by Clayton South
and Lee Labrada
Bodybuilding injuries can occur for several reasons and once they happen, they limit our ability to continue making progress.
With the new year upon us and spring and summer fast approaching, everyone – experienced bodybuilders and new – will be hitting the gym harder than ever, shedding body fat, building muscle and getting ready for warmer weather and the chance to show off the results of our hard work.
Inevitably, some of us will get injured in our attempt to get the perfect body. When this happens, what do we do? How can we avoid being sidelined or, worse, crippled, by injury? How can we continue on to achieve our goals?
In this interview, Lee Labrada shares his over three decades of professional bodybuilding expertise and knowledge, and answers these questions like no one else can.
The Interview with Lee Labrada on Injuries
Clayton South: Lee, over the course of your career, you consistently put together a quality physique - and while you're undeniably an expert at building, shaping and keeping muscle, there had to be occasions when you got hurt. What were some of your injuries over the course of your career?
I competed all the way from the amateur level right to the professional ranks, including the Mr. Olympia. One of the common elements that I lived with from year to year were muscle strains. If I had to narrow it down to one type of injury to which I was most prone, I would say muscle strains. Strains would happen to me in the spinal erectors, and occurred once during leg presses where my back was very tight from a back workout that I had done the day before and I came in very deep on the leg press, and felt something give in my back and one of my spinal erectors was sprained. It was something that put me on my back for a week!
Some of the other injuries that I've had include strains to the hamstrings. I remember competing in a Mr. Olympia once, training right before the show, doing some lunges, and I felt my hamstring muscles feel like they were unraveling; it felt almost like a curtain tearing. Fortunately, it was just a strain – nothing huge – but it set me back for several days.
These are just some of the things that I've experienced over the course of my career.
CS: So your injuries were mostly strains. I know that Dorian Yates had a pectoral tear at one point. Did you ever have any significant injuries that kept you sidelined for a long time?
No, nothing that I would call “traumatic” or “catastrophic” injuries vis a vis a pec tear or a biceps pull from the bone. Nothing like that. I attribute this to the fact that I was always very respectful of my body – I was always in tune with my body and able to differentiate between the pain caused by muscular exertion during a set, and the pain that's caused by an actual injury – injurious pain to joints and tendons.
CS: You've said already that most of the injuries that you had were strains, but did your injuries change as you became more advanced?
I've seen others suffer from torn pecs, triceps injuries, blown discs in the back and so on. As you become more experienced, you tend to be more cautious in training, and you tend to warm up more thoroughly and to execute the exercises more correctly. Over time, then, injuries tend to become RSI injuries – repetitive stress injuries like muscle strains, tendonitis, bursitis and more.
Training Over 40
CS: When you're young and your body has a greater recovery capacity, your risk factors are different than when you're older...
Yes, and you learn to listen to your body and, as I mentioned before, you learn to tell the difference between normal pain associated with muscular exertion, and injurious pain, resulting from joint and tendon strain.
If I could give one piece of advice to bodybuilders and athletes, it would be this: learn to tell the two kinds of pain apart.
Too often, there is the “no pain, no gain” mentality that permeates the workout, all to the detriment of the young bodybuilder. Often times, bodybuilders simply think that the pain they experience is something through which they must push. In reality, however, the body is telling them that there is injury being caused to the joints and tendons. So it is important to differentiate between these two.
You can typically tell the difference between the two by remembering that muscular pain, in terms of lactic acid, burning, fatigue, is normal normal during heavy training. It's not normal to have sharp stabbing pains in the joints themselves, or right where the muscle inserts. In this case, your body will usually give you a warning that something is about to happen. At this point you want to immediately back off.
CS: As you got older and more advanced, what were some of the injury risk factors that changed for you?
Again, there are always risks whenever you train, and obviously the risk becomes greater as you become a stronger bodybuilder, as you become more experienced and the muscles actually become stronger. It's interesting that when you're a beginning bodybuilder, that one of the greatest dangers are that the muscles are growing so fast and become so strong so quickly, that the joints and tendons can't keep up – so you can experience a tear that way.
When you become older and more experienced, the muscles are so powerful – and typically the tendons have adjusted – but if you don't warm-up correctly, those powerful muscles can end up tearing as well. So, for this reason I think that the warm up is very important.