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Why am I always injured?8 min read
If you read my last blog (Do you even lift?) you might have the idea that you’re doing everything right. I think with the members of MSC Performance I’m preaching to the choir. Lift more > feel better > be more resilient, more robust, more healthy, get injured less etc.
But if you DO lift, and you still pick up injuries, why is this happening?
Aren’t you doing the biggest thing already? Is it just plain old bad luck?
There are many factors that feed into answering this question but it comes down to a simple balancing act between LOAD and CAPACITY, and the ACUTE and CHRONIC effects of both
ACUTE MECHANICAL LOAD
Let’s use the case of acute mechanical load, that being, the amount of force or tension/compression being applied to one part of your body at any one point, generally as a result of external load (weight). Let’s use the case of a runner and their calf muscle. Every time the foot hits the floor, the calf muscle is loaded as the bodyweight of the athlete comes crashing down on it, forcing the calf to contract and assist in the propulsion of the athlete into the next step.
If we use the analogy of the calf muscle being a rope, and the weight of the athlete being a weight hanging off the end of that rope, if the load becomes too great, the rope will snap, i.e the muscle will tear, and the athlete gets injured.
The simplest way to stop the rope from snapping in this case would be to use a thicker rope, capable of hanging the given weight off of. And this, in essence, is what strength training does, it thickens our ropes. The ropes that represent the muscles of the body from top to bottom, the ropes that represent our tendons that attach the muscles to bone, transmitting muscular work to the bones and creating movement, and the ropes that represent the connective tissue weaving the body together.
This is the acute AND chronic effect of strength training on the body on a global level, the mechanical changes to muscle shape and fibre type give us a stiffness and mechanical load tolerance that really does elevate performance tenfold in a huge variety of ways.
The best thing about this form of loading is that it is generally very easy to see and quantify. You lifted more weight than last week. Your arms grew. You PB’d your deadlift. You rep 100kg bench presses way easier than you did last year. But, that brings me onto our next, much more subtle form of loading, and the one that is often the key to WHY we STILL get injured.
Internal loading refers to the physiological stress that a given activity places upon our body. Simply put, how stressful is a given training session or event to a given person? 100kg squatted 10 times gives us a very precise, objective external load and training volume, but the internal load of those 10 squats on someone with a 200kg 1RM and someone with a 105kg 1RM is totally different.
Building on this concept, we need to put training into a chronic context and learn to quantify training demands over time.
A 10km run to someone who runs 10km 2 times per week is pretty straightforward, the body has adapted to this sort of stressor and can recover from it because it has developed a chronic workload that encapsulates bouts of exercise consisting of 10km runs.
Now, send the same person out to run a marathon 7 times in 7 days, and despite their familiarity with running, their ability to tolerate this new increased load simply isn’t there.
It’s at this point where injury occurs, and is something that I’m sure a large proportion of competitive athletes and recreational lifters alike can relate to.
Powerlifters ramping up intensity close to competitions starting to creak and ache 2 weeks out.
Marathon runners flaring up tendon problems and pulling muscles as mileage increases 16 weeks out from the London Marathon.
The ‘new year new me’ crowd who break down mid February.
Building tolerance over time is the subtle art of progression through strength training and conditioning work, and whilst it is the hidden variable that controls and prevents many injuries, it is also the central principle upon which all strength training is built: progressive overload.
TAKE HOME MESSAGE
The take home message from all of this is actually really simple: training should consist of accumulating a systematically higher and higher workload over weeks and months, building up the body to tolerate the work that you demand of it, in turn forcing physiological adaptations such as increased strength, muscle mass, cardiovascular fitness etc.
If you want to lose weight by training 2-3 times per week, take time to ensure your body is accustomed to this.
If you play rugby of football 2-3 times per week, carefully accumulate time on pitch and utilise strength training to make sure you are robust enough to tolerate this time (thicken the ropes!). Take stock of how much running you are doing and how your body is responding, making sure to adjust training as necessary to head off injury before it happens.
Finally, always try to balance your accumulated work tolerance against what you are doing THIS week. Going into a week of training try to take stock of what your last 4-6 weeks have looked like. If you want to get 50 miles of road running in, what have you done over the last month? IF you’ve averaged 25 miles a week, it probably isn’t the best idea, but maybe 27-30 is.
Training hard is great, but there’s only so long you can walk that line before you go over the edge. Training SMARTER in the short term is generally the best way to ensure you train HARDER for the long term, not the other way around!