Workout Tips

Injury Chronicles: 3 Tips for Recovery & Strength Training

Learn how one guy went from a pectoral tear to powerlifting in just a few short months.

Anyone who knows me understands three things about me: I like my music loud, my women with great butts, and heavy bench pressing. I’ll get to music and butts another time. Today we need to talk about pressing heavy weight.

My love of benching spawned from my love of football, which I developed at the age of ten. As a running back, it quickly became apparent to me that I needed speed and power in my lower body so I could outrun everyone and brute strength in my upper body so I could stiff-arm the oncoming tacklers. This philosophy led to many nights under a barbell pretending to be a mix between Arnold Schwarzenegger and Barry Sanders.

I had poor form when I was younger because I never had proper coaching, but it didn’t matter. Natural hormones pumping through my body coupled with less stress allowed me to heal quickly and grow fast. Unfortunately, as I got older, trying to keep up the benching volume while adding more big lifts to training sessions became difficult. In fact, three years ago I tore my left pec muscle and thought I would never bench press heavy again.

When it first happened I wasn’t sure what to think. As I was going into the concentric phase of the movement, it sounded like a wet towel ripped, and it didn’t hurt very badly as I was able to get the bar up to the pins. I knew something bad had happened so I immediately halted my workout.

If you’re working out and you think you hurt yourself you should:

  1. Stop all exercise immediately. Don’t “test” the possible site of the injury. You could easily do more damage.
  2. Write your symptoms down as they present themselves. A detailed account of what happened can help diagnose the problem and help determine treatment later.
  3. Do your own research and talk to people you trust, but definitely go to the doctor.
  4. Fight for imaging! Insurance can be a pain in the butt. They don’t always want to pay for things. Have a candid conversation with your doctor and make sure you work together to get the proper tests done.

The next day I woke up to a three-inch black and blue mark on my left bicep. That’s the tell-tale sign of a tear. While this sounds like a nightmare, I was lucky. Based on the relatively small size of the black and blue, the fact that I could get the bar up to finish the lift, no change in perceived structure, and no pain, I knew that it was a minor pec muscle tear. I had avoided a complete tear of the tendon from the bone.

Although I felt confident of my self-diagnosis, I took my own advice and went to the doctor, where he performed simple range-of-motion tests similar to what my physical therapist friends and I had done. We landed on the same conclusion: it was a minor pec tear, but there was nothing minor about that to me. Like you, I’m not the average person who doesn’t care about whether I can perform at a high level. I explained to the doctor that I was a performance coach and that lifting is a major part of my life. Although it seemed I had solid strength and very good range of motion, I wanted an MRI.

The MRI included imaging of my shoulder as well as my pec because of the site of the tear. The tech explained to me that the focus would be at my armpit, not right at my pectoral muscle. This ended up being advantageous as we were also able to rule out any tears in my shoulder and parts of my rotator cuff.

Knowing that my shoulder was good, it was time to get back to training. I wrote myself a program that was both realistic and manageable. I knew the hurdles would be both mental and physical. My exercise choice reflected that idea and I kept my expectations low.

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