Making Good Decisions

I remember when I was in my 20’s and 30’s and I loved being in the gym. I didn’t give much thought to risk vs. reward. If the guy next to me was back squatting more than me, I thought, “Huh… why not? I’ll give it a try,” and would make it heavier. If things went sideways the worst that would happen was I might tweak my back a bit, in which case I would be just fine the next day.

Cue my 40’s… I learned very quickly that a high risk and high reward ideology in the gym isn’t the best idea. A tweaked back from squatting too heavy no longer has a minor effect when it goes even just a little wrong. Now it’s results in two weeks of doing nothing after something like that. Then, of course, there is the transition back in after those two weeks of being injured. It’s a whole different world!

I started to give it some thought and realized that the benefits of lifting heavy, or sprinting fast, or whatever those activities that require intensity and focus are, many times they come with a high risk of injury if not done correctly. However, those same activities have a very high reward. Lifting heavy loads is one of the best ways that aging men and women can increase testoserone, estrogen, and other sex hormones in addition to increasing human growth hormone, lean muscle mass and metabolism. Not only that, but women experiencing symptoms of menopause often get relief from lifting heavy loads and adding in higher intensity intervals to their training sessions. There is so much upside, but the risk is high for injury when not done correctly or executed with precision and good mechanics. Sometimes it can take years to develop a back squat or deadlift that is perfect and safe to load really heavy.  

So, how do you get the rewards of heavy lifting and sprinting and minimize the high risk of injury?

First, continue to spend time working on position, mechanics, and form, especially for more complex lifting activities. It is highly likely that you can always improve on this. Find a coach who can help guide you and give you pointers. Make this something you are always chasing. The better your mechanics get the lower the risk of injury as you load heavier.

Second, begin to identify the activities that you are more proficient with or the activities that are lower risk and load those heavy. The risk of a heavy back squat going poorly is not only higher and comes with a greater cost over say a renegade row, but the time to return from a back injury can take a long time. Most activities that don’t load the spine can be lower risk. A chest press is another good example.

Learn to pick and choose the activities that are low risk but still give high reward. At the same time, continue to build skills in more complex lifts.

Do you have a plan to lift heavy and stay safe?

Fitness, RecoveryAaron Leventhal