If you train hard enough and long enough, chances are you will someday incur at least one injury that will be severe enough to require surgical repair. Having been at this iron game for 27 of my nearly 42 years, I finally got to that point. For several years I thought a bone spur detected by X-ray in my left shoulder was the cause of most of the pain I was experiencing in that joint. Only when I had an MRI done this year did I learn that the true issue was that I had worn nearly all the ligaments away. Just when I had scheduled a surgery called a “decompression” to essentially carve out more room in there, I tore my triceps half off the bone breaking a fall during a sparring match—clearly I was not meant for the UFC.
Since that injury was more severe and the risk of a full tear was high, it will take priority and the first surgery date will be used to repair that, with the shoulder procedure to follow a month later. That will put me out of upper-body training for the longest time ever since I began working out at home back in junior high with the good old vinyl-and-cement weight set from Sears.
Rather than bemoan my horrible fate and dread the loss in size and strength that will follow the two surgeries, I am doing my best to find the silver lining behind this dark cloud. As it turns out, there are a few things to look forward to.
Full rest and recovery. I’m great at telling other people to listen to their bodies and take periodic breaks from training, but I suck at taking my own advice. Even after the brutal rigors of 16 to 20 weeks of contest prep, I’ve never been able to stay away from the weights for more than a week. Many of the problems I’ve had, such as chronically inflamed elbow tendons, probably could have been remedied simply by resting. The wear and tear on my shoulders would also be less pronounced if they hadn’t been hammered nonstop for many years. Now I will have no choice but to give my upper body a couple months of complete rest followed by a couple months of very light training. Olympia 202 Showdown champion Kevin English was experiencing debilitating pain in his lower back, elbows, wrists and knees after his 2010 win and took nearly three months off from training. Once he resumed, the pain was gone. Sometimes all we need is a break, but many of us would never take it unless we were forced to.
Focus on cardio, hams and calves. Being in my 40s, I realize that it’s definitely time to put equal importance on health rather than just looking good. I have the bad habit, like many bodybuilders, of slacking on my cardio in the off-season. With a couple of months ahead of me where I won’t be able to train upper body, I can put some effort into a stronger and fitter heart and lungs. And though my lower body has always been good, I know I have never trained my hamstrings or my calves with as much effort as I could have. This will give me the chance to bring them up to match my quads. Great quads are not a common thing, but it’s even more rare to see a guy with great quads, hams and calves. I aim to be that guy!
Pain-free training. I’ve trained with some level of pain in my shoulders and elbows for well over 10 years. My elbow tendinitis is so bad that it’s been more than 15 years since I could do heavy skull crushers or any type of overhead extensions with free weights. Once I’m healed up and start slowly making my way back to heavy weights, I anticipate training with either no pain in those areas or at least much less than what I’ve been dealing with since the first George Bush was President.
Better triceps! If there has been one bodypart that has frustrated me the most over the years, it’s my triceps. It seems the stubborn three-headed brats just don’t want to get with the program and match my shoulders, chest, back, biceps and legs. Though I’ve never given up on them, I attributed this physique deficit to crappy genetics for that muscle. Now that I really think about it, however, I strongly suspect it’s been the chronic elbow pain that has been limiting my triceps training and holding back their growth. With the pain gone at last, who’s to say I won’t see new growth there for the first time in years?
Stay tuned. I’ll have more on my recovery and results in a future IRON MAN.