Power Protection: Safer Lifting for Your Joints
Hoisting heavy weights can build a killer physique, but unless you take the right precautions, it can also wreak havoc on joints and muscles.
By Joel Stubbs, IFBB Pro; Photography: Kevin Horton; Model: Joel Stubbs, IFBB Pro
[Q] Joel, I know that lifting heavy can contribute to joint problems over time. How do you limit that risk?
[A] To avoid joint problems or pain, I suggest ⎯ above all else ⎯ that you warm up properly. Another good precaution when you know that you’re going really heavy is to use joint support sleeves as a relief to joint pain and for added stability. Just as you take supplements for other reasons like growth, strength or energy, you should also use joint-support supplements to protect connective tissues. Chondroitin sulphate, glucosamine and MSM are all proven to help rebuild the tissues that protect the integrity of your joints.
[Q] When you’re doing a super-heavy lifting day, do you warm up more than usual?
[A] No, not necessarily. A good warm-up should involve a few minutes of cardio to get the blood moving and even some light stretching before you do several fairly light sets of your first move. But if you get into your first set and realize that your muscles aren’t ready (you may notice that because the weight feels heavier than it should), don’t push through it ⎯ go back and do some more warm-up sets. It’ll cost you a few extra minutes, but that’s better than losing weeks to a dumb injury. It’s important to make sure that the muscle tissues feel right before you really get into a heavy session.
[Q] Are there certain exercises that you won’t go heavy with because of the risk of injury?
[A] With heavy lifting you need to be smart and know whether or not you have pre-existing injuries to any bodypart or joint. If you do, you might want to go lighter and do more reps to generate as much blood flow as possible. For example, many people don’t go heavy on deadlifts because of back spasms and pain. Instead they’ll lift lighter and do more reps, which still builds strength, endurance and muscle quality (but won’t substitute for mass-building moves, so long as you choose other exercises that are safer to go heavy on). Other risky exercises are shoulder presses or squats. You’re better off going lighter for more reps than to have a hurt shoulder or knee since those types of injuries can keep you out of the gym for longer periods of time.
[Q] Joel, how much stretching should I be doing after heavy lifting?
[A] After heavy lifting, you should stretch the trained muscles until they’re free, loose and without pain. You should be able to move your muscles smoothly and without any restriction. Without stretching, muscles will feel tight and bundled for hours after a hard-and-heavy session. I stretch aggressively for up to 30 minutes after my final rep to maximize recovery and promote growth. You might not have time for that kind of regimen, but since I go pretty heavy and tax the target bodypart with everything including the kitchen sink, it’s necessary. Remember to gently stretch a tight muscle, don’t bounce, and hold the stretch for at least 30 seconds.
JOEL’S TOP 6 HEAVY TRAINING TIPS
Maximize your heavy work by helping your body prepare for and recover from workouts.
1. I always do 10–15 minutes of cardio to get blood flow going first. Skip this step and you can forget about safely lifting heavy.
2. Do some light stretching preworkout, but save the hard stretching for post-workout.
3. Start your workout light to evaluate how warm your muscles actually are.
4. Make sure you have a spotter on very heavy days who knows your target rep range.
5. Keep reps at six and above if your priority is size and shape. Heavy weights for very low reps are primarily for building strength, not size.
6. Take your time with 15–30 minutes of static stretching after every workout.