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Injury prevention runs the risk of becoming an industry all by itself, staffed with kindly souls with Swiss balls who advise against doing anything, on the grounds that it could prove harmful.
On the other hand, it’s simply true that if you push yourself, whether you’re a great athlete or an average Joe who likes to get better and challenge yourself, you’re running an increased risk of injury.
So what’s to do?
Some people will shy away from more and more exercises and spend more and more time doing ‘corrective’ or ‘prehab’ training – and some will simply say, the heck with it, and go back to benching the world with horrible form until their arms wind up halfway down their chests.
But shouldn’t we be able to figure out a way to build injury prevention into our training? After all, getting fit should get you, well, fit – you should be less injured, less hurt, more functional, as you train.
Let’s start with something that seems to have gotten lost along the way: Training is injury prevention. Athletes from sprinters to football players, from weekend basketballers to world class track and field athletes, are using time in the gym to make themselves more ‘sport-proof,’ and more ‘life-proof’ too.
In order to come up with something that does the job we need to know what the job is. What are the injuries you get in training? Well, sometimes, like Mathias Steiner, you drop a 432-pound barbell on the back of your neck, but that’s not the typical training injury, not least because most people couldn’t get a bar that heavy overhead in the first place. Most training injuries are musculoskeletal foulups and the actual injury is usually to connective tissues, especially tendons.
Because tendons don’t have anything like as good a blood supply as muscles, some people find that their muscles get stronger far faster than their tendons and they’re actually able to hurt themselves by pulling on the tendons with more force than the tendons can cope with. I had a training partner who found this happened to him regularly, especially with strong muscles that respond quickly to training, like the biceps.
The other key causes of injuries in the gym are simply pulling tendons while struggling with a hard movement, or poor alignment leading to injuries to the tendons around a joint. The tendons that we tend to pull in the gym aren’t even the ones attached to the big prime mover muscles – they’re the fragile ones of long tendinous muscles like the supraspinatus and the iliotibial band.
As underdeveloped support musculature like the serratus and the scapula complex muscles fatigue and quit, the strain is thrown onto tendons that were never designed to take it. Often we’re not even aware that we have a tendon injury – we just know it hurts!
Ever since Charles Atlas promised young men they could pack on slabs of muscle by ‘dynamic tension’ (isometrics – working against an immobile object) static holds have received askance glances; tarred with the brush of phony get-fit-quick schemes, they’ve been ignored too long by people who could benefit from them.
And a growing body of research since then shows that for strength and especially for hypertrophy, dynamic resistance work is more effective than static resistance work. I’m not disputing that. What I’m advocating isn’t anything like Atlas’ notoriously false material.
But there were people who used static holds to great effect and were open about their methods, like John Grimek, a major advocate of static holds, which he referred to as ‘supports.’ Gymnasts use difficult static positions like the planche and iron cross to develop physiques that turn heads – and strength that does more.
The proof of the pudding is in the eating: can static holds work for you? It’s extremely easy to find out. I’ve outlined the ways you can use static holds to get more out of your training – without changing the training you do all that much.