The Effect of Trauma on Training

I have recently had two incidents occur that reminded me of the physical effects that trauma can have on your training objectives. The first was a small medical procedure which involved general anaesthesia. The procedure itself should not have had any effect on my physical performance, as it did not involve surgery, just the placement of a JJ Stent. I asked the surgeon beforehand if I could return to training afterwards, just to be safe, and he confirmed that I could. However, during the week after, I struggled in gym as I lacked energy, felt exhausted and once gave up halfway through my programme.

The second incident involved a friend who had injured his shoulder. This is incidentally one area often injured by people during training, and is probably because of the nature of the joint. There is little structural support around the joint which was designed to move in several directions, sometimes at once. It is a marvelous structure, but its weakness lies in the fact that it relies heavily on the complicated muscles around it for its stability. These muscles develop quickly, but also pull against each other, and the slightest asynchronous movement could lead to injury.

Asynchronous movement is the most common cause of injury. It simply means that your movements are not controlled and in sync. The unbalanced weight due to the asynchronous movement will overload a muscle, tendon or structure and any sudden attempt to correct this (which is almost inevitable) will tear and damage opposing structures (this is why you can often lift heavy weights in gym with no injury and then injure yourself picking up soap in the shower or rolling over in bed). And this is the second factor that leads to injury – the failure of the opposing muscle to relax with sufficient speed to allow its opposing muscle or group to contract for the desired movement. Athletes tear their hamstrings in this way; the opposing (and much stronger) quadriceps contract before the hamstrings have relaxed, and so tears the partially contracted hamstring muscle.

The solution is dynamic relaxation. It is even more important to learn to relax muscles than it is to learn to contract them. If opposing muscles are not sufficiently relaxed, not only do you run the risk of injury, you are also under performing. The reason is that the opposing muscle in the partially tensed state is holding you back from maximum performance. The principle was first taught by Laurence Morehouse in the 1970’s. He discovered that world records were almost always broken by athletes who were not feeling well and wanted to withdraw, but took part anyhow with the idea that they would simply take it easy and enjoy the event.

We often tend to over-exercise. Feeling better due to pheromones secreted during training can become addictive, and this is compounded when we start seeing results. Thinking that we want to gain even more, we want to do more reps, train longer and harder. Doing so is in fact counterproductive. It is difficult to prescribe a precise optimal training time or amount of reps. Every person is different and would respond according to their idiosyncratic abilities and build.

However, it is safe to say that most people who train seriously exercise too much rather than too little. I’m not going to explain the entire theory behind sarcoplasmic and myofibrilic hypertrophy at this point, but you should look it up. Suffice it to say that the first (muscle training) requires no more than 12 reps of any exercise and the second (strength training) a maximum of 6 reps. Also, if your programme takes more than an hour (two if you include cardio and stretching on the same day – which is incidentally beneficial), you are also probably over-training.

More than half the value of training is realised by the rest and recovery period between training sessions. You should allow at least 3 days before training the same muscle groups again. It is also important to take periodic breaks of at least a week so that over strained muscles can mend. This is what I believe my friend did wrong. Too much, too often at too great an intensity, leading to catastrophic failure. His injuries now require physiotherapy (something I highly recommend if you have injured yourself), and at least two weeks’ rest. This will put him back significantly, and is extremely frustrating for him, not to mention that it adds stress that he does not need.

So, that’s the first thing to know about trauma (note that psychological trauma will similarly affect you) – avoid it at all costs. The price to be paid for over training or injuring yourself is much worse than slightly underperforming. The second is that, should you injure yourself, the best course of action is to immediately get treated and lay off for a week or two. These injuries can get so bad that you may cause yourself permanent and irreversible damage – no amount of possible gain is worth the risk. A person I know injured his shoulder so badly from over-training that he woke up one day unable to lift his arm at all. This lead to surgery to remove muscle tissue which had been damaged beyond repair, and he will never develop that area to its full potential as a direct result of his failure to rest sufficiently. Imagine the psychological effect this has had on him as he was recovering over the following six weeks!

Lastly, pay careful attention to your form during training. Not only does correct form lead to the most gain, but it also ensures that you move synchronously, and this will prevent most injuries. If this slows you down, it will simply cancel out the effect of momentum, increase the load throughout the movement and lead to better gains. Not bad if you consider that injuries will affect your entire life and well-being. I trust that this helps and wish you an injury and trauma free week at training.

Daryl Bredenkamp

Daryl is a speaker and life coach with specific emphasis on establishing a Purpose Driven Life. To this end he encourages people to examine their life holistically and find balance by integrating the goals from their different roles into a single purpose. In this way one gains focus without neglecting any aspect of life and can contribute more meaningfully. He also espouses Living Deliberately, or making one’s own decisions instead of allowing life to just happen and accepting whatever approach is “marketed” as the current life game. This entails a strong emphasis on each person's idiosyncratic makeup, or a recognition that life is not a "one size fits all". Many of these thoughts are shared on his blog, Maximum Life, in a short, readable and entertaining format, that will have readers rethink their assumptions about life without boring them with long academic dissertations. The blog was started primarily to share thoughts, get feedback and develop ideas which will eventually be published in book form. Daryl is available for speaking engagements, and contact details are available on his site.

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