Most athletes don’t want to invest in their health until pain makes it a priority. I have seen this play out in a number of sports especially weightlifting. In pursuing a career in weightlifting, it can be a confusing game of what to do and how to do it in order to recover from training, maintain wellness and structural integrity as you improve and increase training intensity.
When a lifter develops physically and technically, in order to keep improving training must become more intense. This is done by handling heavier work loads more frequently as in a competition phase, or by increasing volume with lighter loads during other preparation phases. In order to recover and remain healthy, a handful of basic steps needs to be followed to ensure recovery and minimize risk of injuries. Let us look at some main reasons lifters overtrain and become injured.
I could write hundreds of pages devoted to the variety of ways in which a lifter over trains and gets injured. I will stick to 7 main reasons I have observed from dozens of individuals from different teams throughout the U.S. and even other countries. These are in no specific order.
1. Ignoring muscular or joint pain.
2. Abuse of alcohol or other toxic substances.
3, Poor nutrition.
4. An increase in training intensity too soon.
5. Neglect of proper warm-up/warm down and prehab/rehabilitation exercises.
6. Inadequate sleep.
7. External stress outside of weightlifting.
Treating number one takes common sense. Pain won’t go away because you ignore it. Nor should a lifter expect pain in joints (especially the knees) when a proper foundation for training is followed. Pain is a sign something is wrong and measures need to be taken to seek out the source of what’s causing the pain and treat it. Two basic reasons lifters begin to feel joint pain are overuse, or joints compensating for muscular imbalances around the joint. If ignored mild pain will become major and result in an injury or forced time off from training. In an interview conducted by Bud Charniga in 1989, Leonid Taranenko was asked if he ever had knee pain. “Never”, he replied. Taranenko not only did squats but single leg movements such as weighted step-ups to maintain the integrity of his knee joints.
Frequent consumption of alcohol leaves the body in a permanent state of dehydration. This causes muscles to lose elasticity and can result in muscle pulls or tears. When it comes to the absorption of oxygen and removing metabolic wastes through blood, imagine an 8 lane highway narrow to 3. Dehydration causes waste build-up in the blood which will stall recovery and potentially cause long term health problems. Arthritis and tendonitis drastically increase with alcohol abuse. The brain cannot function properly for everyday mundane tasks let alone ballistic movements when the body is dehydrated. Just remember if you want to party and horse around,
someone more disciplined is working harder to take your spot on a team.
Poor nutrition is something I have seen end the careers of some very promising lifters. One developed type 1 diabetes resulting for the need of an insulin pump to be permanently attached to his side. Another’s bad eating habits led to severe hypertension and suffered a stroke. Once a week have a cheat day. Lifters, take care of your bodies. Fueling your body with sufficient nutrition before training and replenishing, protein, glycogen and electrolytes after training is crucial for adequate recovery. Go see your physician and have blood work done. If your body is deficient in certain vitamins or minerals taking supplements and consulting with a nutritionist would be wise to ensure your diet is affording you optimal recovery from training.
It is exciting for a lifter to see improvement in their development in training and exhilarating to see improvement in competition. Achieving short term goals is necessary to keep motivated in order to achieve your bigger goals in weightlifting. However, lifters often increase training intensity too soon to reach their bigger goals in less time. Caution is thrown to the wind, and injuries begin to creep up. For example, as soon as a lifter can perform full snatches and cleans, they push themselves to train as heavy as possible as often as possible. It takes 4 to 5 years to develop a foundation for training with this kind of intensity. See the forest through the trees. Improvement in performance doesn’t mean you drastically increase training intensity. A knowledgeable coach will know how to increase intensity through all stages of development, from beginner to advanced.
Neglect of a proper warm-up before training can lead to numerous injuries. Your neuromuscular system is like an engine. Race car drivers don’t start their cars right before the race begins. Steps are taken to warm-up the engine and tires before the cars line up and the green light is given to start the race. In the same way your nervous system needs to “wake up” and become alert, as well as your muscles need an increase in blood flow and oxygen before intense training can commence. There are many videos on youtube showing Chinese, Russian, and Polish lifters doing extensive warm-ups and dynamic stretching before touching a barbell. Lifters such as Liao Hui, Dimitry Klokov, Ilya Ilyin and Szymon Kolecki do very comprehensive warm-up/warm down routines that includes light plyometrics and dynamic stretching.before and after training. Many lifters warm-up as long as necessary until they feel mentally and physically alert enough to begin training.
Inadequate sleep is another factor that stalls recovery and wellness. Your body’s adaptation for training and recovery primarily occurs when you sleep. Your highest hormone levels occur when you wake up from sufficient sleep. In order for this to occur, you need a minimum of 8 hours of sleep. Only in the last 4 does the body begin to release natural hormones and minerals to recover from intense training. Victor Conte, in developing his supplement ZMA-5 conducted numerous studies in developing and revamping this natural sleep and recovery aid. In an interview with Joe Rogan, he goes into detail of how at least 8 hours of sleep is necessary for the body to recover and even then supplemental proteins and minerals are needed for athletes to fall into a deep sleep in order to recover.
Managing external stresses is easier said than done but it must be done in order to recover and focus on training. The stresses of life vary but it helps for your loved ones to be on board with you in your pursuit. The more your loved ones are on board the stronger your support system will be. They will understand the necessary sacrifices. Spouses, boyfriends, girlfriends, parents all down the line need to encourage and buffer you especially when training for a competition. You may need to ask some tough questions about who is in your life but ask them. There may be some hangers-on or negative people you need to rid yourself of. The more loved ones support you in your career the less you will be stretched thin.
In closing let me state I understand not every weightlifters goal’s are the same. Some do it more for fun or to have a physical outlet. Following these steps to ensure recovery and wellness is important but it needn’t be as rigidly followed as someone training to be a champion. For these weightlifters these steps are as important as training.
Joe Rogan interview with Victor Conte who now works for W.A.D.A.