As you may know I’m just returning from a 2-month workout furlough, brought on by a totally annoying shoulder injury. I spoke about this a few weeks back, and am happy to report that I performed my first real chest and shoulder exercises recently. I was able to hit my workout with some gusto and had the sore pecs to prove it.
Of course the weight I’m using now has been ratcheted down significantly to accommodate my inadvertent weeniness. However, I’m thrilled that although I have clearly lost strength in my chest and shoulders, I’ve still been able to maintain most of my upper body mass. I attribute this to a few things:
LISTENING TO THE PHYSICAL THERAPIST
After spending copious amounts of money and spare time in my local rehab clinic, I learned a lot about myself as an athlete. 1) My identity is really tied up in being a bodybuilder. I was completely surprised by how bummed out I was to be limited in my workouts. I haven’t decided yet if this is good or bad, but my gut reaction is good for now – no need to obsess. 2) I may have been a guilty of overtraining. 3) I was using terrible form on some of my upper body lifts, which was probably the cause of my injury. This one completely threw me off guard because I consider myself a form Nazi. But after careful inspection and repeated kind corrections on the part of my fabulous PT, Anne at Harmony Hand & Physical Therapy Center, I finally had to admit that I was totally hunching the right side of my body forward for bicep curls, flyes, and even some triceps work.
Somewhere along the way I had completely removed my shoulder blade from the equation. It is amazing to me that I was relying on my rotator cuff (a set of muscles intended for stabilization of the ball in the joint) to perform intense work intended for this large, complicated joint called the shoulder. Once I became aware of this issue I was able to alter the moves I could still do to avoid further injury. Otherwise I would have had to stop my upper body lifts entirely for the 2 month rest period.
As a side note, I’m really looking ridiculous at the gym these days. To ensure proper shoulder blade engagement, I’m not only puffing my chest out like a super-lunk for all my moves, but I’m ogling myself in the mirror constantly to check my form. I guess this is the cheap alternative to plastic surgery, though my chest still doesn’t look too impressive in spite of the purposeful puffing!
Based on my current status, you may think I’m talking about being a muscular, “older” female, which I am. What I’m really getting at, though, is muscle that has been carefully constructed and carried around for a while. In my case we’re talking about 2 solid years’ worth of hard-fought mass accrual, but technically I had some before I hit it hard in 2011. Regardless, I’ve found muscle that develops on you tends to stay on you. However, in my experience this is only true if you’re committed to the following, which shouldn’t be hard because I KNOW you’re already doing it, right?!?
I’m really big on the diet, as you well know by now, so I won’t belabor this point. Just know that in order to look and feel like an athlete, you need to supply your body with proper nutrition by eating like an athlete.
You may think that working out less means you should eat less too. Not so, at least in my case. I’ve been eating the same as if I were training full-on and it’s helped maintain my muscle mass. On-board fat burners (muscles) have to be fed, and when you start depleting calories it just opens the door for all that hard-won mass to exit rather quickly.
KEEPING THE CARDIO IN CHECK
Another hot topic for me because I just don’t do lots of cardio. During my time off with the shoulder issue I kept my pace at 2-3 days per week with 20 minutes worth of HIIT. Any attempt to increase this schedule would have stripped my upper body to T-Rex status. Ixnay on the inosday.
WORKING AROUND THE INJURY
This seems like an obvious one to me, but you’d be surprised how many people throw in the towel completely at the first little hint of a problem. Yes the shoulder is involved in a lot of moves, and pretty much is affected by everything. In fact, I had a really hard time performing squats. At that point I was so beat up that just gripping the bar on my right side was painful. However, I found another way by deadlifting for a while instead. In terms of my upper body, my injury was specific enough to allow me to continue heavy back and rear shoulder (delt) work, even though I was absolutely unable to perform anything else relating to the remaining delt heads or chest.
I’ve been given the green light to go ahead with whatever I want to try and handle. My first order of business is building back my bony chest. It won’t be easy or quick, but I’ll just keep chipping away at it with micro weight progression over a looooong period of time. The delts have pretty much held their own, and with all the extra rear delt work, I’m actually looking more balanced now than before. Backing off some of the shoulder work going forward will probably curtail repeat injuries and work out just fine aesthetically. Symmetry isn’t always a cut and dry thing – 4 sets of 8 reps on all sides of the muscle does not a balance always make.
As I’ve said before, this is all a process and an ever-evolving journey. They key is to enjoy the ride, and remain open to recalculating the GPS on occasion.
Injuries or other issues taking you down some new paths?