I remember back in high school (yes, high school; just stick with me for a second here) - I was sitting in my 11th grade U.S. History class.
At the very beginning of the year, our teacher tasked us with creating and decorating journals in which our notes would be kept. After the class was finished decorating, we were each asked to think of two quotes and share them with the class. These two quotes were to be written on the front of our journals. Harmless enough, right?
Well, after everyone was finished we all went around the room in order of where we sat, sharing our quotes. It was a pretty big class, so it took a while. Finally, it was my turn... and do you want to know what one of the quotes was that I said? "No pain, no gain."
So here's my question: Does the idea of "no pain, no gain" actually hold true when it comes to performance training, or is it just a simple saying created by the most macho of the macho way back in the day?
And here's your answer: That mentality has led me to numerous injuries over the years. Keep in mind here just how young I am. It took me a LOT of pain before I finally realized that my poor muscles, joints, and bones were slowly starting to despise that stupid brain up there.
Believe it or not, your performance will increase exponentially once you get off this dated mindset. Below are a few key points that I have seen PROVEN to really make the difference in your training:
Run Programs You Can Handle
I dedicate a large chunk of my free time to frequenting various forums. There is one recurring element that I see, specific to no forum, that really sticks out to me.
Too many people are trying to jump right into intermediate/advanced weightlifting regimens. These people do not have the experience, nor enough understanding of the subject matter to be using these programs. They are, after all, intended for all BUT the novice lifter. You may be one of these people.
If you are, I suggest you keep reading! Go back to the basics. Mark Rippetoe and his well-known Starting Strength program works wonders for the beginner lifter, as does Bill Starr's 5x5. Lifting does not have to be complicated nor does it has to be original. Follow what is proven to work and you will see the gains you are looking for.
Implement A Planned Deload At Periodic Intervals
I can not stress this point enough. The absolute BEST change I have made in my training is the addition of a structured deload every fourth week. A deload is basically defined as a period of reduced training.
This short period will allow your body to recover from the previous weeks of beating and pounding that it has had to endure. You may reduce the frequency, volume, intensity, or any combination of the three. If you're feeling a little too beat up, deload. If you have a nagging injury that is starting to flare up, deload. When in doubt... just deload. You can't go wrong with it.
Vary Your Intensity Levels Weekly
This specific point is meant more for the strength athletes out there, but it can definitely be applied to the weekend warrior's training also. It is simply a modification of the progressive overload principle. According to progressive overload, you must gradually increase the intensity of work for optimum results.
Let's move away from this old way of thinking:
- Week 1 - High
- Week 2 - Higher
- Week 3 - Highest
And on to the new method:
- Week 1 - High
- Week 2 - Medium
- Week 3 - Very high
Just this small change in weekly intensity level has brought about some great personal records for myself and for athletes that I have worked with. Some people's bodies can't handle that first scheme. Unfortunately, mine is included amongst that list. But luckily, there is an alternative for those of us that can't manage that kind of progression.
We are still following the idea of progressive overload here, but with one tiny modification. Instead of three straight weeks of overload, we back off on the second week and give the body the rest it needs to come back strong for the third week. This small tweak has the potential to make a world of difference.
Include Rotator Cuff And Hip Flexor Work
First, we'll talk about the infamous rotator cuff. This complex is a group of muscles consisting of the supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, and subscapularis. Their purpose is to stabilize the shoulder. It is one of the most problematic areas for athletes.
I cannot even list to you the amount of times that I have had issues with one of my RC's, nor the amount of times that I have had either my own clients or random gym-goers inquire as to why the area around the shoulder is constantly on fire. Just thinking about it makes me nauseous.
Fortunately, there is a simple solution. There are two key exercises and one important idea that have helped to rid myself and my clients of this ridiculous shoulder pain. You might cry when you see just how easy it is.
Start with bodyweight and work up to 5-10lbs. 3 sets of 5 forward and 3 sets of 5 backward per arm. For those of you with limited ROM where the humerus connects to the scapula, this is the exercise you need to be doing.
Advanced Kettlebell Windmill
Internal and External Rotations
3 sets of 12-15 per arm, increasing weight as your body allows.
Don't underestimate it. A solid warm-up is key in the prevention of RC pain. In fact, it is key in the prevention of all sorts of pain. So don't be a dummy. Do your warm-up.
Now on to the hip flexors. Tight hip flexors can contribute to lower back pain via pelvic tilt. In particular, I'm talking about anterior pelvic tilt here. This means that the psoas major, which is responsible for lumbar extension and hip flexion, is too tight.
The glute max is supposed to oppose this muscle, but it's too weak, as are the hamstrings and the abdominals. So obviously we have a problem here. But no worries. It's really not THAT hard to fix!
Stretching the hip flexors and strengthening the core can help to reduce the level of pelvic tilt and in turn decrease lower back pain. I've had lower back pain for years, until recently. I finally realized the importance of the hip flexors. It turns out that most of my lower back pain was due to extremely tight hip flexors. Below are two of the most common stretches that I have successfully used to alleviate lower back pain:
Lying Hip Flexor Stretch
Lie down on your back. Pull one knee up to your chest keeping the other leg on the ground. You may also draw in your belly button (therefore recruiting the abdominal muscles) to help stabilize the pelvis.
Lunge Hip Flexor Stretch
Kneel into a lunge position. Tuck the front of the pelvis up towards your head and lunge forward. You should feel a stretch at the front of the hip on the leg that you are kneeling on.
Kneeling Hip Flexor
In addition to these stretches, there are a few exercises that put a great deal of stress on the hip flexors. This generally includes unilateral work (single side), and one of my favorite unilateral exercises is the split squat, so that's what I will focus on.
The split squat is a modified unilateral squat (more commonly recognized as the lunge). Stand with dumbbells grasped to sides. Stand with feet apart, one foot forward and one behind. Place the toe of the foot behind onto a slightly elevated (1ft) box or bench.
The exercise is then performed by squatting down as if you were doing a simple lunge. You may notice that the movement here closely resembles the second stretch from above. Work in 2-3 sets of 10-12 per leg.
Listen To Your Body
I know, you've heard this time and time again. And guess what, you're going to keep hearing it because it is THAT important. No program out there will ever be a substitute for your ability to listen to your body and lift by feel.
If you are feeling beat up, take a day off. If you're still feeling beat up, deload. It's that easy folks. Your body tells you how it is feeling all of the time, but unfortunately most people are just too caught up in everything else to listen!
If you actually managed to make it all the way through this, then you better stop training stupid, stupid! It's way too easy to avoid injury if you're smart about it, so just save yourself the pain and destruction and follow these tips.