We build muscle by pushing it to its limit and beyond. This is what gives it a reason to grow and improve. We do this by adding more weight, doing more reps, more sets, and progressively increasing our overall work load, The adverse side of this is it puts more stress on muscles, joints and tendons. Thus you walk a fine line between positively stressing the muscle for growth and injuring the muscle and its components. Push it just a bit too far and muscles pull and tear and joints and tendons get damaged. In fact, you take a huge step backwards and often can't train at all, pushing you back to your starting point, or worse. This can become very frustrating and discouraging. To have longevity in your training, you must find a way to train hard, while minimizing injuries. Finding ways to maximize stress to the muscle while minimizing risk is the way to long term success in building muscle.
Here are some guidelines to keep you injury free and progressing in your training:
Not every exercise and machine is for you - Stick to exercises that feel natural to your muscles. Just because your workout partner loves behind-the-head presses, that doesn't necessarily mean they are good for you. Everyone is put together a little different and what may be a great exercise for one person may be an injury trap for someone else. It has to do with the particular frame of your body and what angles are ideal for your body from a mechanical standpoint. Each bone structure and muscular structure is slightly different, ad a very slight adjustment in angle of a movement can have a tremendous impact on how that muscle is working. We should work with our natural mechanics to properly work the muscle instead of forcing them into a potentially dangerous range of motion that contradicts our mechanical flow. Look at this like a drawer in your kitchen cabinet. It can only open one way. If you pull the door straight out, it opens smoothly and easily, but if you try to pull it even 1 degree to the right, left, up or down, it rubs, scratches and comes off the track. Joints largely function in the exact same way. If an exercise feels awkward or doesn’t feel like you are fully getting the most out of the target muscle, the chances are that movement conflicts with your mechanics. While the shoulders and hips are ball joints with some flexibility, elbows and knees are simple hinges with only one path of motion. Focus on exercises that feel natural and you excel at. Find what agrees with your body structure. It's ok to be weak on some exercises if you stay healthy in exchange. You can easily compensate for this by performing similar exercises that are more suited for you.
Strict form isn't always good form – Similar to the above, keeping very strict form can be great to isolate specific muscles and parts of muscles. However, keeping very strict form also often restricts your muscle path and takes it out of its natural motion. For instance, bench-pressing on the Smythe Press is often more dangerous than bar bell or dumb bell bench press as you lose the ability for your natural motion to make slight adjustments of a couple millimeters from the top to bottom of the press. By restricting this movement, your shoulders can be put in an unnatural position and be more susceptible to damage.
Warm up with repetition of the exercise you are going to perform - Remember the first time you ever tried depressing a set of dumb bells? You felt like a fish out of water as you struggle to get both arms t go up and down in any way that resembled a straight line. The reason for this is that your brain had to learn how to do the movement first…Much like playing a guitar...we can all look at musical nots and know exactly how to play a song on a guitar, the hard part is manipulating your fingers to make the proper chord strokes. Your muscles and brain had to learn the motion first and form that mind-muscle connection. Many injuries happen as a result of your muscles/joints not being accustomed to certain exercises and weights. This can be reduced by practicing the movement multiple times with lighter weight. This will essentially teach your muscles and brain to perform the motion and be ready for heavier weight. Also, when your nervous system becomes accustomed to an exercise, you will be able to lift substantially more weight, not necessarily because you grew more muscle, but because you are able to use the muscle you do have more effectively.
Stretching pre-workout is not ideal - Stretching is important to loosen muscles up and also helps push blood into them, however, intense stretching is counter-productive to injury prevention. Muscles that are overly loose are more vulnerable to injury as they have less ability to maintain an ideal direction of motion. There is a big distinction between stretching to prepare the muscle for work and increase blood flow and stretching to elongate and fatigue the muscle. Light stretching and warmups before workouts are ideal with the serious stretching after you train or toward the end of your workout when the muscles are engorged with blood to further expand the muscles.
Overall, it is not difficult to go into the gym one day and have a brutal workout….But you may get injured. The key to long term success is having fantastic workouts day in, day out over the course of years. There needs to be a strategic approach to this in eliminating negative consequences of lifting.