Tightening Up the Ship

When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. Everytime I injure myself, I end up learning valuable lessons, both with realizing what got me injured in the first place as well as learning how to train through/around injuries.

As most of you know I recently tore my biceps tendon doing mixed grip deadlifts and had surgery just last week. I’ve been back to the gym twice since and due to my injury I’m not trying to set any records or push it too hard.

Today I did some very strict high bar squats, arched back good mornings, and hip thrusts. Holy Bealzebub is all I can say!

Normally I’d laugh at the amount of resistance I used, but I was amazed how fatigued my muscles were following the session. Here was my workout:

high bar squat 135 x 10, 185 x 10, 225 x 6

arched back good morning 135 x 10, 155 x 10, 185 x 6

hip thrust 225 x 10, 225 x 10, 275 x 6

I remember hearing Jim Wendler talk about how he used to good morning hundreds of pounds but now he sticks with 185ish and feels them working much harder. Personally, I’ve done good mornings with 405 pounds (sumo stance arched back short ROM) but 135 pounds today with a very strict arch in the stretch felt amazing.

And I’ve done 405 pounds for 10 reps on the hip thrust, but today 225 pounds was tough since I was so strict! I hobbled away from this workout with shaky quads and burning glutes.

All too often we get caught up in progressive overload and we keep pushing the envelope lest our form deteriorates. Our form starts off great, but after a year of trying to steadily move up in weight all of a sudden our joints aren’t as stable, our spine isn’t as arched, our ROM isn’t as full. For this reason every once in a while I recommend backing off a bit and starting over.

Remember, muscle force has to do with resistance and the length of the lever. A straight arm lateral raise with 20 lbs works just as much deltoid muscle as a bent arm lateral raise with 40 lbs (assuming the lever length is cut in half and the humerus angle doesn’t change much). So your muscles aren’t going to shrink if you back off in weight a bit and focus on using impeccable form. You’ll find that you control the weight better and work the muscles through a fuller ROM, thereby increasing TUT and constant tension which provide a powerful hypertrophy stimulus.

20 thoughts on “Tightening Up the Ship

  1. Vlad Padina

    And in the case of DLs and GMs, bending to 90 degrees (parallel) with 140 (280) lbs is the same as bending 45 degrees with 200 (400) lbs…

    Reply
  2. Elsbeth Vaino

    Great post Bret. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. As I approach heavier weights in my lifts, I start to wonder how much benefit there is to increased weight vs the risk, and then I start thinking of the alternatives. For someone who’s younger, or who has performance goals, pushing the envelope makes a lot of sense. And for anyone, hitting a PB feels awesome. But at some point, the desire for that PB glory may not be worth the risk of injury that comes with it. At that point, maybe there are options that get us strong(er) without the heavy weight risk. Focus on form, adding a pause, increasing ROM, or even spending some time in a strength endurance rep range might be our preferred choices then.

    Reply
    1. Bret Post author

      Good thoughts Elsbeth. The strength endurance comment is interesting…lately I’ve been wondering if I would increase, maintain, or decrease my muscle mass by just sticking with lighter weight and focusing on increasing my total reps for three sets. Thanks for the comment!

      Reply
      1. Elsbeth Vaino

        Not sure. Most of my clients aren’t interested in mass, so I hadn’t actually given much thought to whether it would reduce mass. I would guess that for mass, you would probably want to spend less time in a strength endurance phase. If your goal is to be the strongest, fittest you can be, then I think it’s an important quality that sometimes gets forgotten.

        Reply
        1. Bret Post author

          I’d tend to agree with you, but some guys have gotten very muscular from high rep protocols. Granted, their doing high reps with loads that most people max with, but I still find it interesting. Thanks Elsbeth!

          Reply
  3. Jon Goodman

    Thanks for this Bret. I agree that often coaches get caught up with progressive overload and continually pushing our clients. Are there any specific cues you use that tell you to tone the training down for a short period of time before amping back up?

    Reply
    1. Bret Post author

      Jon, no need to worry about this for personal training clients in my opinion because you’re right there to make sure their form is perfect. You don’t let their form degrade more than 10% for any lift or you lower the weight. With PT clients we’re always strict. The blog was written more for washed-up meatheads like me ;)

      Does this make sense?

      Reply
  4. Thazae

    Great Post Bret! While reading this I thought a lot about my own routine and how, I too, can get caught up on the meathead side of things. Recently, though, I’ve been taking it back to basics and really focusing on form and attention to detail. Sometimes we need to be reminded that the fundamentals are the foundation and they deserve respect. Thanks again for the post!

    Reply
  5. Alex

    Bret any insight as to how the accident happened and anything that could/should be done in the future to prevent it? I’m willing to bet somebody with your background would be conscientious of something like this so it’s kinda making me want to avoid mixed grips deads given the “relatively” common nature of this injury. I’ve always been opposed to straps, but since I don’t compete I might get some for my heavy sets

    Reply
    1. Bret Post author

      Alex, I wrote about it in a blogpost a couple of weeks back and gave all of my insight. Can’t remember if it was a random thoughts blogpost…anyway I’m sure you can find it rather quickly. -BC

      Reply
      1. Bret Post author

        Thank you Paul! I appreciate that. I am recovering well and am enjoying my stay here in NZ, but to be honest I don’t venture out much as I’m always in my cave researching!

        Reply
  6. Cathal

    Hi Bret, I’m waiting for similar surgery to yours later on in the week. Really looking forwad to seeing how you structure your workouts as if nothing else they will give me some ideas of things I can do! You’ve made a new fan in Ireland anyway. Safe training- Cathal

    Reply
  7. Mark

    Bret , I read where you injured your bicep and woundered how you’d work around that injury? I hope your doing ok now..I suspected your workout to look something like that. One thing I noticed and ”have noticed” in the last few years of my life are that IF my body is fighting an illness or trying to heal an injury I will experience some feeling of being tired way before I normally would have. It effects my staminia and my strength. For example , Last week I benched and since Im baby-ing my shoulder due to an injury ,went kinda easy and worked my way up to 260 x 8. I was fairly happy considering I havent done bench for months except for hammer iso press machine with just 100 lbs on each side,which is almost embarrising for me to say! I planned another bench session soon because the shoulder is healing well and felt I was ready to jump back into some bench. While waiting , I had some person stuff that came up and honestly my mind raced all nite and only slept maybe 3 hours per nite ,for nearly 3 days. I shook it off I thougt.The weight room is where I normally throw the mental trash away, or I kinda get zoned out and not much for talking during training. I went into the gym and did some DB rows and pullups and abs and then went to bench. I barely did 225 x 8 on my best set. It really pissed me off considering last year I could bench 225 x 25 reps easy. Then I thought about how Id felt for days before training. I thought ,well my body is just not up to training hard and having other stuff going on. I guess the long short of it is , I think eventually everyone does have stuff: Injuries ,Person stuggles ect come up and they will effect you performance greatly. I always used to get by with youth and being always near my best ,or what I call ”striking distance” of being in great shape. But injuries pile up and eventually you gotta let them heal. I mean whats the point to being able to squat 500 lbs if you cant walk due to knee or back pain? Pointless.. I think even you bicep injury will set you back for awhile because (thinking to myself) Im woundering if it effects the way you sleep and the whole nine yards.Its got to,doesnt it? I think by slowing things down and working on form your on the right track. I wouldnt overlook nutrition and reducing volume and upping the reps to inprove recover and up the staminia a bit. I really feel its the key for me anyway. I have personally noticed my blood suger drops very low if I dont eat often and this will have huge effects on my workouts.Being injured effect diet ”for me” because I just dont feel like eating if Im not training. I loss weight every time Im hurt,where my friends think by not training Id gain weight,I dont. I think with high reps you can build or keep stamina but combined with low volume increase the likely-hood of recovery and healing that injury.

    Reply
  8. Ian Graham

    Awesome stuff Bret, as always.

    I too have just returned very slowly to training after 34 days being housebound. I have 3 prolapsed lumbar discs and suffering with back trouble since 1999 (aged 21).

    I too have reassessed my training and will be limited in what I can do. I believe this injury and the recovery road ahead will only make me a stronger person/athlete and a better trainer/athlete.

    Your work to date and in the months ahead will also contribute to me achieving my goals.

    Thanks and keep the great stuff coming.

    Ian

    Reply
  9. Cass

    Bret-

    Great post!!! I do this once every few months. Drop my weight and really do some deep back squats and perfect form DL’s…what a difference!

    I try to check my ego at the gym door and do it right most of the time. It’s more important to keep your form strict and get the absolute most out of each exercise. Plus, by not maxxing out your weight, you always have somewhere to go to challenge yourself!

    Thanks for the great posts – please keep ‘em coming!

    Cass

    Reply
  10. Erik

    bret,

    i recently recieved a mid-shaft humerus fracture, leaving out of any physical activity for awhile. it will be all healed up in 6-7 weeks. they have put a brace on it n everything, but i wanna kno is there any workouts i can do? i cant do upper so it has to be lower. i think you can relate some to this injury,your prolly able move ur arm tho.
    thanks bret.

    Reply

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