Gym rule #1 – Don’t injure yourself

Three years ago, I went back to the gym and started training regularly again after five years of inactivity. Yes, you read it right, five years! Not that there were any medical reasons why I couldn’t do sport, but rather it was the case of me having gone through two different extremes during those years.

For the first part of that period, I was working extremely hard on some personal objectives of mine, and all my free time was allocated to progress on those objectives [1]. Those were years of high energy, and they were actually extremely pleasurable, since nothing beats having a personal (not corporate) objective, and working damn hard on it. But still, that came at a cost in terms of physical shape, since all my energy was going towards those objectives, and I didn’t feel the need to do any sport. Actually, I considered sport to be a distraction from my objectives back then.

Then at some point the wind changed, I started to be not so happy anymore of the Country where I was living, and the job I was doing, and I ended up in a so-called “negative spiral.” I switched from three years of high energy to two years of low energy, during which after work I would often drag myself home, only to fall asleep for an hour or so, then do some boring AF stuff, go back to sleep, and then the next day same again. What a cringeworthy period! I refer to it as my period of “mental retirement,” since I was physically going to work, but the working days were empty, unchallenging, boring.

At some point I made the wind change (it was me who made it change, since if you wait for the wind to change on its own, you are in line for a long wait), I took control of my life back, and I decided to do something about my situation. Exactly at that point in time, I felt the need to go back to the gym. Fact is, things like doing sport, eating well, dressing well, etc, are all things you do to take care of yourself. When your perception of life is positive, you are high energy and motivated, and you tend to do more of these positive things. When your perception of life is negative, you are low energy and demotivated, and you tend to either do less of them, or put them on hold altogether, making the situation even worse, and entering the so-called “negative spiral.”

Once I decided to start training regularly again, I got myself a workout routine with a classic “body builder” split off the Internet, and I followed that routine rigorously for almost one year. The first few months I had almost no gain whatsoever, and not only because the “body builder” split was not ideal to me [2], but mainly because I started from ridiculously low weights, and I took it extremely easy in terms of ramping them up, and rightly so. There is no point in being a “hero” (read “idiot”), starting strong like there is something to prove, only to then remedy an injury and spend a few weeks or a few months recovering. Not that I had read any literature on the topic, it was just common sense. But still, the reason why I managed to pull it off just fine was not only because I knew what to do, but also because I was able to manage one very key thing: gym social pressure.

For me it was not a problem at all, since my dominant Vibe was already on point at the time. But let’s consider someone with his Vibe still in the making: he may feel uncomfortable when lifting low weights just next to dudes who are tripe his size, and who warm up by lifting weights which are higher than the ones he uses for his sets; without even thinking of the odd and jealous bitch, who could make a joke with her friends just to shoot the poor chap down.

The key message here is: when you start working out after a long pause, you need to use very low weights to start with, and then increment them as gently as possible. If you able to cope with gym social pressure already, fine.

If you are not there yet, just think of some alternatives: you could go to the gym when there are not as many people, or you could move the dumbbells in a quieter area away from the gym bros, etc, but just make sure that the alternative you select is not using weights which are heavier than what you should be using. In theory, you could take advantage of this situation to step out of your comfort zone, and nonchalantly use the low weights just next to the gym bros, like it’s no big deal (it isn’t), so as to work on constructing your Vibe, and this would be my recommendation for you. But, if you go along this way, just make sure that you don’t eventually crack under pressure, and start using weights heavier than what you should be using.

Problem is, even when you have this point completely in check, it’s still possible to make a mistake, so let’s proceed to consider three real-life examples.

Me

I had been training constantly for roughly ten months, and the results were clearly showing, both in terms of the weights I was lifting and my physique. I don’t even remember why, but initially I decided to not include the dumbbell lunges as part of my workout routine. At some point I thought it was high time to include them, and so during one leg day [2] I proceeded to warm up and then got started with the sets. Problem was, contrary to what I did at the very beginning with all the other exercises, with this new exercise I was not starting from “ridiculously low weights.” It was mainly a problem of mindset, since I had grown out of the cautious mindset of the initial period, and I was now lifting quite high weights on the other exercises. And so, I proceed to lift high weight also on this new exercise. Between the dumbbell lunges sets, I was collapsing on the floor breathless, it was such a demanding exercise, and my quads were burning like hell, but I decided to keep going with the remaining sets, “until the end” [3], as if I had something to prove. Yes, beginner’s mistake indeed.

Long story short, I got myself a muscle sprain on my right quads. For two weeks or so it was painful even just to walk, I couldn’t train legs for a while, and afterwards I had to go through and extra-long warm up in order for my right quads not to ache during the sets. And this was not even a “serious” sprain (there are multiple degree of damage you can do to your muscles), considering that when I eventually had the ultrasound done after a few months, there was not a visible scar but only “little traces”, whatever that means. At the moment I don’t have any residual pain when I train legs, and I can warm up normally, but still…I did everything by the book on all the initial exercises in terms of starting low and increasing weight gradually, only to forget all that when I added a new exercise later on.

My brother

My brother went through much more pain as a result of a minor distraction. He was doing pull-ups with extra 40 kg (!) hanged onto the pull-up belt, and towards the end of one movement he was almost close to reach the bar with his chin, he was almost close to have that movement considered as “done.” He was damn close, so close that he decided to lean his neck upwards, to finally consider that movement “done.” And that when an announcement was made:

We are sorry to inform you that you just got yourself a major sprain on the middle part of your trap. You will have constant pain for weeks in a row, and when the sprain heals over it will leave behind a 2.5cm x 0.5cm scar (1” x 0.2”). After a few months of complete rest from back exercises, you will be able to do Lat Machine only, with ridiculously low weights, and the trap will hurt nevertheless, both while training and while resting. Eventually you will be able to do pull-ups again, but it will be a “hell” of a journey to get there. Sorry Bro.

Guys, I was not there when that happened, but can you imagine the amount of pain we are talking about here? Don’t be a hero, you have nothing to prove, always prioritise proper technique and safety over having the movement “done.”

Santiago Cañizares

Spanish goalkeeper Santiago Cañizares was the national team’s first-choice keeper for the coming 2002 FIFA World Cup in South Korea and Japan. But he made the news for the wrong reasons just before the start of the competition: he accidentally smashed a bottle of aftershave in his bathroom, and severed a tendon in his right foot after a shard of glass penetrated his flesh.

I remember one version of the story from back in the day, but now that I’ve done some research on the topic, different sources are reporting different versions of what really happened. So, let’s assume that this completely hypothetical scenario is what happened: while he was holding his aftershave, it dropped off his hands, and he hypothetically tried to stop it with his foot to soften the landing on the floor, only for the aftershave to break into pieces and injure him. He got hypothetically injured due to an impulse of his, the impulse of preventing the aftershave bottle from hard crashing onto the floor.

Something similar happened to me more than once, not with a bottle of aftershave in the bathroom, and I was never injured as a result, but I was in a similar situation, trying to “save” something from crashing on the floor, and a few times after the events I went like: “I could have injured myself like that.”

Try to fight your impulses, better for an object to crash into pieces or for the floor to get damaged, rather than you getting injured.

Recap

● When you start working out after a long pause, start with very low weights, and then increment them as gently as possible

●  Always and properly warm up before sets

●  Always prioritise proper technique and safety over having the movement “done”

●  Fight your impulse of putting your foot or your hand to “save” either heavy objects or objects that can injure you (knives falling, glass bottles that can break into pieces, etc) from crashing on the floor

Notes:
[1] Since I launched this blog, I’m actually going back in time to that period, considering that I spend all my free time writing posts. Put yourself in my shoes tough: for a couple of years I’ve been fully dedicated to this journey of self-improvement and picking up girls (attempting to), analysing situations, plotting strategies, reading interesting material, but never talking with anyone about it (most people around me, and around you, are clueless on this topic – relevant post to follow). I still train religiously four times a week, but for instance it has been two weeks now that I’ve not done the three weekly stretching sessions which I always do, since at the moment those three sessions are considered a “distraction.” I really need to have this section on Fundamentals done, and then take one week of break, since life has literarily been on hold for a month now, but just I like this blog so much! :)

[2] The “body builder” split is not recommended for most people in most situations, and I’ve been using for two years now the Muscle Building Workout Routine by Jay of “A Workout Routine” .com (Links page)

[3] Quote from Ivan Drago in “Rocky IV” (1985)

Related Posts:
• Gym rule #2 – Warm-up
• Gym rule #3 – Proper technique
• Gym rule #4 – Progressive overload

• The Daygamer’s gym outfit
• Maximising your Looks

The Essentials:
• Fundamentals
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