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Thursday, May 16, 2013

Early warning signs of injury in GS

I was Novacaned at birth. Apparently it was a needless choice on the doctor's part to speed up a delivery already underway. Justified or not, uncovering this detail has helped me make sense of my capacity for endurance sports, Girevoy Sport in specific.

Recently I achieved Master of Sport rank in Women's 20kg LC on my third attempt. I was viewing this as a stop along the way while training for the same event with 24kg. I was feeling pretty dialed into the form, had the routine down. But this one nagging ache keep cropping up in my left forearm when working with 22 and 24kg sets.

20kg LC 2nd attempt. CMS set.
"Meeh, wrap it up and call it good," says I.

20kg LC MS set.
It worked moderately well all the way up until the week after the MS set. Looking at the timing for the next event I felt impatient to carry on despite the Stage 5 mandate we all know and love. With a 5 day rest I went back to the program. Two days in I felt a pain that blinded me. It didn't go away no matter how many wraps I added to my left forearm, the command from every nerve in my hand was "PUT DOWN!"
The forearm sprain was going to happen. Not just because I was ignoring the discomfort. My left arm was previously injured. I was going through a growth phase that transferred new patterning into my hand. And I asked a coach known for high-level programming to get me ready for the next kettlebell weight. And we were working remotely.

Two notes before continuing on with the warning signs.
First, for the coaches: As a bodywork therapist, I have learned to see unconscious pain cues. People touch a place where they feel discomfort, protect it with supports and layers, and keep it farther away from potential hazards. Depending on a person's relationship with discomfort, he/she may ask an "expert" about it earlier or later. Those of us with less-healthy habits will wait until later.

Second, for the athletes: Many kettlebell lifters have great success with online coaching. If you can find a remote coach who programs you well you can succeed through many competitions with excellent results. Even better if you find a local coach! Either way you cannot count on him/her to notice early signs of injury. Seasoned lifters will recognize an overtrained athlete dragging around the gym (pictured above right) and express their concern. But please learn from my example and acknowledge your pain.

Most of what I have to share is through my own training or working with other GS lifters. All the GS lifts are full-body efforts, so if you have an isolated area of pain there is a weakness in the chain. The difference between muscle fatigue and joint damage can be a fine line, so here are typical problems for beginner/intermediate level lifters. I do not guarantee my solutions, as everyone is different.
Consult a trainer in person if possible.

  • Soles - Allowing the arch to fall can cause pain here, also heavy Jerk sets. Examine foot positioning on the bump and under squat. This pain is acceptable only at a competition/max effort. Do not train with it. Stretch calves thoroughly and massage the feet before finishing the training set and use less weight.
  • Toes - Cramping could be due to dehydration. Also gripping the floor during part of the lift. Back off weight load and evaluate areas where you hold your breath until this habit is corrected.
  • Achilles Tendon - Are you wearing weightlifting shoes? Excessive pull from the calf muscles will micro tear this tendon. Also evaluate your foot-to-knee positioning in the under squat.

Advanced positioning.
  • Front Knee pain - Check initial squat from the rack position. This is a knees-forward-hips-locked stretch. If the heels lift in this movement there will be shear on the front knee ligaments. Another cause of Front Knee pain is weak heel drive into the under squat. Isolate and practice these movements with a manageable weight. Invest in weightlifting shoes.
  • Out side Knee pain - If you work with double weights, what are your feet doing as they pass through the swing? Often lifters will bow the legs to the outer side and lift the inner foot which begins a stress pattern on the lateral knee ligaments. Examine foot positioning and stance. 
  • Inner Knee pain - Did you hit it with a kettlebell? For Jerk, check leg movement through the entire bump and into the under squat. If one or both feet rock toward the middle at any point, this will accumulate stress on the inner ligaments. For Snatch, examine foot-to-knee position coming out of the backswing and in the under squat.
  • Back Knee pain - In getting out of the under squat, if you straighten your legs without adjusting your hips forward you will eventually feel pressure in the knee. This technique can be seen in many advanced lifters (pictured right) to save time getting out of the under squat. Practice standing out of the under squat in a vertical line to start. This takes more time but will build core strength and flexibility.
  • Back and Side Hip pain - May be caused by too much squat in the back swing, or a deep under squat with weight overhead. This is not the worst pain to have in the conditioning phase. Examine form, develop pre-work mobility and dynamic flexibility to condition your inner legs and allow hamstring extension in the backswing. Practice full-range back-loaded squats to condition the thighs.
  • Inner Hip pain - May be too much contraction in the acceleration pull to the rack position or overhead. Work with less weight, use more leg and abdominal strength. Examine your feet at the point of acceleration pull. Correct this before it becomes a hernia.
Low Back:
Abs engaged!
  • Not enough core stability in undersquat and overhead positions. This will not go away with out form correction. Shift the base/pelvis forward when straightening out of the under squat. A low-slung weight belt may help remind you of this correction plus add support for the sacrum under load.
  • Insufficient abdominal power when launching the Jerk. Hyper extension of the chest over arches the lower back and accumulates stress. Use your abs.
  • Examine your posture in the descent. For Snatch, rounding the shoulders and taking the maximum velocity of a descending kettlebell in the lower back will wear you down. For Long Cycle, when lowering from the rack if you round into your back you will not last long. For both of these cases examine core and leg stabilization, and allow your arms to extend before going into the backswing.
Weight racked too high.
  • Above the Shoulder Blades pain - Over extending the arms upward in the lock out position and/or not resting in the rack position. Develop shoulder flexibility through full-range of motion and mobility drills before work. Be diligent with shoulder flexibility, it will only cause you pain to ignore this part of your training.
  • Above the Breast Bone pain - Weight is racked too high causing chest muscles to overwork. Usually a flexibility concern, this will effect efficient breathing. Use mobility and dynamic stretching to warm up the chest before work. Static holds with heavy loads may help stretch the back of your chest.
  • Upper Arm outside pain - For Snatch, inserting the hand late. For Jerk, arms extended out of the resting position, also a growth pain due to the nature of the lift.
  • Upper Arm inside pain - Lack of shoulder flexibility: bumping with the elbows lateral puts stress on the inner arm in the under squat. Lack of stability: you may be allowing the weight to roll your arm open at the lock out. Another sign of this is the head pitched forward. Train your arm into the bottom of the shoulder socket when you lock out.
  • Forearm Grip pain - Welcome to the club. Learn everything you can about refreshing the grip through out your lift, also examine hand positioning overhead. This is everyone's weakest link. Sadly, the grip strengthens best with overload training.
  • Forearm outside pain - My pet issue. Increasing weight load or pacing without learning to relax forearm muscles under the load. Repeated kettlebell impact on tense muscles will sprain the tendon. Focus on relaxing your hands with the weight on your forearm.  If you don't want the "knuckles" below your wrists, start early with wrist coverage. Efficient hand insertion will help. 
  • Blisters - Gonna happen at some point with the Snatch. Examine your leg movement at the three points of friction through the swing. Use assist exercises, glove sets to develop timing and perfect the acceleration pull. For LC, refine the three points of friction and develop a chalking routine.
  • Callouses - It's the nature of the beast. Use chalk in exercises with a swing. Manage your callouses with a file or razor so they do not tear in training.
  • Did you hit it with a kettle bell?
  • Over training or dehydration. Jaw tension will cause head pain.
  • For Jerk, if you use the "throw-the-head-back" method, examine your timing in the bump. The firing sequence from tailbone to occiput must be smooth to maximize this movement.
Another worthwhile note:

  • If you are a convert from other sports you will be bringing old habits and injuries along. Warm up thoroughly, practice sport-specific mobility and assist exercises to mold yourself to GS lifts.
  • If, like me, you had a numbed birth or similar experiences that affect your ability to detect discomfort, be real about your pain threshold. Learn to read your body's signs.

Please comment on this list of symptoms and solutions. Questions are welcome. It is my aim to support Girevoy Sport as it grows in popularity, thus hope to pass around some inside information on how to stay in training and avoid unwanted setbacks.

Contact me for information about GS training in Boulder, CO.

Best wishes for safe, effective training!