I think it is understood that every serious weight lifter has aches and pains. Most have been injured before and are familiar with the drawbacks of injury. On another note, many beginning weight lifters, and even those with experience, fall into the trap of overtraining. They think that the more times you workout in a week, and the harder and longer you go in the gym, the more gains you will make. In this article, I will discuss aspects of injury and overtraining, and give you some tips on how to avoid both of these downfalls.
First off, I think that it would be helpful if you read my last article on fatigue before reading any further. That article has a lot of quality background information that might be helpful in understanding what I will talk about here. Muscle injury causes a reduction in physical function and occurs due to structural change in the muscle from activity. Even something as small as muscle soreness is considered acute injury. In exercise physiology, that soreness is referred to as "DOMS", which stands for Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, and usually occurs one to two days after training. DOMS occurs by the following mechanism: Strenuous exercise leads to structural damage to muscle cells which causes calcium to leak out of the muscle. This causes the activation of enzymes that breaks down cellular proteins in the muscle. These proteins then cause an inflammatory response by the immune system which then leads to edema (water retention at the site of injury) and pain.
Why Try to Get Sore?
So if this is acute injury, then why do so many weight lifters strive to get sore? This is because of the theory that the breaking down of muscles results in cellular changes that strengthen and protect muscle fibers. Also, this breaking down leads changes in connective tissue in which intramuscular connective tissue is increased. Simply stated, the end result of DOMS is bigger and stronger muscles. In my opinion, that is what happens as long as the soreness is due to DOMS and not a tear or strain. Most say that repeated activity will lower the chances of experiencing DOMS, which is true. However, if you continue to increase the intensity of a workout, either by increasing the number of repetitions or amount of weight, you will continue to get sore.
A simple note to consider is that the lactic acid produced in a workout does not cause DOMS or injury. Remember, we are dealing with structural changes, not chemical changes.
Some good indicators of actual muscle injury are as follows: urinating out brown urine. This is a very good, and painless way to tell if you have injured a muscle. If you are injured, your urine will be either dark gold or brownish. You might be injured if you have a significant loss in muscle strength. A significant amount is about 25% or more of a reduction in strength. If you look in the mirror and the pained area is swollen 1-2 days after the activity, you could have muscle injury.
If You Are Injured...
In the case that you do get injured, you need to take caution. First, make sure that you stop whatever it is that you are doing, and rest before taking off for home. If you can, get some ice and apply pressure to the injured area. Try to elevate the injured area if it is your arm or leg. This method is called the RICE method and stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. After about 15-20 minutes, the ice needs to be removed to avoid nerve or skin damage. Following this first application of ice, you should not need another application. The best thing to do now is to rest and drink lots of water. The water will flush out any proteins that are broken down from the injury, preventing an infection in your kidneys. I would strongly recommend seeing a doctor regardless of the amount of pain. If you're injured, the faster you act on it, the faster you may be back to exercising. Depending on the injury, I think that it would be a good idea to take at least two weeks off from the gym. Even if you start to feel better, stay home. Often times, when a person who is injured starts to feel better, they take off to the gym and lift as hard as they can. This person is doing more harm than good. Once you do make a comeback to the gym, go light with low intensity, stretching throughout the workout. Don't overstretch to the point that you feel pain, just a comfortable stretch will do. After a few more weeks like that, you should be ready to get back into it, just don't "jump the gun" too soon!
Believe it or not, it takes your body about 30 days to fully recover from a high intensity workout. Pretty crazy, huh?! It's true; weight lifters always work injured muscles if they workout on a regular basis. The hope is that the amount of muscle that had microtears was a small percentage of the actual muscle, which in most cases is true. You might want to think about that last point when you are designing a workout and you want to take the right amount of time between training a muscle. I usually try to rest about 8-9 days before I rework a muscle again.
As for overtraining, beginners especially need to be cautious in avoiding this aspect. The "Overtraining Syndrome" is characterized by an extremely heavy training regimen with inadequate amounts of rest. The reason that beginners are more susceptible to this syndrome is because they think that they can make gains quick if they workout like this. Overtraining can result in injury or reduce resistance to disease and can be mentally brutal if performance is decreasing while effort is increasing. If you want to know if you're overtraining, then listen up. I am going to list some symptoms of the overtraining syndrome so that you can identify if this applies to you or not.
- 1. Decrease in performance with increased effort.
- 2. Loss of body weight.
- 3. Increased number of infections.
- 4. Chronic fatigue.
- 5. Elevated heart rate and blood lactate levels during exercise.
- 6. Psychological staleness.
- 7. Sleep Disturbances.
- 8. Decreased Appetite.
- 9. Muscle Tenderness.
- 10. Occasional Nausea.
I think that if you are experiencing three or more of these symptoms, you probably need to back off a little and rest more. Overtraining is no joke, so try to be aware of some of these elements during a training cycle.
If you've read carefully, you now know what to do and what not do to in order to prevent injury and overtraining. If you keep these points in the back of your head while you are training, you will be able to make great gains because you will not have to take a month off to recuperate from an injury. The key here is prevention!