A muscle strain is defined as, “a tear in a muscle or its tendon”. (Green) Symptoms include: sharp pain at the time of injury as well as when repeated attempts at movement replicate that pain; swelling and tenderness at and around the site of the injury; pain and immobility of the muscle; and apparent bruising and discoloration 12-24 hours after the injury occurs. Treatment of minor strains consists of the RICE method: Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation of the injured area. Muscle strains can be more serious which may result in lost time from work and school as well as restriction of activities of daily living (ADLs). (Green)
Even the most experienced exercisers can injure themselves when lifting weights. Muscle strains are a very common occurrence, but may be prevented if necessary steps are taken before, during, and after weight-lifting sessions.
Regardless of previous experience in the gym, inactive (or deconditioned) people who desire to start a weight-training program must follow a progressive program tailored to their current level of fitness. Being deconditioned is, “a state of lost physical fitness, which may include muscle imbalances, decreased flexibility, and a lack of core and joint stability.” (Clark, 2008) This begins with a complete physical from a licensed medical professional. If there are any pre-existing conditions, illnesses, or injuries, that professional must determine if weight-training is an approved form of exercise. If there are no restrictions, then it is important to undergo a full fitness and postural assessment. The assessment will reveal tight and weak muscles which must be stretched and strengthened first. It will also identify upper strength limits and endurance levels. A plan must then be designed and followed which corrects known deficiencies, builds relative strength, and increases cardio respiratory performance.
Before the Workout
Prior to every workout, it is important to warm up the body with a mix of cardio activities like jumping jacks, walking, of jogging and a variety of stretches. These movements will deliver more blood and oxygen to the muscles and ensure a good range of motion.
During the Workout
To avoid muscle strain during the workout, it is critical to ensure that the amount of resistance is 50-60% of the maximum amount that the exerciser is capable of lifting. For example, if the exerciser can bench press a maximum of 180 pounds, then the earlier sets should not exceed 108 pounds. The exerciser should also maintain perfect form (posture) on every repetition. When form can no longer be maintained due to muscle fatigue or weakness, it is better to discontinue the exercise or reduce the amount of weight being lifted. Having a workout partner available to “spot” is a great safety practice. If any sharp pains are experienced, exercise must immediately cease and first aid must be sought. Pay special attention to proper hydration during the workout.
After the Workout
Every workout should conclude with a cool-down period including a wide range of stretches. To ensure healing and rebuilding of muscles plus replenishment of energy stores, it is important to consume an adequate protein and carbohydrate-packed “meal”. Lost fluids should be replaced. Exercisers should allow 24-48 hours of rest between workouts.
Taking care of the body inside and out is a “must” for exercisers at all fitness levels. Following these guidelines will minimize the potential for muscle strains when lifting weights.
Clark, M. A. (2008). NASM Essentials of Personal Fitness Training. Baltimore: Lippincott, Williams, and Wilkins.
Green, C. X. ACE Personal Trainer Manual (3rd ed.). American Council on Exercise.