There is always a risk that you can get injured when you are exercising, whether it is weight training, cardiovascular exercise, or even stretching.
Using weights that are too heavy without warming up properly, doing repetitions to failure, cheating and using poor form on an exercise can lead to injuries that stay with you the rest of your life.
Once you get an injury you must rest it and do therapy for it. It's best to seek professional help, a medical doctor whose specialty is your injury (especially if severe), a chiropractor (providing you can find a good one), or a physical therapist (if your health insurance will pay for it). I've used all three, but currently rely solely on medical advice initially to learn the severity of the injury. Then I do my own therapy.
I'll describe what I've found to work the best for me.
Slight injuries like muscles that are too sore from a hard workout often vanish with adequate rest. But the more severe variety never seem to go away completely. They heal through rest and therapy, then lie in remissioin waiting for the opportunity to return full blown when you make a mistake in your training.
In weight training many injuries occur when you are not focused entirely on what you are doing. Injuried can result from accidents caused by being distracted or making wrong choices in your workout. Don't wear adequate footwear in the gym and there's a good chance you will hurt your feet.
Diagnosis is the first step after an injury. You must find out what's wrong and what exactly to do. Recently I was doing leg curls too heavy and let the weight stretch down too far and felt a sharp pain in the back of my knee. That was it for leg curls for a week and then I started doing them light again and everything seemed okay. The following day I was just standing around and felt an intense spasm in my calf. Upon examinatition, my calf had swollen up an inch. A cyst had developed at the site of the injury -- I had torn my inner gastrocnemius at the knee insertion point -- and the stress afterwards caused the cyst to rupture, the fluid draining down my leg causing the swelling. I was limping for days but when it felt a little better, I did some light leg work and then tripped over the dog that night and it was back to square one.
The pain from the spasm was severe, especially at night and I kept the leg elevated with an ice pack on it several times a day. After showering at night i applied a local analgesic called Sombre along with DMSO. These two treatments helped a lot, and after seven or eight weeks of not training legs I was able to train them again, light at first, gradually building up the poundages according to how sore the area felt afterwards. My calf had changed shape too. I'd gained a fullness in the inner upper calf but lost the developemnt at the lower calf since I wasn't able to flex my foot. Now since I've been doing calf raises again the lower calf development is coming back I always wanted to get that calf bigger because it was a little smaller than my other one; now it is bigger. You have to be careful what you wish for -- you will get what you want, you just never know how or when.
I've had so many injuries, major and minor, that I feel like an expert. My goal is not to be an expert in getting any new ones or reactivating any old ones, but to practice my expertise in healing what injuries I have to deal with. I'm happy if you can learn from my experience and not go through ther painful trials and limitations of injury. Injury is what stops you from training and improving. When we push ourselves training to failure we find what our limits are rather quickly. And it is always accompanied by injury. I'd like to tell you my history of injuries, how they occurred and what I do to cope and hopefully heal them.
As a teenager in high school I was very studious, got all A's and once I discovered bodybuilding at age 14 this was all I wanted to do in the way of exercise and sports. I wanted to build my body and I did, from a lean 140 pounds at 5'9" to a solid 170 when I graduated from high school four years later.
I attended a small high school, there were 60 students in my graduating class and only two sports a kid could earn a letter in, basketball and football. My younger brother was a good athlete. I was faster, but he was very coordinated and learned fast. So when he went out for football in his freshman year, I went out in my junior year and make the starting lineup as a blocking back. I really wanted to catch passes, I was good at it. Instead I never got to carry the ball, or catch a pass, just block, which I hated. Why hit somebody on purpose when it might not even matter.
The jarring took its toll and I split the bursa on the inside of my right calf. The bursa is the sheath covering the muscles. My therapy was hot whirlpool on the calf every day for a few weeks and it got better. I was back and became the punter for the team. I kicked the ball with my right leg and the constant leaping into the air with right leg extended to meet the ball drove my pelvis backward on my left side. In my entire two years of football I scored one touchdown. I was on a losing team, happy when the season ended in my senior year and I could focus on my weight training.
There were a handful of bodybuilders in the area where I lived in Northeastern Pennsylvania and they were the first power lifters. ZIt hadn't been recognized as a sport yet (this was the early 1960s), there was only Olympic lifting with meets around Pa. nearly every weekend we would travel to. They began to organize competitions called "Odd Lifting" I guess because it was odd that they weren't the Olympic lifts of press, snatch, and clean & jerk. Everybody in those days did some kind of weightlifting. You had to if you competed in AAU bodybuilding contests to get full points for athletic ability. Weightlifters always won the physique events.
The odd lifts consisted of curl, bench press, and deadlift. There was no squat, mainly because one of the organizers couldn't squat very well but he was a great deadlifter. I, on the other hand, was a strong squatter, able to do 10 reps with 300 pounds without too much trouble. I didn't care for the deadlift, hardly did them, but when the first meet came up I began training for the deadlift. At a bodyweight of 168 pounds I was able to curl 165, bench press 285, and deadlift 425, placing second in my class. I also won the Keystone State title after the powerlifting meet concluded that evening. But in attempting a heavy deadlift from the floor I developed a tendency to come up crooked with my pelvis. It had become misaligned from kicking the football and I experienced my first severe lower back injury at around age 20. I had to be careful squatting too. I threw my lower back out severely, squatting 10 reps with 405 with Arnold in 1972. Now I can't squat with a barbell at all, and I'm thankful for having a Leg Blaster.
The condition became really aggravated at age 52 when I attempted to squat with the barbell again, coming up crooked radiated pain out to my right oblique and it bothered me for many months. Finally a friend sent me some Nikken body magnets and I began wearing them daily and the pain subsided about 50%. The theory is that the magnets draw fresh blood (hemoglobin contains iron) to the site and fresh blood to an area is what brings about healing. Sometime I even wear them to bed. But since then my lower back is sore and stiff when I get up in the mornings. The longer I sleep the stiffer it gets. So I seldom sleep longer than six hours at night and make up the rest of my snooze time by taking an afternoon nap.
When I get up in the morning, I rub an analgesic on my lower back and sit in my I Joy massage chair. This gets the blood flowing and then I eat breakfast. Right afterwards I have a half hour to one hour long meditation period (it's still quite early in the morning) with a heat pad on my lower back sitting in my reclining meditation chair. The hear relaxes the muscles and I'm fine after that.
In my late '40s I incurred my first inguinal hernia. Living in Palm Springs on a large gated estate, one day the gate was left open and the dog ran out. I quickly ran after him and as I started I felt a sharp pain in my right groin area. That night taking a hot shower I noticed a bulge in the area, saw a doctor who confirmed it was an inguinal hernia. A few months later this quack operated on it, just stitching it up like he would for any of the 70 year old men on whom he usually performed this operation. Six months later I was training, doing standing one arm dumbbell extensions, and I felt a pop in the area. The hernia had broken through the bursa below where it was stitched up. I coped with it for four years, wearing a truss, but as the tear got larger and descended down toward the scrotum I realized I'd need surgery again and this time went to a much better clinic. They put in polyproplylene mesh, stitched if up and it's been good ever since.
But the stitching on the right side pulled up on my right leg and made it shorter than my left, putting more stress on my lower back. At first I had to avoid leg work, and do as many upper body exercises as possible in a seated position. I use a traction table where I lie in a decline position for a few minutes several times a week and it has helped even out my leg length.
In May 1983 I was involved in a bicycling accident where I had to slam on my brakes to avoid hitting a car. I flew 10 feet over the handlebars and landed on my right shoulder. I couldn't raise my right arm for a month and I had the Mr. Olympia contest to train for in October. My goal was to win the title 4 times. I trained the best I could, after the shoulder started feeling better but I couldn't work my upper body as heavy as before. I couldn't lock out my right arm. I competed in very muscular condition at a lighter bodyweight of 183 and come in fourth. Already 41 years old, I realized that this was the end of my competitive career, but at least I went out in fantastic condition, the photos taken by Artie Zeller and Christine at the 1983 Mr. Olympia show this.
After the competition I went to the hospital for diagnosis and they revealed that I had torn a hole the size of a half dollar in my right rotator cuff; it was hanging on by a thread. Surgery and recovery were traumatic. This was no arthroscopic surgery, they had to cut deeply into the deltoid to repair it and I wore and airplane brace holding my right arm out to the side for 2 weeks afterwards. When the brace came off, my arm hung limp by my side and it took me another two weeks before I could raise my arm over my head. Then it was daily therapy with light weights. My legs were fine so I walked a lot and did ab work. Three months after the surgery I was able to begin light weight training and gradually got into really good shape six months after the surgery, a kind of reverse motivation.
What really happened was a suggestion from my surgeon (the same doctor who operated on Arnold's knee in 1972), that I do ultra-sound for 10 minutes twice a day around the incision So he gave me a prescription to buy one; it cost me around $1000 and I followed his recommendation. I still have this machine and use it whenever I have some kind of intense spasm or soreness in an area. But this rotator cuff surgery operation changed my training. It marked the end of my competitive career. I had trouble working chest, no more heavy barbell bench press or incline or dumbbell flyes. All I could do was front press on my Soloflex machine with the rubber band and weights attached to the bar, and cable crossover. So I sought out a good pec deck, one that didn't hurt my shoulder, and that brought my chest development back.
A few years after the surgery I was doing high rep seated side dumbbell raises with 25 pound dumbbells, when I heard a snap in my right shoulder and my arm fell to my side. I thought, "There goes my rotator cuff." But when I examined the area I found nothing and could move my arm around. That night when showering (my place of discovery) I noticed a soreness in my upper outer biceps where it attaches to the deltoid accompanied by a slight gap. The biceps had moved down my arm slightly and now I had more separation in this area and more of a peak to my biceps. I always wanted more peak to my biceps, but of course, not this way . . . again, be careful what you wish for. The result was a different shaped, more peaked right biceps which was not quite as strong as my left one because my left biceps now had a stronger attachment. I've compensated for it by always starting my curling with my right arm.
All these injuries occurred on my right side. Not that my left side was spared from agony, I'd experienced a sharp pain where the biceps tendon inserts between the front and the lateral deltoid in my left shoulder. It happened doing very heavy alternate dumbbell curls in training for the 1979 Mr. Olympia. It still flares up even now; it's like my Achilles heel.
My shoulders have taken a beating from training heavy and careless and I must give them adequate rest to continue training. So if you get injured you need to first get a diagnosis of what's wrong, then get therapy to heal it, and rest adequately until you can start training again. Do exercises that don't hurt the injured area. Train around it, use machines that have a built-in groove to avoid strain on the area. Indeed, my gym is now full of great machines. There's free weights too but I just don't use them as much, especially barbell.
My slogan is "If it hurts, don't do it," the antithesis to the popular bodybuilding maxim, "No pain, no gain."
Pain is not a good word.
Enjoy Your Lifting!