10 Tips for Recovery and Injury Preventionby Alexander Cortes on April 24, 2014
10 Tips for Recovery and Injury Prevention
Bodybuilding can beat you up at times, and after 4-5 years of training, practically everyone will have small aches and pains that crop up from time to time. Injuries happen as well, and taking time off to recover is always frustrating.
The healthier you can keep yourself, the more potential you have for long term training success. There are many strategies someone can take to keep themselves healthy, and knowing when and how to use them is a large part of the battle.
Since I began using Mountain Dog methodologies back in 2010, and especially after working with John recently, there are many tactics I’ve picked up to maximize my clients training and my own. All of them can help you with your training.
- Static stretch particularly tight muscles before and after training – Despite having a dance background, I myself am not a proponent of large amounts of hard pre-workout stretching. There is a clear body of evidence that shows stretching can cause muscle inhibition and therefore less power output. That said, I do feel that stretching, especially static stretching, has become neglected by many bodybuilders. While its very popular to forego warming up now in favor of hitting the weights, if you have a particular muscle group that is prone to constant tightness or cramping, stretching it before training and after could be beneficial. This creates greater range of motion and increases proprioceptive awareness in that muscle before you go to lift. Post training, its helps to avoid excessive stiffness and inflexibility. If a muscle isn’t tight, don’t worry about. If it is though, spending a few minutes stretching would serve you well. The key is to use stretching wisely and when needed.
- Make sure you are full hydrated before you go to train- I have badly torn my hamstring, both quadratus lumborum muscles, and most of the muscle in my back many times. Without fail, if I was to go look at the pattern of these injuries, there was a common thread of being somewhat dehydrated before I started to train. Get adequate fluid intake, and as you train replace what you lose through sweat. If you are feeling thirsty and are having trouble getting a pump while training, you are likely a bit dehydrated.
- Always start with a pumping movement – This doesn’t necessarily mean preexhaust. Rather, start each session with the intent to maximize blood flow to the bodypart you are training before you do anything heavy. Doing some machine chest presses before benching for example, or lateral raises before military presses. Even doing light tempo front squats before heavy squatting. There are many ways to do this, but overall the goal is complete circulation to the joints and muscles before subjecting them to heavier loads.
- Front load your sets – John is infamous for doing about 20 warm-up sets before working sets. While this might seem like excessive volume, in reality it gives constant feedback as to how a muscle or joint is feeling, and allows you to take however long or short you need to warm up appropriately. If something is achy and not firing, you could start with a pyramid and gradually work towards heavier weights. If you are feeling particularly strong, you could start with straight sets and just add weight. Or if you are feeling particularly strong, you could do one or two warm ups and then go into many work sets. There are many ways to vary this of course, but overall don’t be afraid to take more or less working up sets depending on how you feel, and don’t get attached to following a rep scheme to the absolute letter.
- Sequence your movements appropriately – I don’t want to rehash Johns own articles so I’ll keep this to the point. If you know certain movements are particularly hard on your joints or aggravating to an injury, DO NOT do them first. Start with an insolation or light movement, do another accessory movement, get a pump going, and hit your hardest movements when are you feeling completely worked up and at your strongest. If benching always bothers your shoulders, or deadlifts, are always screwing with your back, get everything else pumped and firing BEFORE you grab onto the barbell.
- Use heat balms and liniments for previously torn muscles, or muscles that you have trouble getting a pump in – I have an ungodly addiction to artic balm, and I basically coat my entire low back with it before any sort of pulling or lower body day. I also have an odd issue where I always have difficulty getting a good bicep pump, so I rub heat balm on my biceps as well before training them. Not only does this help with circulation and get you sweating, but also the intense burning really improves the mind muscle connection. My favorite of course is Elitefts Artic Sports Balm.
- Use supportive gear for bad joints – Now, I want to be clear on this, do NOT abuse this stuff by wrapping your knees and elbows and wrists and putting on a belt just to squat the bar. Rather, be strategic and if you know are you prone to say, achy elbows after incline pressing, then put on some elbow wraps before your heavier sets. My left wrist I fractured a few years ago and it bothers me from time to time, so I use wrist for heavy pressing sometimes. For higher rep deadlifts and pulls, I will also put on a belt oftentimes. Use supportive gear to HELP you life heavy weights, not because you absolutely NEED the gear to lift the weights. John loves neoprene sleeves on top of some Artic balm. This is a good tactic.
- Use Straps – I use straps for high rep rows and various shrug pulls. I never use straps for regular deadlifting though, and certainly not for something like curls. But straps allow you to keep lifting past your grip strength limits, spare excess strain on your biceps, and used properly you can get both your muscles and your grip stronger. For DB rows, I always make sure I can do at least 10 reps with the weight before I add straps in, same goes for things like pulldowns or shrugs. Don’t neglect grip strength and be that guy that straps himself to a DB just to do curls.
- Get some form of soft tissue work done each month – Foam roller, massage chair, chiropractic, contrast bath, sauna, the list is long. Find a particular modality that you feel helps the recovery process, and try to schedule it regularly each month to keep yourself fresh. This can be something as simple an hour spent foam rolling every other week, or taking a cold shower on certain training days, its up to you. The point is to simply take the time to “check in” with how your body is currently feeling, and address anything that might potentially be an issue. Don’t think you are hardcore for neglecting to take care of yourself.
- Sleep – Yep, you knew this was going to be on here. Solid sleep is absolutely paramount for supporting recovery, anabolism, keeping all manner of hormones metabolizing properly, and giving you the energy to train hard. Compromised sleep leads to a total cascade of catabolic side effects that can disrupt and almost completely negate your training. I would strongly recommend creating a ritual to get sound sleep, from gradually putting away your electronics, relaxing in a fully dark room, and using something like a whitenoise machine or music if that helps. I routinely have suggested clients drink something like Valerian root or chamomile tea if their sleep is suffering, and supplements such at 5-HTP, ZMA, and Melatonin can all work. Especially in a stressful situation like contest prep, getting adequate sleep is crucial.