The practice of training and competing with weights can result in various injuries and damage to the athlete. The causes of injury could include carelessness, equipment problems, the training hall itself, clothing, the physical and mental unpreparedness of the lifter, poor technique, inability to overcome fatigue and overwork, and many other factors. Let’s look at some of these factors and how we can mitigate them to prevent injury.
Injury Factor #1: Problems With Equipment
A shoddy platform with cracks and uneven surfaces can lead to ankle joint injuries. Athletes and coaches should monitor their platform on a daily basis looking for any irregularities that could cause problems to their lifters’ footing.
Bars also have to be examined frequently. Strains of the radio-carpal joints can arise as a consequence of poor rotation of the bar, not oiling the bushings, or the bar being bent. Before every lift of the bar, you should make sure it bar rotates well, and only then should you begin the lift.
It is also necessary to look at your clothing – specifically, your shoes. Shoes should not have soles with projecting nails or a separate heel. These can catch on the platform. Furthermore, leather-soled shoes should be rubbed in resin to ensure a good grip on the platform. The best preventative here is to have all one-piece rubber soles with no abrupt heel.
Other problems can occur with the bar. If the sleeves are well oiled and the collars are not locked on securely, then plates can slide off during the course of a lift and thus cause unbalanced loading on the body. The only place where this is desirable is if you are foolish enough to bench press maximum weights when all alone. In that case slippery sleeves will help you unload the bar in a pinch.
Injury Factor #2: Body and Exercise Problems
Weightlifters often experience low-back pain. In most cases this arises because of compression loading on the spinal column. Heavy loads squeeze the intervertebral discs, leading to a deformation of the vertebrae and sometimes strained ligaments. In our sport, back loading cannot be avoided, though. Lifters continually attempt big lifts in training, done for many reps and many sets, especially squats. One way to avoid much of this is to split up the squat workout. It is not necessary to do multiple sets all in one workout. The squats can be spread out during the day or the week in order to greatly decrease your back loading.
The second most common area for injury damage in weightlifters occurs in the shoulder girdle. The shoulders are loaded in almost all exercises, even squats. The best way to prevent injuries is to do overhead pressing, assuming you are flexible enough in that position that no bone impingement occurs. In combination with that, you should also always make sure the shoulders are adequately warmed up before progressing to heavier weights. Trying to hurry a warm-up involving the shoulders is sheer folly. You will pay for your foolishness.
Lifters can end up with knee problems as well. The most common injury is patellar tendinitis, which usually comes from the aforementioned inadequate warm-up. The solution here is obvious. A more serious condition occurs when you do not know how to bounce out of your squat clean properly. There are right and wrong ways to do this, as I have outlined in a previous article. The wrong way will result in stretched ligaments.
A less common injury can occur in the neck vertebrae. The usual culprit here is the good morning exercise. The bar has a tendency to roll down from the shoulders onto the neck when the athlete is at the bottom of the exercise. This can result in a sort of dull guillotine effect on the neck. Naturally this is problematic with larger weights, but it can still occur even with lighter warm-up poundages if you start the back contraction too abruptly. In this lift, it is acceptable in gym culture to use a towel for padding. I myself prefer the safety squat bar. It has both padding in the neck area and yolk handles that allow for complete control of the barbell at all phases of the exercise.
Injury Factor #3: Warming Up
We have all read about the importance of a good warm-up prior to a workout or competition, and I have mentioned it multiple times here already. You know this is a good idea, but often you are in a hurry to get you started (and finished), so you may shortchange yourself on the warm-up. You may hope that after you do a couple sets, you will be warmed up anyway. But the reason you warm-up is to stretch your muscles, tendons, and ligaments, and to get the blood flowing and to practice the coming movement patterns. Truncating the warm-up will have adverse effects when the heavier sets occur. This is the best way to give yourself a pulled muscle or strained ligaments.
Injury Factor #4: The Work Sets
The technical and functional unpreparedness of the lifter is the cause of the most injuries and damage. This can include contusions, muscle strain, dislocations, and fractures of the bones. One of the more spectacular occurrences in gym comes when a lifter blacks out with a heavy clean or press. This occurs with the bar blocks blood flow in the carotid artery. This is prevented by taking big gulps of air prior to lift ensure that enough oxygen will be available. This is also why we do not want straight plates sitting on the platform
Injuries are certainly possible when missing a lift. Just as wrestlers are taught how to safely fall when thrown to the mat, weightlifters should learn how to safely miss. This should be one of the first things a coach teaches a lifter, even before teaching him or her how to actually lift. You certainly want to be out of the way of a falling bar. With minimal instruction, you can learn how to avoid this mishap. In fact, the energy displayed by the bar while dropping can be used to your favor by helping to push you out of the way.
Overtraining is also problematic. By overtraining I do not mean having an exceptionally heavy workout. Overtraining is the result of chronically training beyond your recovery capabilities. This is why we have periodization. We do purposely overtrain for a specific period of time, but then we unload our training sessions in order to affect an eventual adaptation to the higher loads. If this unloading is delayed too long, then injury and organism breakdown are the inevitable results.
After years of training, many lifters also develop pains in the small of the back as a result of calcium deposits. Fortunately, it is possible to avoid major damage from this and even to reduce the problem. After every squat session you should perform forward bends, placing your hands of the floor while keeping the legs stiff at the knees. This exercise can be performed with weights. Another recommendation is to hang from a horizontal bar placed high on a power rack. To make this even more effective, weights can be hung on the legs (say twenty to thirty kilograms). This will decompress the spine. As an aside, I personally like to do a lot of overhead presses. I supplement these with incline and flat benches because this not only overloads the deltoids and triceps but it underloads the spine.
Injury when weightlifting, like all other sports, is to be avoided. The instance of injury will be minimal if you take all possible steps that eliminate the chances for them to occur first place. In short, the smart athlete wants to be recovering from heavy training sessions – not from injuries.