Over the years I’ve had some ups and downs in my fitness journey. This post is a summary of my injury history, my subsequent decision to seek out the best professional help I could get and the “new” body I got resulting from my the work I put in.
Writing this post also gives me an excuse to insert my Body By Mitch training montage, an amalgamation of footage from the past few years:
My injuries have ultimately made me stronger
My first substantial injury, one that had lingering effects for a number of years, was sustained during high-school football. It was mid-season in my senior year; I started the year at middle linebacker and eventually pulled double duty as fullback because of injuries to other players. During one game at fullback I was taking on a rushing defensive player who seemed hellbent on smashing into me as hard as he could every play.
I remember after the game a dull ache in my lower back and could tell something wasn’t right. The next morning I was basically a hobbling mess. I had sprained my SI joint. The immediate pain and discomfort was helped a lot by chiropractic care but I would be plagued with recurring bouts of pain and dysfunction over the coming years as the injury flared up from time to time, never quite healed.
A note on Acute vs Chronic injuries
The injury to my lower back was a SI Joint Sprain. This is what would be classified as an acute injury – one that is sustained from a physical trauma. Falling down the stairs and breaking your leg would be an example of an acute injury.
Chronic injuries on the other hand are slow in their development and build up over time. An example would be suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome from being at a computer with poor posture for many years.
Interestingly, there’s another type of injury, the “straw that broke the camel’s back” type of injury, where an underlying chronic injury gets triggered into a full blown acute injury. An example of this might be a torn muscle. At first glance a torn muscle might be viewed as an example of an overload to the tissue, or in other words, an acute event. However, there may be underlying dysfunction that has set the stage and increased the likelihood that an acute injury would happen.
So how else have I injured myself?
Just a few short years ago I started changing my approach in the gym from a classic bodybuilding type workout approach to more of a powerlifting styled workout approach. For those who don’t know, the difference between these styles in characterized by the exercise selections and the intensity of the exercises.
While powerlifters usually focus on a small number of lifts (bench press, deadlift, squat) and focus nearly exclusive towards building strength, a bodybuilding type approach is more focused on aesthetic balance and using a wider range of exercises, and generally with less intensity but more overall volume.
So I was on a quest to build my strength which involved a lot of heavy lifting. This is where my ignorance got me into trouble.
In order to be successful at powerlifting in the long term, one must have a strong focus on technique and making sure that your lifts are done correctly for your body. Little did I know that I was building up a chronic injury from improper technique. My bench press numbers had never been better, 265 pounds at a bodyweight of 175, not a bad total for someone new to powerlifting.
Unfortunately my technique was pretty atrocious, and I was performing more of a neckpress then a benchpress (lowering and pressing the bar over my neck instead of my lower chest). This technique combined with the weights I was lifting put undue stress on my shoulder.
The end result was an achy and sore shoulder that flared up any time I did a pressing movement. A few weeks in physiotherapy and some corrective exercises and I was better. But, no more neck pressing for me. I learned that lesson the hard way; it was time to learn proper technique if I wanted to stay injury free and keep progressing.
More frustrating injuries
For the next couple of years I approached weightlifting in a hybrid like approach, keeping strength as a main focus but never letting the aesthetic side be ignored either. I was doing fine from a phyisque standpoint but in retrospect I was building up muscle imbalances and not paying enough attention to tissue quality (more on this later).
In a span of a couple of months in 2011 I managed to give myself upper hamstring tendinosis as well as sustain a type 2 adductor tear.
Upper Hamstring Tendinosis
Tendinosis is defined as an injury to a tendon at a cellular level. Basically, where my hamstring connected to my glute was building up scar tissue (a healing response to injury) and experiencing stiffness/pain and lack of proper mobility.
The upper hamstring injury was of all things, a hot yoga injury. What I realize now is that not everybody’s body is designed or destined to be able to do every yoga move. Unfortunately, I pushed too hard on certain moves that placed directed stress on the upper hamstring tendon.
A combination of too much strain to the one area over many sessions along with the fact that the heat was actually masking some of the pain sensations that I would have felt if it weren’t hot yoga, lead me to another chronic injury. Unfortunately I wasn’t good at interpreting my bodies signals.
I don’t want to give the impression that hot yoga is dangerous, in fact I’ve gone back since and gotten much benefit from it. Simply that one must pay attention to their own biofeedback (the sensations of their body) and make sure to pay attention to your own limits.
A couple months later I managed to tear the muscles on the inside of my thigh. These muscles are very involved in sprinting and generating power for the lower body. I was doing just that at the time – sprinting to first base in softball. It was a sharp and immediate pain sensation.
Something wasn’t right with my body. I asked myself – why am I getting so many injuries in seemingly innocuous ways?
Time to seek out professional help.
The back-to-back injuries in 2011 caused me to step back and realize that I couldn’t continue as I was and needed to enlist some expert help.
Thanks to the reach of the internet and knowing about who’s who in the fitness community I decided that a gentleman named Eric Cressey was the ideal guy to help put me back together. If you don’t know who Eric Cressey is – he is the equivalent of the dog whisperer for humans, but not for poor behavior, for movement biomechanics and performance. He has carved a niche out for himself in the baseball world as the go-to guy for MLB players staying healthy and getting stronger. He also takes on regular people like myself as clients.
I contacted Cressey Performance near Boston and booked a one-time evaluation. On a Friday in October 2011 I drove 9 hours from Toronto to just west of Boston. The next morning I was the first client booked into Eric’s schedule. I was taken through a variety of different assessments to analyze how I moved and where I needed help. From there I was given a comprehensive program to follow that would bring my body back into balance and set a foundation for healthy movement and increased performance moving forward. It was like getting a prescription for a better body.
What I learned
In any area of life I believe it is important to be able to take stock of your own situation, your talents and your limitations. A coach or mentor can be extremely valuable in helping you to get where you want to be and often much quicker and without the pitfalls you might have encountered if you went at it on your own. In my particular situation, it was a pretty easy decision to make to visit Eric and get his programming.
Since then, I have incorporated a lot more pre-workout warmup exercises and have taken my tissue quality much more seriously (regular foam rolling/massage). It was really eye-opening how much of an impact proper warmups had on getting my body ready for training.
Lifting weights to an outsider might seem like a simplistic thing e.g. reduced to moving weights around and grunting. In reality, and much like any other type of sport or physical activity at a high level, there is never-ending process of refinement and lifelong learning that goes into ones practice.
Whenever I’ve injured myself I’ve reflected on what it was like to be pain free and moving well. It’s easy to take for granted the ability to move in a way the body is designed to, but when you compromise that ability you realize what a gift it is. I want to make sure I do everything in my power to make myself injury resistant and strong for the future.
What you can learn from me
If you are an active person I encourage you to pay attention to what your body is telling you. Pain and associated sensations are a sign that something is amiss. As a general rule – don’t work through acute pain, you’ll only be doing more damage.
If you want to hit it hard in the weight room learn to monitor your tissue quality (buy a foam roller and work out your tight spots) and implement proper warm up techniques. Chances are you are carrying around a lot of tension in your muscles.