A Beginner Weightlifter’s Perspective on Injury

zoe smith dropped weight

For all of my high hopes for 2014, my training this year didn’t really get off to an ideal start. On the first proper day of training after an unavoidable Chirstmas/New Year deload, I tweaked something in my back when coming up on a squat. Not even a particularly heavy squat, you understand, but the heaviest I had gone unbelted in a while. As I was ascending on the second set of a double at a little over 80%, I seemed to hit a kink and had something give way down low in my back/posterior hip, somewhere to the left of the SI joint. This was definitely one of those injured rather than hurt situations.

A consultation with a physio a week and a bit later, after attempting to hit heavyish weights afterwards a quicker than was perhaps sensible, suggested that the disc at L5-S1 had suffered “internal derangement” (was bruised, basically) and was impinging on my sciatic nerve, as well as there being a fun assortment of soft tissue damage – ligament strains and whatnot – all through my posterior hip. Nothing too serious but certainly uncomfortable and inconvenient. I was advised to train where I could but avoid doing anything that would aggravate the injury.

Through trial and error, we established what I could and couldn’t do. Power cleans off blocks and the floor were fine, front squats at moderate weights were fine, light to moderate power jerks didn’t cause any problems, light pulls off blocks were okay and, to my surprise, full snatches were perfectly manageable. All manner of bodybuilding and more general strength training exercises were just fine too. Other stuff, however, was out completely. Back squats did not feel good at all and cleans caught at full depth were very naughty indeed. Heavy pulls of any sort felt horrible, though particularly snatch pulls.

Despite all these restrictions though, I still found myself in the gym four times a week and enjoying what lifting I could do. Rather than allowing myself to become frustrated at my temporary limitations, I tried to take maximum pleasure and benefit from the exercises and weights I could manage. While I’ll admit that it’s hard not to feel a bit bummed out when your training partner is attacking max weights while you’re stuck power cleaning 70kg, the enforced modification to my training allowed me an opportunity to really focus on improving my technique and consistency with lighter weights to help me in attacking the big ones when I’m fully recovered.

In the clean and the snatch, I’ve figured out that a slight modification to my starting position will keep the bar in closer to my body, causing me to pull the bar in a better line, time the second pull better and reduce the likelihood of the bar looping out in front of me. This has had knock-on effects on other aspects of the lift – I’m generally catching cleans in a better rack position and they are crashing on me less. Similarly, being forced to focus on the power jerk has improved my bar placement overhead and helped reduce a tendency for anterior pelvic tilt on the dip and drive. It has been easier to incorporate and ingrain these changes over the course of several weeks at light weights rather than attempting to do so while constantly slipping back into bad habits when attempting to hit maxes.

While injured I’ve also developed a new appreciation for the importance of all round strength. It seems likely that my injury was caused in part by the musculature in my trunk not being strong enough to support the weight I was lifting, especially after a couple of weeks off squatting heavy. This realisation, as well as the knowledge that I need to really focus on developing my upper body strength, has resulted in me treating my assistance work with the respect it deserves rather than only doing it when more or less forced to my coach. Not only have I come to enjoy the assortment of planks, hyperextensions, rows, pulldowns and presses I am doing at the end of every session, I’m already feeling and seeing the benefits in my lifting and physique.

I’m not quite out of Snap City yet; I suspect it will be another few weeks before I am lifting max weights again but I’m making progress. This week will see the back squat and full clean reintroduced at light weights and I’ll aim to build them up over the coming weeks, hopefully allowing me to lift something semi-respectable in competition on February 23rd. If not, I’ll just lift whatever I can anyway. Despite the temporary setback, I am determined to bounce back from this injury a better, more well-rounded lifter, both physically and mentally.