Preventing Injuries While Weightlifting by Dr. Mauro Di Pasquale
Prevention of overuse injuries is possible by following a few simple guidelines.
Recommendations for Preventing Low Back Injuries While Weight Training:
1. Keep the lower back in the neutral position during the performance of most lifts, such as deadlifts, rows, and squats. Don’t overly extend or flex the back. For example, keep the trunk as vertical as possible during squats. In any exercise involving the back and legs try to let both handle the load. Using a belt and contracting the abdominals in the bent over position helps to maintain not only your posture but stability. Using some of the special gear that powerlifters use, such as knee wraps, deadlifting suit, super briefs, and perhaps even straps (although these can’t be use in competition) may also help keep you in position.
2. Keep the knees at least slightly bent during all rowing and flexed exercises.
3. Avoid hip flexor dominant abdominal exercises. These exercises include straight leg raises, Roman Chair leg raises, full sit-ups, and most abdominal machines, especially those where the feet are hooked in. To decrease psoas involvement during crunches, plantar flex the feet and pull down with the heels to contract the hamstrings.
4. Maintain adequate strength and endurance in the lumbar extensor muscles. Reverse hyper extensions work well for this without causing hyperextension discomfort and injuries. It’s likely best if all abdominal training is followed by doing the reverse hyper extensions.
5. Avoid rotational exercises for the obliques such as twists and rotary torso machines, unless you are involved in sports in which rotation forces commonly occur. Substitute diagonal and lateral movements instead.
6. If you’re tight in these areas, do some stretching to keep the hamstrings, psoas, and other hip muscles flexible. But don’t overdo it because you can overstretch various ligaments and joint capsules.
Recommendations for Preventing Neck Injuries While Weight Training:
1. Don’t work the neck by using neck bridges unless your neck is extremely strong to begin with. Be careful with any neck exercises. Don’t exercise the neck when it’s out of position of turning. In fact the best neck exercises are often the compound movements such as the squat and deadlift and the bench press. I never did neck exercises but at the height of my competitive career my neck was over 19 inches in circumference. At about 175 lbs you can imagine the problems I had getting a dress shirt. Even the XX-large were too small in the neck but way too big everywhere else, especially the arms.
2. Strengthen the neck. Use light weights and greater repetitions, and progress very slowly. Isotonic exercises are probably best. However, if moderate to severe arthritis is present, isometric exercises may be better.
3. Avoid behind-the-neck presses and behind-the-neck pull-downs. These exercises promote development of the forward head posture and may contribute to neck injury. Substitute presses and pull-downs in front.
4. Avoid unnecessarily tensing the neck and jaw musculature while training. Try to direct all of your energy to the working muscles. For example, during the bench press keep your head resting on the bench and don’t overly tense it. It will get a workout without you adding to the stress the neck goes through in competitive or heavy benching.
5. Correct or balance postural flaws, such as increased thoracic kyphosis and the forward head posture, with specific rehabilitative exercises.
Recommendations for Preventing Shoulder Injuries While Weight Training:
1. Don’t ignore shoulder pain. In fact never ignore pain or work through it. Training through the pain will only lead to further and more severe injury.
2. Avoid exercises where the arm is abducted (raised to the side) in an internally rotated position, such as upright rows and thumbs-pointed-down laterals. Also, do not raise the arms above 90′ while performing lateral raises, and if you do so make sure that the arms are in the thumbs up position.
3. Work and strengthen the external rotator muscles of the shoulder. By keeping them strong you’ll decrease the chance of injury. In order to do this it’s a good idea to regularly perform rotator cuff strengthening exercises-not just when you have an injury. The strength of the rotator cuff muscles should keep pace with the strength of the pectoral and deltoid muscles.
4. Keep the internal shoulder rotators flexible to avoid shortening. Be careful to avoid instability. Forceful stretching and stretching with weights should be avoided.
5. Avoid exercises where the rotator cuff is under extreme load.
6. Warm up the shoulders carefully before getting into any heavy sets.
7. Strengthen the middle and lower traps and rhomboids to increase shoulder stability and ensure better scapular stabilization. Avoid protracted shoulder postural problems.
8. Avoid the pullover exercise or use with extreme caution. Care should be taken not to extend the arms back too far.
Recommendations for Preventing Knee Injuries While Weight Training:
1. Avoid fast and/or jerky movements – for example rapidly lowering your body or the weight while performing leg presses or squat can cause serious injuries to the tissues that have to take the flying load.
2. Don’t bend the knees much past 90 degrees during the performance of any leg exercise including the squat, leg press, or lunge. Don’t do hack squats or any exercise where the knee travels forward of the foot.
3. Make sure that the knee tracks over the center of the foot. Avoid the tendency for the knees to bend to the side as the weight is pushed up during the performance of a leg press or squat or similar exercise. Knee wraps can be used around the knees while squatting to help train this proper tracking of the knee. I’ve even heard of someone recommending that they put a large ball such as a 55-cm ball between the knees while squatting to help the tracking and also to co-contract the adductor muscles and the vastus medialis. Don’t do this while using heavy weights. Anything that throws the balance off can result in serious injury.
4. Avoid the excessive use of elastic knee wraps except prior to powerlifting competitions. Again, if you follow the steps and hints I’ve covered, you’ll have less injuries in the first place and will be able to deal with any injuries you do have more effectively.
:: Dr. Mauro Di Pasquale :: is one of the most influential voices on diet, performance and athletic training in the world. His innovative work in finding safe nutritional alternatives to anabolic steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs has won him praise from athletes, trainers and fitness experts around the globe. Dr. Di Pasquale was a world-class athlete for over 15 years, winning the World Championships in powerlifting in 1976 and world games in 1981.