Now more than ever, weight lifting has become an integral part of sports training programs at all levels, including in our high schools and junior high/middle schools. I appreciate the idea of integrating weight training into sports to maximize strength and performance, but unfortunately, like many things, we have taken it to an unhealthy extreme. It is my opinion that weight lifting, especially in the high schools, has become more a focus of lifting the maximum amount of weight possible at all costs, regardless of form and control, so we can place our names on the wall of the training room at school. I have to admit that more than twenty years ago when I was in high school it was the same way. I loved the feel of a heavy barbell across my shoulders when squatting, or a bar that starts to bend when dead lifting or bench pressing, but somewhere along the line things have changed. I don’t remember athletes injuring themselves weight lifting when I was in high school, but today we see a lot of young athletes coming into the clinic with back injuries from squatting, dead lifting, and power cleans. As of yet, I haven’t seen any pec tears from bench pressing, but I assure you, if our attitude on weight lifting doesn’t change, it will be a common occurrence.
In our practice, there are certain tendencies or patterns that we see in essentially all people. Some of those tendencies are for people to be extended through their backs (pelvis is rotated forward causing you to compensate by arching backward through the spine). This leads to pain from strained back muscles, or other injuries such as a spondylolisthesis (this is when one of your vertebrae becomes injured leading to instability of one vertebrae on another, thus allowing the vertebrae on top to shift forward on the lower one & is a serious injury). Improper lifting or even simply lifting excessive amounts of weight can increase this tendency, and lead to even greater degrees of injury, pain, and dysfunction. The power lifts for your back and legs which include squats, dead lifts, and power cleans, all by nature require some back extension and therefore increase the risk for injury as the weight is increased.
Because athletes want to increase their power and overall sports performance, I would like to suggest the following: First, before you embark on or continue with a weightlifting program, I believe you always need to be able to perform a full functional squat where you can keep your feet roughly shoulder width apart and parallel to each other (not turned out or in). You also need to be able to keep your weight through your heels, reach forward and down slightly with your arms to round your back, and then squat without letting your knees turn out as you squat low. You should also be able to hold this position as you breathe repeatedly in through your nose and out through your mouth.
If you can do this, it would then be appropriate to begin a strengthening program that might consist of the following dead lift or squatting exercises: Stand on a platform while holding dumbbells with your palms facing in, and then perform multiple sets and repetitions of squats while keeping your back rounded and weight through your heels. Another alternative for squatting would be single leg squats where one foot is resting on a bench or chair behind you while the other is on the floor. Keep your back rounded while you perform several sets and repetitions of squats. When doing this, you must keep the knee of the leg that is working forward, rather than letting it turn in or rotate out. Also, you should keep your weight through your heel as you reach down to touch your toes with each rep. You can alternate legs after every ten reps or so.
These are just a couple of options, but the key is keeping your back rounded, performing multiple sets and reps and not getting caught up in “maxing out”.
Train smart and train hard.