It was March 2009 and I was three weeks out from the Big Iron APF meet, and training was going better than ever! It was Monday. I know this because it was bench day. Things were feeling very light. Before I put my bench shirt on, I wanted to hit a raw PR.
I went for a small PR of 550 pounds, and on the way down, my shoulder and pec made a toe-curling – pop! My shoulder contracted to its own pulse and started to throb immediately. I feared the worst because I’ve torn muscles before. After a couple of minutes, however, the pain subsided and I continued with the workout.
I put my shirt on, not even thinking to go easy on my shoulder. Things felt fine – until I took 835 to a 2-board and heard a familiar noise – pop! My training partners must have heard it too, because they quickly grabbed the bar and racked it for me.
Since my training was going so well – aside from my shoulder – I didn’t get an MRI. Instead, I decided to rest up for the meet by icing and massaging the crap out of my shoulder for the remaining time until the meet to see if I could push past the injury. Long story short, I was a knucklehead.
On the retake of my opener at 766 pounds, my shoulder exploded as soon I started to press it up. I passed my third attempt and immediately took my shirt off to see the damage.
Unfortunately, this time I wasn’t as lucky. Pain engulfed my pec and anterior delt, as the swelling expanded to the size of a softball. I suspected that not only had I torn my shoulder, but my pec was damaged as well.
When I arrived for the MRI, the tech immediately said that it looked like I had a bicep tear due to the bruising that occurred on my delt, forearm and pec. Thank God his guess wasn’t correct!
I visited the orthopedic surgeon. He performed what I considered too many tests on my shoulder area. Does it hurt when I do this? How about now? I felt like I was in a game show with the number of questions he asked me.
I was diagnosed with a labral slap tear. A slap tear is at the top of the shoulder socket where the bicep tendon attaches to the shoulder. There were also a couple of random delt tears and some damage and tears to the right pec major. I inhaled, drawing in a breath of pure relief. I was glad to hear that I didn’t have a Bankart lesion – which is a shoulder separation requiring surgery. The mass of my shoulder girdle saved it from dislocating. I was cleared to start rehab, and in three weeks, I could also start using my shoulder in lifting movements. The orthopedic surgeon scheduled me for therapy at the clinic, but I decided to handle it my own way.
My therapy consisted of delt exercises (lateral raises, front raises, rear delt work – in every angle I could create) that were light. In this case, light actually meant using the pink dumbbells – three pound dumbbells to be exact. I also included light bicep curls, tris, rotator cuff work and pec work six days a week. I would gradually increase the intensity and weight.
Stretching was a must. I stretched multiple times every day. After the second week, I started incorporating light overhead presses of every kind three days a week, as well full range bench presses two days a week. Bench weight started at 55 pounds. I would slowly increase the weight two times a week. By week four, I hit 315 on bench for 12 reps, and was well on my way back.
During this phase of strengthening and healing, I had an NMT massage on the torn area twice a week, iced religiously and monitored how my body was responding to make sure I wasn’t pushing too fast.
Training Through It
Initially, I worked with lots of SSB squats, leg presses and hamstring work.
Obviously, I couldn’t work my back, chest or shoulders until I had a bit of strength back in that area. Once I learned I didn’t need surgery and I was cleared by my doctor to start therapy, I slowly started to introduce stress on the shoulder joint with a very light bench press protocol. On bench I started with 55 pounds for 20 reps. I eventually added deadlifts with 135 pounds, lat pulldowns with 30 pounds, and bicep curls with 3 pounds.
Since then, I’ve hit into the 500’s with raw bench, and 760 officially, as well as a 2660 total at 275 pounds!
The best advice I can give is to always listen to your body! If something isn’t feeling right, don’t push it. Always warm-up properly, and make sure you are loose. Take care of your body with proper rest and nutrition, and use massage and ice therapy following intense sessions. Don’t be scared to shut down your training to avoid injury. Don’t push it too hard just because you’re getting close to a meet and HAVE to hit a certain number in your mind. It’s better to skip a session or two and still be healthy for the meet, rather than be hardheaded (like me) and cost yourself many months of training, because you blow something out or off.
You only have one body, so listen to it and take care of it.
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