While I’ve been training consistently the last few months it seems I have had to deal with one injury after another. I’ve had issues with my always wonky lower back, hip pain, knee issues and shoulder injuries. I’m used to dealing with the lower back and knee issues. This time it was my shoulders, specifically my left shoulder, my good shoulder that caused me to change up how I was working out.
I’m still not sure what I did to it. I simply started noticing discomfort each time I tried to bench or do pullups. That discomfort suddenly became agonizing pain. I was sure I had torn something, probably a rotator cuff. Fortunately I was able to work around it and keep going. I rested the shoulder and focused on lower body exercises and conditioning. Thankfully I am feeling pretty good now and this week have started going all out again.
From March of 2018 till February of 2019 the main focus of my workouts was on strength training. During that time I did get much stronger and reached three of my four lifting goals. Along the way I also learned some things about myself and training.
The first lesson I wanted to discuss is being willing to adapt and change your training or even how you perform certain exercises. I came to this conclusion with two exercises in particular this past year.
The first was the trap bar dead-lift. I began doing this exercise last year after repeatedly tweaking my back doing traditional bent legged dead-lifts. Through some internet searching I saw this exercise was advertised as being much easier on the lower back. This is primarily because the weight is in line with your body’s center of gravity and not out in front of your body as it is for a traditional bent legged dead-lift. I definitely found this to be true at first. Each month I was adding more weight to the lift and my back felt good. But I began to notice that my knees were aching each time I performed this lift. Eventually I had begun to unconsciously alter my form due to the knee pain which led to lower back pain. I became frustrated and was ready to give up on the exercise. I once again did some research and saw many people doing this lift off of blocks. I examined my form and realized that my knees were bending further than ninety degrees at the bottom which was causing the extra strain and discomfort. I decided to perform the trap bar dead-lift off of blocks to see if the shortened range of motion would help my knees. It did not take long performing the exercise in this shortened the range of motion before my knee pain and subsequently my back pain disappeared. I began to add weight once again and in February hit my goal. Initially I was upset that I reached my goal by lessening the range of motion. But it doesn’t bother me now because if I hadn’t done this I would not be able to do the lift anymore.
The second exercise was the dumbbell press. I have had an issue with my right shoulder since college that has gotten worse over the years. To avoid shoulder pain on most upper body movements I need to perform them with a neutral grip. If you’ve read my earlier blog posts you will know that I have been up and down with the dumbbell press, taking me many months to see progress. Towards the end of my yearlong strength cycle I had hit the wall with this lift. I was cleaning the dumbbells and resting them on my shoulder. From there I would start the lift. I realized that I was weakest at this position and I also realized that part of the reason was the position of my shoulders. With the dumbbells on my shoulder there was a great deal of over exaggerated stretching to the shoulder joints. Due to my previous shoulder injury the pronounced stretch was causing the pain and discomfort to increase. I decided to try shortening the range of motion by having my starting position be around ear level. The shortened range of motion put me in a better position to be successful by taking pressure off of my shoulder joints. This was highly effective right away and in two different ways. The first was that I was able to lift heavier weights. The second was that my shoulder pain was greatly reduced.
I now understand that it doesn’t matter if I am doing what the experts deem to be full range of motion on all lifts. What matters is that I am lifting the fullest range of motion that is safe for me. I’m not competing against anyone but myself. I am still getting stronger. I am still getting fitter. I wish I had known this years ago; my joints may feel much better if I did.