A bodybuilder’s injury management strategies for working out when not at full-fitness.

What to do when rest is not an option

Let’s face it, injuries are inevitable when we are pushing our bodies past the limit as bodybuilders. 

There is nothing that kills momentum and sets us back more than an injury, especially a nagging injury

We have all seen or maybe are the person that complains of the rotator cuff injury that makes it hard to bench or the knee injury that makes it hard to squat.

Sure we all know that the best thing to do is to take the full amount of time required to make a full recovery, but how many of us are willing to do that.  Let’s face it: we are addicted to the gym. 

We have a physical, mental, and emotional need to train and when we don’t we are totally out of sync. 

This article will show you ways to train around these injuries, explaining what exercises are best and which exercises to avoid, because with a bit of care, it is sometimes possible to continue weight training through injury.

Rotator Cuff Injury

This is an injury that is longest to heal because people cannot avoid the one exercise that is the most antagonizing: the barbell flat bench press

If you have a rotator cuff injury, stop bench pressing! Simple.

Another exercise to avoid is behind the neck shoulder presses. Both of these movements put the rotator cuff in a very vulnerable position. 

Not only are they going against the natural range of motion of the rotator cuff (even reaching back to rack and un-rack the bar) but they are doing so with the resistance of added weight. 

Allow full recovery before returning to these movements if you feel that they are so necessary. 

I personally do not do either and my delts and pecs have not slowed down in growth.  In fact they have grown exponentially because there have not been setbacks from injury.

On chest day I prefer to warm up with cable crossovers.  This movement which is usually a finisher exercise is actually great at the start of chest day, because not only are you able to stretch and contract the pecs pumping a lot of blood in them, you are also able to warm up your rotator cuff. 

The double resistance of the cable provides to perfect constant tension on this joint without overloading it with weight. The constant tension of the cables also allows more control than using a dumbbell to warm up the rotator cuff.

A muscular man doing cable crossovers at the gym. He is continuing to do weight training through injury

Knee Injury

It pains me literally to see people rehabilitating their knees and doing heavy leg extensions as their warm-up.

This is worse than doing squats yet people insist that it’s the proper warm up. 

The knee is a hinge joint and the natural motion is to move the lower leg back. 

Moving it forward with extra resistance is how we develop the quads but if the weight is too heavy, the joint will take on a lot of the load. 

It is also important to learn how to contract the quads from the beginning of the concentric (forward) motion and flex the quads before the knees lock. Locking the knees will transfer too much resistance to the joint. 

Avoid simply kicking your legs up.

If you have to warm up with leg extensions, start off with light weight and a rep range of 20-30 reps for a couple of sets. Then, at the end of your workout, finish with leg extensions with heavier weight and lower reps like 10-12 reps. 

By the end of your workout your knees are more warmed up and finishing with extensions will allow an insane connection with your quads since they are already pumped with blood.

I actually prefer to warm up with single leg presses.  This is not only easier on the knees than leg extensions but great for the hip flexors which will increase your range of motion on movements like squats

I usually do 20 reps each leg. After this movement, my quads are pumped and my knees are ready for leg extensions.

Elbow/Wrist Injury

This can be a nagging injury but one that is easier to work around. 

Proper warm up is the key. 

Start your tricep routine with pushdown movements on the cable using different handles.  This will warm up the tendons connecting the triceps to your elbows. 

I would recommend two sets with the rope, two sets with the straight bar, and two sets reverse grip all with a rep range of 12-15 reps. 

For dips I recommend a good dip machine so you can control the resistance and range of motion more than using your own bodyweight.  In this case, being in a fixed position is a good thing because one slight wrong movement or twist can aggravate your elbow. 

Stick to a high cable for overhead movements opposed to skull crushers with a barbell which can be killer to your elbows. 

For close grip bench presses, keep your elbows in line with your hands and close to the sides of your body.  Allowing your elbows to go out will put a lot of stress on your wrist and elbows. 

The easiest way to keep the elbows in on close grip bench presses is to line the barbell up with the bottom of your pecs.

If you’d like to know a little about common types of hand injury, see here.

Back Injury

First things first.  If your injury to your back is causing a shooting pain to another body part, go see your doctor!

This can possibly be damage to a nerve which is nothing to be taken lightly or try to train around.

Lower back stiffness can be in direct relation to one muscle that is often neglected: the abs. 

We bodybuilders who maintain relatively low body fat do not train abs as much or as seriously as other muscle groups because our only concern is that they can be seen. 

Our concern is the aesthetics and we neglect the function of our abs and their role in strengthening our core

When abs are not trained, the lower back works much harder to balance out our core. I recommend training abs at the beginning of every other workout so that they are not forgotten or a mere afterthought.

Our aim is to grow so with that our body weight generally increases and this makes our core work harder.

Sudden weight gain can lead to back issues especially when dealing with post show rebound. 

Stretching is extremely important and I highly recommend a good yoga class once a week to maintain flexibility and prevent injuries as you grow.

Nothing slows down progress like the setback of an injury. Train hard but train smart. 

Leave the gym with sore muscles and not sore joints.

With acknowledgements and thanks to our bodybuilding guru, Troy, for this article


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