Q: I have a question about preventing injuries. I’m trying to train with as much intensity as possible, but I’m concerned about injuring myself. My logic tells me that the harder I train (with correct form), the more likely it is that I will hurt myself in some way. Is that correct?”
A: No, not necessarily. Every time you push yourself beyond anything you have ever done before, there’s always the chance that you will strain either the muscles or the connective tissue. The key is to train within your limits and not beyond your capabilities.
I’m a big believer in training heavy on the basic exercises. When you perform compound movements, you are using a number of major muscle groups at the same time. It’s important that you concentrate in order to feel the exercise in the muscles you are trying to work.
For example, on barbell squats trainees commonly bend forward when using a heavy weight; however, that puts too much stress on the lower back and can cause an injury. When using heavy weights, it’s critical that you concentrate and keep your upper body as straight and tight as possible so you feel the stress of the exercise in your legs and not your lower back.
The same concept applies when you’re using more moderate weights. You have to focus on the muscle you are working and concentrate on doing the exercise correctly. You never want to go too fast because the muscles have to feel the tension throughout the exercise. Many injuries occur when trainees use sloppy form or let the weight just drop, which can cause injury to the muscles or tendons.
If you are attempting to train heavier, you should slowly build up to a resistance that your muscles can handle. If you can do six reps with 225 pounds on the bench press, it would be a mistake to throw on 315 pounds. Instead, go up in 10- or 20-pound increments in order to accustom the muscles, joints and tendons to the new weight. You’re trying to build your body, not destroy it.
Always listen to what your body is telling you. One of the benefits of weight training is that you can get in touch with your muscles much more than someone who doesn’t train. You can feel the individual muscles working and growing. When something hurts or the weight is too heavy, listen to what your body is telling you and stop immediately. Use a weight or exercise in which you can feel the muscles working and one that you can control.
It’s also very important that you warm up the muscles before training them with heavy weights. I always do at least two warmup sets before my work sets. The lighter sets will pump blood into the muscles, warming up the tendons, ligaments and joints. It’s a vital and necessary first step to take before you begin the real workout.