Young Bodybuilders and Injuries
CS: You've trained thousands of young bodybuilders. In your view, what are young bodybuilders doing that's getting them injured?
For young bodybuilders I would say that the two biggest mistakes are: using poor form, and using too much weight. These things go hand in hand.
This typically happens because bodybuilders do not learn to perform the exercise correctly and, even if they do, because in their pursuit for added muscle size they use heavier training poundages, they end up pushing it too much – using too much weight on an exercise – and sacrificing form. Both poor form on an exercise – viz-a-viz leaning too far forward on a squat – or using too much on any exercise – is going to cause injury.
Not warming up is also another factor. Many times people forget that muscles are like rubber bands – very elastic when warm, and brittle when cold. Like an elastic band, when your muscles are cold and brittle, they tend to snap. By thinking of muscles in this way, you're more likely to perform a thorough warm up. Jumping on the bike doing some cardio and getting your core temperature is important.
Not listening to your body is something we mentioned before and it's a big one.
Two other ones are: not focusing on the exercise. In other words, being distracted by something else going on in the gym or having your mind somewhere else. Your body and mind work together and you have to get your mind in the muscle and you have to stay focused.
And, finally, you have to have a good training partner. If you have a training partner who is distracted by a young lady doing the stairmaster and they're not there to spot you at your moment of failure – say on a bench press – you can really get into trouble.
CS: Before moving on, I think it's important for us to talk more about the method of warming up because it is so important. Do you recommend doing cardio first and then stretching, or stretching first and then cardio?
I recommend five to ten minutes of cardio. I'm not a big proponent of doing thirty to forty-five minutes of cardio prior to a workout. When I say do a little bit of cardio, I mean light cardio in order to raise the overall body temperature, after which time you can proceed to warm-up sets, which consist of the first exercise for the bodypart, using lighther weights.
CS: If you had a quick list of 5 tips that you could give to young and old bodybuilders, new and experienced, to prevent injuries in the first place, what would they be?
We just mentioned always warming up prior to exercise, so lets go back to that. This one is especially necessary during cold weather and especially as you get older. I find that most trainees – beginners and experienced – don't do sufficient warm ups. Secondly, I would say to stretch prior to exercise once you're warmed up – you don't want to stretch a cold muscle – but once the muscle is warmed up, stretch lightly. You should also stretch lightly between sets. I find that stretching between sets tends to counter the contracting-effect that the set has on the muscle. By stretching lightly between sets, then, the muscle can be kept more flexible and less prone to injury.
When you do stretch, ensure that you don't bounce, because this has a negative feedback effect that can actually tighten the muscles; it's important to just stretch in a very smooth fashion to keep steady and consistent pressure on the muscle.
I would also say that it's important to pay attention to what you're doing, both during the pre-workout stretch and the warm up, as well as during the actual workout. It's easy to get distracted, and sometimes you even can be distracted if you're using a mirror to look at yourself exercising – in cases like these you can go outside of yourself instead of feeling what's going on inside the muscle group. I can't stress it enough that you have to get your mind into the muscle – that you have to focus on what's happening in the muscle and what it's feeling.
I would also say that you have to eat right. You have to eat a lot of protein in order to recover. You have to provide enough fuel for your body to store glycogen for the different workouts. You need to consume essential fatty acids because they are needed for the integrity of the lipid membrane in the cell. So, strengthening your body for the workout is going to ensure that you don't get hurt and you're not suffering from nutritional deficiencies that can make you weaker.
Then, finally, I would say: get enough rest. Recovery happens outside of the gym, and if you're not recovering sufficiently, then when you go into the gym, the muscle will still be fatigued - that is going to be detrimental for your workout performance, and that can also make you injured. Also keep in mind that if you don't get rest, you simply won't grow any muscle.