Injury prevention and recovery are two topics that powerlifters rarely want to think about. However, developing workouts based on injury prevention techniques can extend powerlifting years and quality. As a powerlifter, the body is often supporting many times its own weight. This extreme load bearing puts powerlifters at a much higher risk of injury than those whose workouts are for simple muscle gain.
A higher risk of injury requires a higher level of attention toward injury prevention. Injury prevention techniques include workout basics like warm ups, stretching, wearing proper clothing and shoes, as well as eating right for an extreme workout.
Steps for Prevention
Dress for Success
Wearing proper clothes to the gym is an essential part of injury prevention. There are many websites and retail outlets that have begun to realize the importance of the right shoe for the workout and weight that will be lifted. In addition to shoes, wearing workout clothes that are less likely to get caught up in weight benches is also important. As a powerlifter, there can often be a tendency to become lackadaisical about basic workout prep. Remaining Vigilant about the basics is one of the easiest ways to ensure that the risk of injury is reduced day in and day out in the gym.
Warming up is an essential part of your workout. It should never be considered a pre-workout activity, rather the first part of every workout, every time you step into the gym. Warm-ups should never be less than 20 minutes. Warm ups should include some form of light cardio to warm up the muscles and to loosen any knotted muscles that are still recovering from a previous workout.
Following the warm-up part of your workout, you need to stretch and concentrate on the muscle group that you'll be using most in the day’s workout. A good stretch starts with stretching a muscle until you feel tightness or slight discomfort. At that point you should hold the stretch for 30 seconds up to 1 minute before letting go. This does not conclude your stretch of that muscle. Following this initial stretch, stretch it again and try to push it just beyond the previous point reached. Going in for the second stretch is what actually extends flexibility and increases the muscle’s length of stretch.
Powerlifting is an extreme sport and as such, it requires the athlete to use essential gear to support muscles, joints, and form. Using wrist wraps for deadlifts and shrugs as well as knee wraps for heavy squats will prevent injury and help the powerlifter to practice good form with every lift, squat, or pull.
Avoiding the tendency to bypass simple workout steps like aligning your load is an easy way to find yourself with an injury that is agitated and worsens over time. Taking the time to check that your load is properly aligned with your body will help you reduce risk of back injury and tendonitis.
Training on a peaks-and-valleys cycle is one of the most important aspects of proper powerlifting. A deload or “back off” week gives your body the time it needs to fully recover from heavy lifting weeks. Powerlifters who lift their heaviest weight week in and week out, often find that they suffer injury due to muscle and joints fatigue alone. While some believe this technique is a bit old school, it is one that has been proven for as long as it has been used.
Recovering from an Injury
If an injury does happen, how the powerlifter handles the recovery process will determine how quickly they are back in the game. The Business Journal of Sports Medicine reports that there are approximately 2.9 injuries per 1000 hours of powerlifting training. Of those injuries, 60% are acute and the rest were chronic. This means that just under half of all powerlifting injuries were the result of mistakes and injuries that continued over a long stretch of time. Once can assume that the mistakes are the “little things” that most powerlifters overlook.
Athletes who suffer multiple injuries (often as a result of improper training technique) find that with each injury, the setback and recovery time is longer.
In addition to longer recovery times, the strength that powerlifters with frequent injuries are able to obtain is lower across the board than the strength obtained by powerlifters who remain injury-free through most of their career. This data should be noted and serve as a reminder that the meathead mentality of “pushing through” an injury is not only scientifically unsound but also a threat to a powerlifter’s goal of lifting more and staying healthy.
An easy way to remember the necessary steps for a good recovery is to follow the National Health Service of Europe's 5 step plan, or P.R.I.C.E. Protect, rest, ice, compression, elevation.
Protect the injured area from further injury by supporting it with a brace or splint. If an injured powerlifter continues to work out during the recovery time, it is important that the injured area is protected from the workout itself. This means taking proper precautions to ensure that an injured knee is not used to bear weight during the recovery period.
For this step of recovery, give the injured area necessary time to heal. For minor injuries, give at least 48 hours of total rest.
Applying ice to the injured area helps to limit inflammation, swelling, and internal blood loss caused by injuries. Using ice will also decrease scar tissue and increase circulation to the injured area. Increasing circulation allows additional blood flow and oxygen to the injured muscles and tendons. This increased blood flow and oxygen speeds the healing process.
Another step used to combating swelling is compression. Applying wraps or bandages to the injured area helps to reduce the likelihood of complications from swelling.
The key to proper elevation is to lift the injured area above the level of the heart. During this stage of recovery, the goal is to actually slow blood flow to the area to decrease risk of blood loss and swelling.