By Dorian Yates, legendary 6-time Mr. Olympia (MD)
Injuries: A Subject I Unfortunately Am Familiar With
Of all the Mr. Olympia winners, I seem to be the one who was known not only for my physique, but also for battling injuries over the course of my competitive career. I actually suffered my very first injury in 1985 before I’d even entered my first contest, with a slight tear of my right hip while squatting. I tore my biceps while performing underhand-grip barbell rows with 455 pounds six wees out from the 1994 Mr. Olympia, and in 1997 I won my sixth and final Mr. Olympia with my triceps literally hanging by a thread.
How and Why Do Injuries Happen?
Injuries can happen in a variety of ways. going back to my first training injury to the hip, that was a case where a very minor injury was left untreated and I continued to attempt to “train through it.” Of course, back then doctors weren’t much help. Since general practitioners really didn’t know how to properly diagnose, much less treat, the types of injuries a bodybuilder would incur in training, their typical advice would be to stop lifting weights or at least stop for a while.
After I’d limped home from hurting my hit the first time, I didn’t train legs for two weeks and since the pain had mostly dissipated by then, I assumed all was well once more. What I failed to realize at the time was that when a small muscle tear heals, scar tissue forms at the site of the wound. This scar tissue is somewhat like glue on an elastic band (the muscle). It’s not flexible, and it tends to change the way the muscle performs from that point on. These days, most bodybuilders know enough to have deep-tissue massage done on such injuries to prevent scar tissue from forming, and to keep a steady flow of blood and nutrients to the area. In 1985, this was not common knowledge, which is how I set myself up for a more severe tear once I resumed heavy leg training.
Eventually in 1987, I had surgery to remove the large buildup of scar tissue that had accumulated, and I also determined that squats simply weren’t an exercise I was structurally suited for. You too may find that there are certain exercises that you inevitably get hurt doing. In such a case, it doesn’t matter if it’s a “mandatory” exercise, according to the experts. If you repeatedly get injured doing squats, deadlifts, or bench presses, despite thoroughly warning up and executing good form, for God’s sake stop doing them!
But even so, I don’t believe most injuries happen all at once, even something so traumatic as a pec tear. In most cases, the person had minor injuries and pain that were ignored over a period of time, then one day a tendon finally gives out. I know I was guilty of that, because I was dead set on pushing my body to its absolute limites and beyond – and something so insignificant as pain wasn’t going to deter me from reaching my goals!
Many times I would have been better off letting an area rest or at the very least, going a bit lighter and taking the intensity down a notch. But that wasn’t me. When I was trying to win the Mr. Olympia and then doing my best to continually defend my title against some very hungry and very formidable challengers, I felt there was no time to slack or take things easier.
How Do You Prevent Injuries?
Aside from the aforementioned directives to listen to your body when it’s telling you something is wrong or that you’re on the verge of disaster, thorough warmups are one way to remain injury-free. Prior to any weight training, you should do a general body warm-up with five to 10 minutes on a stationary bike or the treadmill, simply to raise your body’s core temperature and get your blood flowing.
Next, I like to do a very few light sets for all the surrounding muscle groups I’ll be training. For instance, if I were to train chest, I would precede that with some light sets of pulldowns, triceps pushdowns, and dumbbell flyers before starting to warm up on my first chest exercise. Then, before doing a heavy work set, I would do at least 2 sets with sub-maximal weights and stopping short of failure. For example, if you were going to begin with dumbbell incline presses and your working set was to be with a pair of 100s for 8 reps, you should do something like 50s for 12 and 75s for 8 first. You want to get blood in the area, as well as prepare your nervous system to fire for that all-out set.
Shoulder injuries are among the most common in weight training, and it’s generally due to the fact that the shoulders, chest, and lats all have the potential to become far larger and more powerful – but the rotator cuff muscles will always be relatively small and weak in comparison. So before any chest or shoulder workout, I always do some light rotator cuff work. If you have access to a device like the Shoulder Horn that locks your arms and shoulders into the proper position for cuff work, by all means use it. Otherwise, just be sure to do your exercises for external shoulder rotation strictly, and through a full range of motion.
As far as stretching, I don’t believe in static stretching before a workout. That can actually cause micro-tears in the muscle and weaken in. Save your stretching for after the workout.
Before any injuries can be treated, it needs to be assessed and diagnosed. If the pain is very minor, you can probably assume medical intervention isn’t necessary, and simple techniques like ice, rest, and an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication like ibuprofen should be sufficient.
If the injury seems like it might be serious, the only way to know exactly what’s going on is to get an MRI done. Usually your regular family doctor isn’t qualified to diagnose training injuries. Get a referral to an orthopedic specialist or a physical therapist. Treatment could mean surgery in the case of a full muscle tear or a long-term chronic situation such as a bone spur, or it could consist of deep-tissue massage or other various treatments offered by PTs or chiropractors.
Many serious bodybuilders these days have deep-tissue massages and chiropractic adjustments done on a regular basis as more of a preventive measure against injury, as keeping scar tissue and adhesions from forming in the first place, as well as having the spine in proper alignment, seems to go a long way toward avoiding many problems.
The Road Back to Recovery
There are no two recoveries form injury that are exactly the same. It all comes down to how severe the injury is, how well it’s treated and diagnosed, and how determined you are to properly (and patiently) rehabilitate it. Age also plays a role, since we all tend to heal at a slower rate as get older. In the case of a minor muscle strain, recovery could be complete in as little as 10 days. more severe tears can take months to heal, and care must be taken to gradually return to using your usual training poundage with the mantra of “make haste slowly.” Many a bodybuilder has reinjured an area, often worse than before, due to impatience.
The worse of all my own training injuries was my triceps tear in ’97. Even though I had surgery to have it reattached, mechanically it was never the same again. Once I realized I would never be able to train the way I had in order to become and remain Mr. Olympia, I knew it was time to say good-bye to competition for good. And in retrospect, it was an injury that could have been prevented if I’d only not stubbornly insisted on continuing my usual balls-to-the-wall training – despite the fact that my elbow would become severely inflamed and painful after every chest, shoulder, or triceps workout. I would ice the elbow to reduce the inflammation, but as time went on the tendon was becoming ever weaker.
So once again, the most important thing to keep in mind with regards to injuries is to pay close attention to the signals your body is sending you, and pay them heed. Injuries do come with the territory when you train hard and heavy enough to stimulate maximal mass gains, but you can do quite a bit to minimize them if you remain vigilant and cautious at all times.