Q: As a natural bodybuilder you are such an inspiration to me. I was wondering what you do to prevent injuries before workouts? When I was in high school, I hurt my shoulder benching heavy three times a week. I just recently got back into the game, and I’m loving it. Thanks!
A: Sorry to hear about your shoulder injury. We all have to be very careful when weight training because injuries can happen, especially when we start to push ourselves and begin using heavier weights with more intensity.
Warming up the muscles is one of the keys to staying injury free. I always begin training each muscle group by doing several sets with a lighter weight to get the blood into the muscles, tendons and joints. When the muscles are warm and there is a pump and good blood flow in the area, there’s less of a chance of straining the tendons, ligaments and the muscles themselves.
So it’s important to begin training each muscle group with light weights for a couple of sets. For example, if I am training my chest and beginning with dumbbell bench presses, I will do a set using the 40-pound dumbbells for 20 reps and then another set using the 70-pounders for 15 reps before advancing to the heavier sets. There’s no way I could start by going right to the heavy weights. I would not be mentally or physically ready until I was warmed up.
When I move on to the second exercise, I don’t need to warm up as much because the muscles, tendons and joints are now fully engorged with blood. I may do one moderately heavy set to begin the second exercise for a muscle group, but I sometimes begin with my work set because at that point I’m ready to go.
Stretching the muscles is also a good way to prevent injuries. I’ve been doing yoga for several years to relieve the compression in my lower back as well as stretch the hips, glutes and hamstrings. I like doing my yoga first thing in the morning or even late at night before I go to bed to make the muscles more limber. Many of us sit at a desk all day, and our lower-back, hip and hamstring muscles often become shortened and very tight while we’re seated; so it’s a good idea to stretch them every day.
Massage therapy is another excellent method of preventing injuries. Professional bodybuilders like Ronnie Coleman and Jay Cutler get deep-tissue massages at least once a week, especially when they are training for a big competition. The deep-tissue work breaks up scar tissue and adhesions that build up as a consequence of heavy training over the years. Massage frees up the muscles to contract better during exercise without the risk of injury.
You mentioned that your shoulder was hurt due to your bench pressing three times a week. Most likely you were not giving the muscles the rest they needed, and something eventually gave out. The shoulders are one area of the body that is often injured on barbell bench presses. I recommend doing a series of rotator cuff exercises to strengthen that area and also icing your shoulders after each workout to bring down the inflammation. Good luck!
Editor’s note: John Hansen has won the Mr. Natural Olympia and is a three-time Natural Mr. Universe winner. For information on his exciting new program, The MP6 Cycle Training, check out his Web site at www
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