I found this to be an interesting experience: I had a serious sports accident which led to a major injury, and that at age 55 when doctors tell you to not do heavy sports anymore.
And I recovered from that injury fast. So fast that I still could set some new personal records at a nearby competition.
My professional trainer Shaun Pang wrote about this miracle (click here).
Martin’s training has been going well in preparation for an upcoming powerlifting meet in a few weeks. On the 2nd of November, his training was moving along as per usual. The first two lifts of the day, the squat and bench press went without a hitch as per programmed. The last lift of that day, the deadlift, was at 210kgs for a set of 3 – it would be challenging but manageable.
His first two reps were tough doable. As he was pulling the bar up on the third rep, he felt his right thigh spasm and rip like a zipper. Suddenly, the muscle cramped up in pain. Martin dropped the barbell and grabbed his hamstring.
The corresponding video of when I had my injury is here: https://youtu.be/3Io2BWuysFA Watch this video if you want to see a painful sports injury live.
In that specific moment, I felt that hamstring muscle of my right thigh ripping like a zipper, from the middle of my thigh upwards and downwards.
First, there was no pain at all during that lift, so that I thought that I just need to overcome that little disturbance in my thigh until it would feel normal again. This was when I decided to pull through against that little resistance – which I soon regretted because then that murky feeling became more intense. No worries, my body automatically caused me to release the barbell and I let it go before it became too serious. This is what you can see at around 35 seconds in the video above.
My trainer Shaun writes this:
Then the pain intensified. An all-over ache, as if he had slammed his leg through a door. He decided to stop for the day. That night, the pain got even worse. It was sharp and felt like a knife through his thigh. He couldn’t find a sleeping position where his leg didn’t hurt.
Actually, the pain only came in 3 seconds after the barbell hit the floor. And it was not serious pain. And I was never afraid. It was more like getting your hand slammed in a door, some sort of a dull sensation. The real pain started that same night and the next few nights when I did not know how to position myself in my bed so that my leg did not hurt.
My trainer Shaun continues:
Muscle strain or muscle tear?
When Martin instinctively reached for his hamstring after dropping the barbell, it was obvious that he had injured it. What wasn’t so obvious was what had happened – was it what we think of as a “pull” or “strain” or was it a tear?
Three days later at our next training session, the back of his hamstring showed bruising, indicating a muscle tear.
This is how it looked like. Scary, isn´t it?
Muscle strains and tears can occasionally happen to lifters. Lifting weights in itself isn’t inherently dangerous or injurious. There are many reasons why lifters, new or experienced, can get injured. Watch Martin’s deadlift video again and pay attention to what happened on to the bar on the third rep. You’d notice that on the third rep, the bar drifted away and Martin was fighting hard to pull the bar back and up when his injury happened. While that may or may not have contributed to the injury, it’s impossible to confirm that his injury was a result of a technique error or he was tired that day or he wasn’t recovered from his previous training session. Sometimes, shit just happens, albeit rarely.
Yes, “shit happened” here.
What my trainer Shaun does not tell you in his article is that I had a second injury at the same place at my next training session, only three days after the first injury happened there.
That is why: immediately after the first injury, I went through stage 1 of the “5 stages of grief” which is “denial” or “that cannot happen to me”. That was the reason why I even further ripped that only slightly damaged hamstring 3 days after the first injury: I tried squatting with 175kg weight on my shoulders.
Honestly, that was a stupid decision. I should not have tested what is possible so early after my first injury. Although a 150kg barbell is not heavy for me, this is about the maximum that I should lift immediately after an injury, so that 150kg weight is heavy enough.
And the photo above shows my leg immediately after my second injury, three days after my first injury.
Now you know the entire story.
Stages 2 – 5 of the 5 Stages of Grief
That was when I really got angry (stage 2). I was thrown back to minimal additional weights, not even exceeding my own body weight.
And my friends were laughing about me, hobbling through the gym, complaining about my torn hamstring.
That mockery only stopped when they saw the internal bleeding appearing under my thigh´s skin after my second injury, see above. That really looked scary.
With that, also my stage 2 anger stopped, and I went on to bargaining (stage 3): what can I possibly do to shorten the healing process?
My weights lifting friends all over the world supported me through social media, and I started to catch up for the coming competition. I wanted to get that “strongest lawyer of the world” title.
That was actually what helped me to overcome a very short period of depression (stage 4) because I could not return to my old weights as fast as I wanted. But I kept on training and the pain went away, which helped me to overcome that bad feeling.
That is how all that looked from the perspective of my trainer Shaun:
Martin’s Rehab Workout—as it happened
The plan was simple. We would test the waters at the first session after his injury with very light weights, gradually increasing the weights. The moment he started to feel an increase in discomfort, that’s where we would stop for that day.
Initially, Martin felt frustrated at the low weights, because it seemed like he had lost all progress. But he trusted us to design a suitable rehab plan and knew that following a structured plan was the fastest path to a safe and full recovery.
Thankfully, Martin’s injury wasn’t too severe so the deload in terms of weight when starting his rehab wasn’t too great, which was handy considering he had a powerlifting meet in a couple of weeks. Since he was able to start with almost 50% of the weight that he was using when he got injured, we dropped the reps from 20 to 5.
On days that he’s not in the gym (not shown), he did high rep bodyweight deadlifts for 25 reps per set, multiple times per day. It’s not ideal but he doesn’t have the time to make it to the gym daily for 2 weeks neither does he have weights at home.
Bear in mind that amount of weight you can start with on your first day of rehab may be greater or less, depending on the severity of your injury.
Date Day Workout
2nd Nov – Injury
3rd Nov – Deadlift – No weights used, the movement only.
25 reps per set, multiple times throughout the day.
4th Nov – Deadlift – No weight used, the movement only.
25 reps per set, multiple times throughout the day.
5th Nov 1 Deadlift with the empty bar, in sets of 20, adding 10-15 kgs per set.
Worked up to 100 kg x 5
7th Nov 3 Deadlift 110 kg x 5
9th Nov 5 Deadlift 115 kg x 5
12th Nov 8 Deadlift 120 kg x 5
14th Nov 10 Deadlift 130 kg x 5
16th Nov 12 Deadlift 140 kg x 5
19th Nov 15 Deadlift 150 kg x 5
21st Nov 17 Deadlift 160 kg x 5
23rd Nov 19 Deadlift 165 kg x 5
26th Nov 22 Deadlift 167.5 kg x 5
28th Nov 24 Meet Day!
The Result: Meet Day
On the meet day itself it was clear to me that I barely reached 70% of the lifted weight that I could do before I had the injury. That was the shocking truth.
And I have finally accepted that as the 5th stage of grief. And that was how I went into the competition. And I miraculously lifted more than ever before.
This is Shaun´s account of that day:
Meet Day arrives
On Meet Day, Martin did his last deadlift warm up at a comfortable 160kgs.
This looked promising. By now, I was pretty sure that Martin’s hamstring was almost back to 100%. Still, better be safe than sorry.
So for his first attempt, we were conservative and opened his deadlift attempts with 165 kg – something he can very comfortably do and be sure to at least get a lift in for the deadlift.
He did that easily, so we decided to go a little more for his second attempt at 190 kg, which he did very easily.
At this point, he seemed very relaxed. In fact, based on how fast the bar moved, I suspected that he might even be able to achieve a mini personal record. Prior to his injury, Martin’s previous record for his deadlift was 215 kg.
Just to be sure, I checked in with him. He said his hamstring was feeling totally okay. Also, his form looked pretty much perfect. And even better, he seemed to be really enjoying himself.
I told him that I was pretty confident that he could hit a personal record that day. Did he want to give it a go?
Martin said yes, and so we loaded the bar up to 216 kg.
I held my breath as he got ready.
He set his feet in place and placed his hands on the bar, like he has done hundreds of times before. He took a big breath, set his back and started pulling.
As I watched him pull on the bar, I could feel my heart rate increasing. The bar kept moving up, slowly but surely, till he finally locked out 216 kg, a new lifetime personal record, with room to spare.
I could probably have done more but I was cautious and limited myself to weights that just exceeded my earlier national records. Enough blessings for me and I did not want to challenge nature.
I have set 4 new personal records on that day: squat with 206k, bench press with 150kg, and deadlift with 216kg, click on the video below.
Why This Rehab Method Works
I am not too much interested in the mechanics of this healing, but rather in results.
And so I let trainer Shaun explain:
Instead of resting your muscle strain/tear, the best way we know to get your injury to heal up is to make it heal by rehabbing it.
Developed by the famous strength training coach Bill Starr (who also taught Mark Rippetoe, founder of the Starting Strength method), the rehab protocol focuses on high-rep work at light weights, using lifts that most directly stress the affected muscle e.g. the lift you were doing when you got injured.
By using the muscle instead of resting it, blood is pumped at a much higher rate through the injury site, which accelerates the healing process. The injured muscle responds to the stress of mechanical loading using its normal movement and contraction patterns and is forced to repair itself more completely and quickly than resting it. This prevents the scar tissue from forming in a way that inhibits the muscle fibres from sliding across each other smooth and make it more likely to injury the site again. As a result, the muscles heal properly and regain their function faster.
Important points to consider:
– Use perfect form.
– Light weights with high reps.
– Lift every day for two weeks.
– Increase the weights used daily. Reduce the number of reps if necessary.
– Don’t do other heavy work. This can interfere with the healing process.
It’s a fairly basic and straightaway process, but bear in mind that it’s going to be uncomfortable. But do it right, and you’ll be able to rehab your injury and get back to your training much faster than you ever thought possible.
I can only add that this works for me.
That injury taught me a lot about myself. And about lifting weights.
And about injuries when doing barbell training.
Here is what my trainer Shaun writes, and I fully agree:
Be smart when training through injury
The rehab protocol that we use works very well for muscle belly(strains or tears) or back injuries(associated with disc issues) but do note that it doesn’t respond well to everything. For example, connective tissue injuries do not respond well to this rehab – these issues require different approaches.
While we do our best to prevent injuries like this from occurring, stuff like this occurs occasionally. Injuries are, unfortunately, an unavoidable part of training. While it’s almost impossible to be 100% injury free if you’re physically active, you can and should take responsibility to rehab your injury when it happens.
You may not have an upcoming meet to prepare for, like Martin. You might be a lifter that got injured while training. And you’re probably quite worried, wondering when (or if) you’ll ever get back to normal, pain-free function.
The good thing about injuries that occur in the gym can almost always be healed in the gym as well. You need to make the injury heal with the appropriate rehab protocol, be patient and prepared for the discomfort of rehabbing the injured site.
Put in the effort to rehab your injury instead of letting it heal on its own and you’ll find that you’ll be able to get back to your pre-injury strength quicker than you thought possible while lowering the chance from the injury occurring again.
I would like to add: don´t be afraid of getting injured. If you train under professional supervision, any injury will not be serious. It can be healed fast if you do the right things.
Comparison: you will not be afraid of cutting your toe nails because sometimes you cut into the skin underneath, right?
Martin “weights lifting” Schweiger