can happen to anybody. He, like most people out there, thought that injury could not possibly happen to him and he was above and beyond the notion. Since that experience, I've become quite acquainted with muscle injury and prevention as to never let a horrible circumstance such as that happen to myself.
What Is A Muscle Tear
Before addressing a few points, it is important to have an understanding as to what a muscle tear actually is and how it happens. Without knowledge of the anatomy of a muscle tear, it becomes more difficult to properly assess and treat the injury.
It is important to note that your muscles are responsible for all of the movements of your body. Bones cannot move by themselves, muscles propel and enable you to function and move. A pulled or torn muscle is an injury where the muscle actually rips.
A muscle tear is unpredictable and it happens when the muscle is stretched too quickly. Most often it occurs while the muscle is in motion, such as when running, working, or participating in other forms of physical activity.
A muscle strain is more likely to happen to a muscle that is weak, inflexible, tired, or in one that has not been properly warmed up before exercise. Muscle strains are typically separated into three different categories:
- Mild (first degree)
- Moderate (second)
- Severe (third)
Oftentimes with a mild tear, a person may experience some discomfort or a tingling sensation, however, beyond that no other effects may be noticed and the person may not even associate that discomfort with a tear at all. These sorts of tears heal themselves over a short period of time and usually the person is able to keep up with physical activity and not see any loss in strength.
A moderate strain is between that of a minor and severe tear. It usually encompasses bruising or swelling, pain, weakness, and the inability to continue your activity.
Finally, the granddaddy of them all, the one no person should ever have to cope with, is that of the third type. This is basically a full tear of the muscle. The injured person will have to discontinue all forms of activity and seek medical assistance right away.
Bruising, swelling, and bleeding are often noted. Once the swelling goes down, there will be an obvious space in the muscle and surgery, more often than not, is required.
Prevention & Recovery
Now that I've explained some of the finer points on muscle tears, it is time for the cold, hard facts on prevention, recovery, and what to do.
When recovering from a muscle tear, obviously the first thing you need to do is cease the activity in which caused it!
This may be painfully (no pun intended) obvious, but you would be surprised at how many people are willing to push the boundaries and attempt to rebound from an injury far earlier than when they should.
While enduring the pain of a torn muscle, it is important to ice it as to reduce the swelling. I recommend you do this for an hour or two a day until swelling has notably decreased. For pain, stick to your standard over-the-counter pain medications such as Tylenol.
Unfortunately, nothing out of the obvious can be used to help heal a torn muscle. The biggest factor is time. You need to give your body adequate rest and proper recuperation time to heal it. However, remaining complete sedentary is also not the total answer.
You should begin to move the joints and the muscle as soon as possible to prevent stiffness, atrophy, and weakness. Once you can perform this without pain, you can begin some light activity, warming up properly beforehand.
Stopping a potential injury before it has the chance to occur in the first place is key. It has been proven that a heated muscle is far less likely to pull if it is properly warmed up. In regards to weightlifting, this could be properly accounted for if one were to follow a pyramid type-lifting scheme.
This is a pretty standard way of lifting and is great for both muscle hypertrophy and injury prevention. It basically entails gradually adding weight per each set that you perform while simultaneously decreasing the amount of reps you do. This is a great way to lift; your body has a chance to become accustomed to the lift and the weight it will be handling before it must perform heavier, riskier sets.
One of the more obvious ways to prevent a muscle tear that people often neglect is to use proper form and using a responsible amount of weight. Not only will sloppy form lessen muscular gains, but also it will enhance your chance for injury.
When lifting with poor form, your muscle experiences stress and follows a movement pattern that it should not be subjected to. Everybody knows that muscles can only move in certain ways and directions. When you lift improperly, you risk unnatural movement patterns that can result in a muscle tear.
In regards to using to heavy a weight, if you try and force your muscle to lift more than it is capable of, and place it under far more tension than it is ready for, it will eventually give out on you. Nothing lasts forever and if you are constantly lifting to the extreme, eventually you will endure the consequences.
Finally, I want to address the ego. Usually experienced by men, as we seemingly tend to be competitive by nature, we often feel the need to compete, show off, or lift more than other people. Usually, it is the smallest individuals in the gym who need to start exercising their muscles less and ego management more.
The great thing about the sport of bodybuilding is that you compete against nobody but yourself. When you advance either in strength or muscular development, you know it is solely because of your own actions. Lifting too heavily or without proper form will not lead you to an advanced state of growth. It is important to remember that everybody starts somewhere, and even the biggest guys in the gym were once small and weak.
Lifting weights can be both very fun and rewarding. However, you need to play by the rules if you want to last in the sport of iron lifting. Injuries can be career ending for sport players and weightlifter alike. Without the smart and proper mindset while lifting you expose yourself to a great deal of risk and potential injury.
Remember, you aren't competing against anybody! Muscle tears can be extremely discouraging. Being out of the gym for awhile with an injury can make one feel a huge sense of regret for what he or she had done to incur it. It is important to realize, however, that if you do receive a severe muscle tear life as you know it is not over!
Sure you could potentially be out of the gym for a while and may experience some loss of muscle size and weakness, but with time and dedication, it can all be made up for.
Most of all, and if you can take any positive from such an experience, it would be that you take with you the knowledge and experience of what happened to you in the past and do your best to never replicate it again. It makes you a better person and a better lifter.
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How Should One Recover From A Muscle Tear?
The first thing you should do after tearing a muscle is get some ice on it. The ice will reduce swelling, numb some of the pain, and control the bleeding. If it is a severe tear then you should go see a doctor as soon as possible to see if you need surgery, and to get professional advice on how to treat it best.
In the days after the injury you should take aspirin or ibuprofen, elevate the muscle, and keep icing it. You can wrap a bandage around it to help support it if needed. You should stop working out 'till it is healed; some people keep working out, but stay away from that muscle group.
In my opinion if your body is trying to repair itself and you work out; then its going to be trying to fix a bunch of different things at the same time, thus hindering your results and taking longer for you to recover. Once you are able to, you should start doing little things around the house to keep the muscle from stiffening up.
You also need to keep your diet in check. Get plenty of fluids down you, and make sure you are getting enough protein, carbohydrates, and good fats so that your body will have some fuel to use, and to keep you from losing your gains.
Jumping into the full swing of things after an injury will most likely re injure you, and you will be back sitting on the couch with your ice pack watching T.V.; so start off by doing light exercises to build it back up again. I usually do this for 1-2 weeks before starting off where I stopped. Fortunately muscles have muscle memory and the gains that were lost will come back fairly quick.
What Should You Do If You Think You've Strained A Muscle?
Stop immediately! I can't emphasize that enough - if it isn't that serious at the time it is better to be safe rather than sorry and stop what you are doing and take the rest of the day off. If you don't then somewhere down the line that injury will become serious and you will have to take weeks off and probably be in a whole lot of pain that you could have prevented.
Some signs of a muscle tear are redness, swelling, and pain in the muscle when you use it. Once you have identified it get some ice on it and if it's a severe tear then get to the hospital to see a doctor right away.
Preventing A Muscle Tear
What Are Some Ways To Prevent A Muscle Tear?
If you take all the steps of warming up and stretching the muscle, and you use good form then you will probably never have to deal with a tear or joint problems from exercising.
I'm not just talking about lifting either; it surprises me when people go outside and just start sprinting without warming up almost as if they are welcoming an injury. You should take the time to properly warm up and stretch before you play any sports, lift, and basically any anaerobic exercise.
A major key to prevention that is often overlooked for some reason is your diet. Make sure you are getting enough protein, carbohydrates, and good fats so that your body can function right, and you need to be drinking a lot of water.
Now lets talk about warm up sets. There are two ways I warm up and both have been very effective as I have not been injured since I started doing them. I will use 220 pounds for both examples.
The first way (an easy way to add up percents in your head is to take 10% of the number, 22 in this case, and then multiply that times 5 for 50%, 7 for 70%, etc.)
- 1st Set - 50% of the weight you are going to use for 10 reps. - 110 pounds in this case. - You want to do them slow and controlled. - Take a 1-2 minute break.
- 2nd Set - 70% of the weight you are going to use for 6 reps. - 154 pounds in this case, which I would round up to 155 for sanity's sake. - Do these slow to, but with a bit more explosiveness than the first set. - Take a 2 minute break.
- 3rd Set - 80% of the weight for 3 reps. - 176 pounds, which I would round d