If you train long enough, sooner or later you are going to get hurt or injured. What’s the difference? Minor things like muscle strains, joint and tendon pain, tendonitis, shoulder impingement, rotator cuff tears, pulled muscles, and lower back strains are all common issues in strength sports that are not necessarily serious. You’re hurt, and that’s annoying but you can still train while treating the problem, and probably won’t require extensive therapies or surgery.
Serious injuries generally require either surgery and/or extensive physical therapy. You have to be smart and patient to make sure you properly heal, and don’t re-injure yourself. In strength sports this can include: torn muscles that require surgical repair (pectoral, biceps, triceps) broken bones, serious back injuries that require surgery, torn ACL, and bicep tendon ruptures.
Just because you can’t work a specific body part, does not mean you still cannot train. There are ALWAYS other things you can work on. Torn ACL? Gives you plenty of time to get your bench up. Torn rotator cuff? Get under a SSB and on a leg press and get your squat up.
Don’t use it as excuse to skip the gym for 3 months and mope around and get fat. Do something! Unless of course, you don’t really want it. If that’s the case, stay at home and out of my way. If you want it bad enough, you’ll find a way, no matter what adversities you may face!
In March 2015, I competed at an American Powerlifting Committee (Global Powerlifting Alliance affiliate) meet in Georgia to qualify for GPA worlds. During the bench press on my second attempt, I tore my right distal bicep tendon. I had already had issues with this bicep and believe it was already partially torn before the meet. But I finished it off during this meet. Not only didn’t I know it was completely torn; since my right hand is my overhand grip it didn’t affect my deadlift that day too badly and I hit a PR deadlift of 733!
There was a bit of pain and discomfort after the meet, but I continued to tell myself it was just a strain. A couple of days later however, I noticed that my bicep had retracted up towards my shoulder a good two inches. I then decided I should go and have it looked it. They did an MRI the next day, determined I had ruptured the distal tendon and scheduled my surgery for 3 days later on a Friday morning.
I’ve had plenty of injuries in my athletic career including: a torn ACL, hyper extended knee, hyper extended back and two herniated discs which required me to be in a back brace for almost a year. But this was my first injury that was going to require surgery, so I was a bit nervous to say the least. I guess I was more mad than anything because I knew I wasn’t going to be able to train much of my upper body for at least 3 months.
To keep my mind off of what I would be missing during my recovery, I immediately started planning my training for the week after surgery. It was just an arm, I knew I could still train my legs, lower back, mid back, hamstrings, etc. My goal was to, if anything add some pounds to my squat during this time.
My surgeon knew his stuff and I was lucky to have had him. This was the same surgeon that repaired squat world record holder Sam Byrd’s bicep after he had the same injury. Without getting too technical,they basically went in and stretched the tendon back down to where it originally attached to the bone in my forearm. The doctor told me that after a proper and full recovery, I would have a better chance of tearing my other bicep, than re-injuring this one.
After surgery I was back in the gym in less than a week. My arm was still in a splint and sling. My surgeon said that since I was a trainer and an athlete that he didn’t see any need in putting me through any Physical Therapy, that he was confident that I could handle my recovery on my own. This saved me a lot time and money. He actually never put me in a brace after the splint came off, this allowed me to get back to full range of motion much quicker. The stitches were still in, but I wanted to squat. So I went in and did some light squats with the safety squat bar and just used my one good hand to stabilize the bar by the handle. I did some leg curls and extensions that day too. Not much more. The next week my actual program started.
Here’s my 12 week training plan:
I did this for about the first 6 weeks. After that, I worked with my dad to make some straps that I could hook behind my upper triceps with hooks that would attach to a cable machine. This allowed me to maintain my upper body mass with light pulldowns, rows, reverse flies, pec flies, side lateral raises, and front raises without aggravating my bicep tendon.
I came up with some crazy exercises to get me through this stage.
Basically I found any and everything that I COULD still do with one arm. I had a goal of adding 2″ to my quads during this time. I got close and added 1.5″ to my quads in 12 weeks.
Once I was able to start bench pressing again, I took it very slowly with the help of my coach and mentor, Steve Goggins. He had me add 10lbs to the bar every week until the meet. We did nothing but slow and controlled paused reps every week as well as a lot of stability work.
Surgery was in April and I competed again in August. The surgeon told me my recovery was stronger and faster than any patient he had ever had. All of this resulted in me hitting a 40lb PR in the squat with a 760, tied my all time bench PR of 450, and pulled a rough 730. This gave me a 1940 total which was a 40lb PR just a few months after surgery!
Justin Bethune is a Raw Powerlifter in the 220/242lb weight classes. Coming from a throwing background, he is a Strength and Conditioning coach as well as an Online Powerlifting Coach and the owner of BA Strength and Conditioning.