Coming years after my involvement providing backstage and other security services in the music industry, the song “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” was released by local singer Cyndi Lauper who of course became an international star. It may surprise some that Lauper neither wrote nor made the first recording of the song but certainly her version was and remains the iconic version. Although not “my kind of music,” my daughter when a pre-teen, more or less adopted the song as a favorite for a while and would blast it as she ran, jumped, or danced around the house. Every time I heard it, I would reflexively substitute the words “powerlifters just want to have fun” in part I am certain because lifting was always so enjoyable to me and my various training partners. With great staying power, the song was played as background on a television commercial early this morning in the warm-up area of our facility and once again, I thought, “yeah man, powerlifters just want to have fun” and most, I would think, do when they’re lifting. However, how much fun are they having when they can’t lift due to injury or in their zeal or compulsiveness, do lift when logic, common sense, and medical or orthopedic certainty dictates that they shouldn’t?
This question had additional poignancy because one of our teenaged lifters had been scheduled to compete in a February 17 contest in Pennsylvania. His lifts had gone not only well, but better than expected leaving us to reevaluate his possible results in a positive direction. While completing a rather moderate workout in his home gym under the spotting control of his father ten days prior to our scheduled contest, he noted later that he did not believe he had “lost technique,” “done anything incorrectly,” nor “should have been injured” yet he felt “something” in his low back following relatively light squats. There is no doubt that an individual can bend slightly to pick up their toothbrush in the morning and “have their back go out” and if this does occur, it is obvious that it wasn’t the weight of the toothbrush or the effort needed to remove it from the counter that caused injury. There are times when subtle yet definite progressive and accumulative damage or injury is accruing without the lifter’s awareness. If this is the case, it might not take a lot of force to produce what can be a significant injury. There are times when there has been nothing damaging or injurious occurring yet a moderate or light weight triggers a very negative response. This is the nature of powerlifting where one’s body is subjected to compressive force, shearing force, linear force, rotational force, and at times, what can be summed up as a boatload of force! At some point, a joint or soft tissue component may break down and an injury explanation doesn’t have to be more complicated than that. However, most powerlifters are serious, dedicated, knowledgeable, and hell-bent on training or competing no matter what. Many rarely allow enough time for complete healing, only enough to remove the degree of pain or limitation of movement that would prevent their participation.
I am an expert on concussion and not only because I have studied its genesis, cause, neurological and biochemical responses, short and long term effects, possible catastrophic resultant CTE or other degenerative responses and have lectured extensively on the subject since the mid-1990s. Rather, I have been hospitalized for eleven documented concussions and will freely admit that I have not received treatment other than being removed from a football field or boxing ring and told to “sit down, rest, then go back in and take an aspirin later” perhaps another fifteen to twenty times. I was expected to go, to continue, to persevere and strongly adhered to that ethos, one typical of my era. I have what some would consider as serious long term effects from my experience but I function without pause daily and without noticeable negative or limiting behavior that is observable by those outside of my family. I have been blitzed with the so-called “recent awareness” of concussions and their effect in various sports, and remain concerned about these effects on young athletes. What passes for caution is a charade that is rather farcical. I occasionally pass along a sarcastic comment when a professional football player receives a blow to the head, is obviously concussed, has the concussion confirmed with the announcement that “he won’t be returning to the field for the remainder of the game,” and read the following day’s announcement that he is now in the “concussion protocol.” While most think about concussion as a physical injury, perhaps as an expected response when “hit” in the head or face, it is more accurately a chemical injury. There is an alteration of normal biochemical activity in the brain following concussion and this causes most of the varying symptoms and signs. With agreement among most neuroscience experts that the brain chemistry does not return to normal within two to three weeks at minimum and often takes significantly longer than that, how then does a player get knocked unconscious, travel to what athletes refer to as “queer street” where they know at some level they are just not behaving or thinking as they usually do, remain nothing short of “altered” and yet return to the field as “recovered” in time for the next contest a week later? Obviously they are not recovered, not enough to risk being on the field of practice or play.
The same circumstances exist in powerlifting, not related to concussion of course but with the same construct of time and recovery. Injuring connective tissue in the obvious areas of the low back, knee, and/or shoulder takes time to heal. Ligaments have a very poor blood supply, cartilage marginally better, and thus suffer lengthy healing time. Soft tissue heals faster due to a richer infusion of blood but powerlifting exposes the competitor to soft tissue injury in literally every workout. With a relatively high tolerance or disregard for pain, it becomes part of the lifting mantra and one’s own expectations to soldier on, move forward, do what the lovingly and meticulously planned training program dictated, and compete if scheduled to do so. “Feeling okay” is not a sign of being recovered or healed once injury has occurred. One cannot for lack of a better term, be a punk-ass motherf***** who shuts down at the suspicion of any bodily tweak if they expect to be a true competitor but there must be some respect for common sense. Certainly one may need time of complete cessation of activity after some injuries and if so, “complete” means complete, do nothing.
Once an evaluation and/or treatment is provided, a plan can be formulated and enacted and I am from the school of belief that one should do what they can safely. If reasonably possible, do something! Progress should be related to a realistic timetable based upon one’s knowledge of their body and response to injury and training rather than an artificial schedule determined by personal ego or the expectations of friends, family, and training partners. Usually if one is injured, returns to the training or competition fray too quickly and suffers the same injury, it then becomes chronic. Acute injuries are one-time events. Chronic injury is chronic, repetitive and accompanied by long-term aggravation and limitation produced for all of the wrong reasons. If you can go, go. Train if you can train, compete if you can compete but insure that you have gone through an appropriate recovery and healing process first and do so with common sense.