Best Practices for Body Builders to Prevent Injury

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Bodybuilding and weight training have existed as forms of exercise for centuries. In Ancient Greece, athletes used resistance training as a means to improve their performance at sport versus a form of body modification. Milo of Croton is famously known for carrying a calf on his shoulders every day until it became a full-grown bull, demonstrating that progressive resistance improves strength.

bodybuilding shoulder pain

People participate in bodybuilding today for a variety of reasons ranging from a desire to compete professionally to a need to preserve and improve bone density. While the health benefits of weight training are well documented, bodybuilders may find themselves suffering from bodybuilding shoulder pain or shoulder pain when bench pressing if they fail to maintain a commitment to an injury prevention strategy.

A plan to prevent injury starts before entering the gym. In addition to selecting the right gym and training support, an effective body building plan includes pre-workout, in-workout, and post-workout specifics. The most common bodybuilding injuries are caused by lack of concentration or focus, poor posture, improper technique, not allowing time for injuries to heal properly and overuse of muscle. Over time, scar tissue can develop and cause long term complications from repeated injury.

Due to the use of the arms and shoulders in weight lifting, the shoulders are at particular risk of injury. The arms and shoulders are used constantly in bodybuilding even when other areas are the target for exercise. Stacking and unstacking weights for leg presses is one example of a non-targeted use of shoulder and arm muscles.  Bodybuilding shoulder pain and shoulder pain when bench pressing are therefore some of the more common injuries. A brief list of other common injuries includes:

  • Muscle strain – when the muscle tendon unit is torn or stretched;
  • Tendonitis – inflammation of a tendon;
  • Muscle sprain – stretched or partially torn ligaments;
  • Bursitis – irritation or inflammation of the bursa, which is a sack filled with lubricating fluid located between tissues, such as tendons, skin, bone and muscle.

Tips for injury prevention before going to the gym

Before hitting the gym each day, listen to your body. Are you well rested and generally feeling healthy? When overly tired or sick, the risk of injury increases. Getting adequate sleep is essential and allows for improved mental sharpness when working out. The same goes for illness. It is possible to engage in exercise when recovering from illness, but do so at reduced intensity and postpone the initiation of new components until you are completely well.

Develop a written or electronic tracking system of your bodybuilding activities. There are many online tools and social groups dedicated to bodybuilding with tracking systems, which can provide a supportive environment for growing your program.  Set reasonable goals and avoid unrealistic expectations for immediate changes in body size and musculature. Progress, not instant gratification, is the goal of a quality weight training program.

Feed your body appropriately. Consume enough calories to provide the nutrition and energy needed to fuel your workout and recovery. Hydrate. Hydrate. Hydrate. Dehydration puts the body at risk during the workout and slows post-workout recovery.

At the gym

Pre-workout activities are an essential component of a weight training session and are crucial to preventing injuries. Warm up with light cardio to increase blood flow and prep the body for the coming weight training. Running in place, jumping rope and pedaling on an exercise bike are all helpful in getting the heart pumping and the body warm and ready to go. Stretching improves flexibility. Focus on stretching areas that have been injured in the past and on those muscle groups targeted for the day’s workout. Do not bounce into a stretch or stretch to the point of pain. Slow, controlled stretches are most effective and reduce the likelihood of injury. Mini-sets are small sets of the planned exercises for the day. Use these to test range of motion, form, and the body’s readiness for each exercise.

Some bodybuilding exercises can be particularly stressful to the joints and soft tissues such as the clean and jerk; dead lifts; snatch; and squats. Consider having a work out partner on hand to prevent issues like shoulder pain when bench pressing. Hitting the weights with someone else who supports your goals provides you with peer encouragement as well as a spotter to ensure you don’t get into trouble or experience bodybuilding shoulder pain when weight lifting. It is essential that you control the weights throughout the movement and not allow the weights to control you. When the weight is too heavy for your current skill level, other muscle systems try to supplement the primary muscle group, putting those areas in jeopardy and ruining your form during the movement. It is important to note that the goal is not to compete with others in the gym. Trying to lift more weight than someone who is further along in his or her program or more experienced will result in increased injury risk.

Vary your routine.  Work out different muscle groups. Too much repetition and muscle overuse places stress on the muscles and joints leading to injury. When trying a new exercise plan, learn about the unfamiliar exercises before attempting.  Know in advance the proper form, targeted muscle groups and expected outcomes. Take it slow until you achieve proficiency at the new exercise.

Post-workout is just as important as pre-workout. Slow your heart rate gradually and cool down using cardio. A few minutes on the treadmill or elliptical will return the heart rate to normal without an abrupt change from full speed to dead stop. Stretch again.  Post-workout stretching helps heal micro-tears in muscle. Stretches also allow the lactic acid in the pumped muscle to drain, reducing the muscle soreness later that day. Apply ice to areas that are sore or that are problematic for you. Ice is your best friend after a work out! Pay particular attention to the shoulders and knees as both are major joints that are highly stressed during focused weight training.

Whether your goal is to achieve competition-level bodybuilding or to improve your overall physique and health, weight training can be a healthy addition to your exercise regime. Applying simple injury prevention as part of your overall fitness routine is essential to a successful bodybuilding experience.