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Dealing with an Injury
By Gary F. Zeolla
On Sunday August 30, 2015 I re-injured my right hamstring. Details on the injury are at Hamstring Re-Injury. In that article I also detailed my initial plans for rehabbing the injury and how my initial workouts went. My plan was to use a 12-week rehab routine. I just finished it, so in this article I will review how the routine went. It is my hope that my experiences will help someone else dealing with a similar injury.
Rehab Routine; Weeks 1-4
As indicted in the aforementioned article, my initial workouts were rather depressing. The first week I squatted 95/10 (weight/ reps) and deadlifted 185/6 using both a conventional (close) stance and sumo (wide) stance. Sumo is my competitive stance, so I wanted to use it to get the weights back up, but conv deadlifts would rehab the hamstring better. In any case, for comparison, at my last powerlifting contest I squatted 310 (with a belt and wraps) and deadlifted 375 in the 114-pound weight class, 50-54 age category, so I had a long way to go to get my lifts back up. But those initial weights gave me starting points.
I did ten reps on squats for that workout only because I wasn’t able to get all the way down on the first few reps. But from then on I did three sets of six reps. That is the most reps I usually do on the powerlifts, so I didn’t see any reason to do more reps while rehabbing. If I did, I would need to cycle down later, further delaying when I would be ready to compete again.
Along with squats and deadlifts, I did one squat and deadlift “look-alike” lift after each powerlift as I normally do, also for sets of six reps. But I also did two exercises that more directly work the hamstring that I hadn’t been doling, namely leg curls and hyperextensions. For those I did three sets of ten reps. I also did standing calves raises for three sets of ten reps, which interestingly also seemed to work the hamstring somewhat.
My weight progression plan was to increase the weights each set, but not to drop the reps as I normally do. Thus in my next squat workout (Week 2), I did 105/6, 110/6, 115/6. It was a depressing workout, as I was “supposed” to be using knee wraps for the first time since April and working up to a double with 290. But instead, I did sets of six completely raw (with no supportive gear) with less than my bodyweight. However, I had to be thankful I used 20 pounds more than the previous week and had a much easier time getting down, so I was making progress and that is what matters.
I also did Manta Ray squats, calves raises, and leg curls. I had no idea how much weight to use for those exercises, so I started very light and worked up. On the leg curls, a mere five pounds was too heavy, as they really bothered my hamstring, so I dropped down to just 2-1/2 pounds and worked back up to five pounds.
My next squat workout (Week 3) I bumped the weights on squats up to 125/6, 130/6, 135/6. I probably could have used more weight, as my hamstring did not bother me at all, but I didn’t want to push it. And good thing, as my hamstring bothered me a little on the Mantra Ray squats, a little more on barbell calves, and good bit on leg curls. But it felt fine after icing it, so I was making progress.
From there I thought it best to only gradually increase the weights, so my plan was to start each workout with what I ended with the previous workout and to increase from there. Thus Week 4 I did 135/6, 142/6, 150/6. I normally increase by 5% set to set based on the weight of the final set, hence the odd number on the second set. I increase by the nearest 2-1/2 pound increment using a pair of 1-1/4 pound plates, but I don’t bother to indicate the ½ pound. Thus here the weight on the second set was actually 142.5 pounds. Also, I didn’t bother using 45 pound plates in my previous workout, as I only needed them for the top set and was leery that lifting them would aggravate my hamstring. But here I needed them for all three sets, so I used them. But lifting them ended up not being a problem. My hamstring only bothered me a little on the leg curls, and that was it, so it was improving.
Meanwhile, in my Week 2 deadlift workout my hamstring felt much better from the previous week, and I was able to increase by 30 pounds on both sumo and conv deadlifts. I thus did 195/6, 205/6, 215/6 for both. I probably could have done more on sumos, but I didn’t want to push it, especially with doing conv deadlifts afterwards, and they were much tougher than the sumos. The next time I reversed the order so as to do the harder stance first, but I kept with my weight increase plan. Week 3 thus went: 215/6, 225/6, 235/6 for both stances. It worked better doing conv deadlifts first, as the intensity was about the same for both stances. It also felt good being able to again use two 45s on each side of the bar for both stances. However, my hamstring bothered me a good bit after this workout, but I think that was more from the hyperextensions I did after the deadlifts. I think I was trying to go down too far on a few of the reps.
Week 4 I deadlifted 235/6, 247/6, 260/6 for both stances. My hamstring was doing considerably better. On hypers, I think the problem the previous time wasn’t that I was going down too far but that I did not go down far enough on the warm-up sees, then when I went further down on the work sets, that bothered my hamstring. This time, I went as far as down as my device would let me on all sets and that felt good. I used the same weight increase plan as for squats and deadlifts for all other exercises affecting my hamstring, so I was gradually increasing the weights set to set and workout to workout.
Rehab Routine; Weeks 5-8
After the first third of my Rehab Routine was completed, my hamstring was feeling somewhat better, so it was time to make some changes to the routine. Starting with Week 5, I gradually moved to training squats and deadlifts with my normal alternating weeks style of only doing the same exercise every other week. I call the first week “Week A” and the second “Week B.” However, I continued to do raw squats every week. Note by “raw” I mean with no gear, not even a belt. But Week 6 my knees bothered me slightly, so Week 7 I started to use a belt, wrist wraps, and knee sleeves to protect those body parts. But eventually I knew I would want to use wraps on squats again, as that is how I plan on competing. To prepare for the heavier weights wraps enable, I started doing reverse band squats Week A to get heavier weights on my back. On deadlifts I started to use a belt, wrist bands, and knee sleeves, as that is what I wear for competition.
I also eased back into speed work, doing it first for deadlifts before trying it for squats, as the latter with its greater range of motion I figured would be more dangerous. But I held off doing jump squats and deadlifts, as I was leery about them. I just did the powerlifts in a quick fashion, first without bands then with them. And that worked. As long as I watched my form, my hamstring did not bother me on the speed work.
I continued to do leg curls and calves raises both training weeks. But for deadlifts, I split up the two stances, doing conv deadlifts Week A and sumo deadlifts Week B. I followed up the conv deadlifts with a sumo assistance exercise and sumo speed work and the sumos with a conv assistance exercise and conv speed work. I thus trained both stances equally.
My progress during this second four weeks was steady with no setbacks. Week 5 for squats I did 150/6, 157/6, 165/6. This was the first time since my injury that I didn’t have overt problems getting down. It only took a few reps of my first warm-up set with the bar, which is normal for me. Once again, I could have done more on squats, but I was being very cautious about not pushing it. My hamstring felt okay for most of this workout. It only bothered me, as always, on the leg curls. But I was determined to keep doing them as in the long run I figured they would prove beneficial, even if I was only able to use very light weights on them.
Week 6 I squatted 165/6, 172/6, 180/6. My hamstring had been bothering me slightly throughout ever since my deadlift workout three days before that I will discuss in a moment. That slight discomfort continued throughout this workout, but it didn’t get any worse, even on leg curls. This workout thus went as planned. Then Week 7 on squats, using the aforementioned belt, wrist wraps, and knee sleeves, I did 180/6, 190/6, 200/6. I then did reverse band squats. My hamstring bothered me slightly starting with the last set of them and through the rest of the workout. But after icing it afterwards, it felt okay. Week 8 I squatted 200/6, 212/6, 225/6. My hamstring only bothered me slightly on squats and the following Manta Ray squats, then just a little more on leg curls. Thus my squat training was progressing steadily and according to plan.
Meanwhile, Week 5, for conv deadlifts I wore the aforementioned belt, wrist bands, and knee sleeves and did 260/6, 272/6, 285/6. It felt good to use gear on deadlifts for the first time this routine. The limited gear doesn’t do much in terms of helping the lifts, but it just feels more “professional” having it on. That said; conv deadlifts went well. I was to the point where I needed to work somewhat hard on them, and my hamstring only bothered me slightly on the top set. Then it did not bother me at all on the sumo look-alike lift and speed work I did afterwards, but I didn’t go very hard on them since it was the first time this routine doing such.
But then my hamstring bothered me a good bit starting with the first warm-up set of hyperextensions and through the rest of the sets, and then it continued to bother me even after icing it and the next morning. This left me in a quandary as to what to do with hypers and leg curls. It seemed like I could squat and deadlift without much pain, but those exercises were problematic. But did that mean they were doing what I wanted them to do--focus on the hamstring; and if I stuck with them, they would strengthen and heal my hamstring once for all? Or did that mean I should avoid such movements as doing them would just keep aggravating the hamstring and keep it from ever healing? That question would take time to answer.
In any case, for Week 6 I increased sumo deadlifts by ten pounds over conv deadlifts the previous week and did 270/6, 285/6, 295/6. I made the extra ten-pound increase due to moving them to first rather than second after conv deadlifts. And the intensity was just about right. I was working somewhat hard by the last set, and my hamstring only bothered me slightly. But then I aggravating it slightly setting up bands for my next exercise, and it bothered me a bit more through the rest of the workout, but not excessively, even on hypers.
Week 7 I started with my top set of conv deadlifts from Week 6 and did 285/6, 300/6, 315/6. I then did a sumo look-alike lift. The top sets of both were really tough, but my hamstring only bothered me slightly on the top sets and then somewhat on the following speed work and leg curls. However, it bothered me more afterwards. It was then that I realized doing leg curls on deadlift days was just too much work for the hamstrings on one day, so I moved leg curls to squat days and moved calves here.
Then Week 8 for sumos I did 295/6, 310/6, 325/6. This was an excellent workout. I was able to work rather hard on the sumo deadlifts and the following conv deadlift look-alike lift with only very slight discomfort in my hamstring. It then bothered me a little more during speed work, but not too much. But still I thought it best not to do the hyperextensions I had planned on doing, as like with leg curls the previous week, I thought that would have been too much hamstring work in one day. But unlike leg curls, I didn’t think it would be wise to move hypers to squat day. They are too much like deadlifts to do then, so I wouldn’t be doing them anymore. They’re a good exercise; they just won’t fit into my program.
Leg curls, however, work the hamstrings in a different manner than either squats or deadlifts, so they fit on either day. The same goes for calves raises. I thus decided on doing leg curls every week on squat days and calves raises every week on deadlift day.
Rehab Routine; Weeks 9-12
After the second third of my Rehab Routine was completed, I had made sufficient progress that it was once again time to make some changes to the routine. My hamstring was not fully healed, but it was doing much better than it was when I first injured it eight weeks before. It was now good enough that I was now able to work rather hard on squats, deadlifts, and related exercises.
I had been doing 3 sets of 6 reps on squats, deadlifts, and look-alike lifts. But with Week 9, I started my normal drop reps approach of doing 3 x 5-6, 3-4, 1-2. This approach is why I increase the weights 5% set to set. But for the remainder of this routine, I shot for the higher reps of each range. I had also been doing three sets of ten reps for other exercises. But I now followed a drop reps approach for them as well. Thus for leg curls I did 3 x 11-12, 9-10, 7-8, but again shooting for the higher reps.
Also, squats had progressed to the point that I could use knee wraps again. I couldn’t use them before as I knew from experience I need to be able to handle at least 225 pounds to be able to get down with them. I thus waited to use them until I could use that much weight for my final warm-up set, which is when I normally first use gear. I then switched to doing squats with sleeves Week A and squats with wraps Week B, following each with a squat look-alike lift.
I thus did squats with sleeves Week 9 and squatted 225/6, 237/4, 250/2. I was really tired after this workout, probably due to it being the first time I did lower reps since my injury. I also had a head cold, so that didn’t help. But my hamstring only bothered slightly during this workout. I was thinking that might prove to be the case for a while, but as long as it was only a slight discomfort, I wasn’t going to be concerned about it.
Then my first workout with wraps was Week 10. I did 250/6, 262/4, 275/2. I thus was able to use 25 pounds more with the wraps. I was hoping for a little more, but it takes time to get used to the wraps again. I was also very tired again, this time probably due to it being the first time using wraps in months.
Then Week 11, squats with sleeves went 235/6, 247/4, 260/2. The morning before this workout I had a freak accident on my morning walk and fell on the pavement rather hard. I bruised my left knee and both elbows and my left hamstring was hurting. Mind you, it is my right hamstring I have been rehabbing this whole time. But thank God, the left hamstring did not bother me at all during this workout, while my right hamstring only bothered me slightly, as it has been for some time now.
Week 12 squats with wraps went: 260/6, 272/4, 285/2. The top set of squats with sleeves in Week 11 was only 12.5 pounds less than my best double since I started training hard again in my 50s, and the top set of squats with wraps here was only 20 pounds less than my best double. Thus squats were progressing nicely.
Meanwhile on deadlifts, Week 9 I did conv deadlifts for 315/6, 330/4, 345/2. I got all my planned reps, but they were all harder than they should have been due to a sleepless night before the workout. Then Week 10 I did sumos for 325/6, 340/4, 355/2. This was the first time since my hamstring injury that I worked very hard on deadlifts, and it felt good! Even though I experienced considerable DOMS afterwards.
Then Week 11 on conv deadlifts I did 325/6, 340/4, 355/2. It was a difficult workout as I kept hitting my bruised left knee on the way up and down. But everything went as planned. Then Week 12 for sumos I did 330/6, 347/4, 365/2. The top sets from these two weeks were only ten pounds less than my best doubles since I turned 50 for each stance, so deadlifts were also progressing nicely.
Meanwhile, other hamstring-related exercises were progressing in a similar manner. I continued to do leg curls on squat days to give the hamstrings work twice a week. And my progress on them was steady. But they tended to bother my hamstring even more then squats or deadlifts, so I had to really focus on my form and to use very small weight increases set to set and workout to workout. But I felt it was important to continue to do them as they work the hamstrings directly and in a manner different from squats and deadlifts. My hope is that continuing to do them will full heal this injury and prevent such an injury from happening again.
A Potential Mistake
My plan of very gradually increasing the weights on all hamstring-related exercises was working great. My hamstring was now only bothering me occasionally and then only slightly. But then I got a little cocky during the last workout in my Rehab Routine. After the aforementioned sumo deadlifts, I did reverse band conv deadlifts. With the band assist, you can use more weight than for the normal lift. The idea is to strengthen the top part of the lift.
The previous workout (Week 10) I had done 355/6, 372/4, 390/2. For my final workout (Week 12), I initially planned on doing 360/6, 380/4, 400/2, thus increasing ten pounds on the last set. But those weights had me using a lot of small plates, so I bumped the weights up slightly to 365/6, 385/4, 405/2. That way I could use three 45s on each side plus a pair of 25s, then a pair of 35s, then a fourth pair of 45s. And it felt good using four plates on the last set, even if it was with band assist.
However, that was a mistake. With those extra five pounds, I had to work really hard on all three sets. My hamstring felt okay during those sets, but after the workout it started hurting and continued to do so the next day. It wasn’t too bad, but still worse than it had felt in several weeks, so I wasn’t sure if I had re-injured it or not. I wouldn’t know for sure until I squatted and deadlifted again the next week. It thus caused me a lot of worry that might have been avoided if I had stuck to my original weights plan. The moral is, once you think you are healed, don’t get over-confidence and do something stupid.
Pre-Contest Routine; Week 1
I started a new routine on November 29, 2015. I will explain shortly why I am calling it my “Pre-Contest Routine.” But here, anytime I start a new routine, I change all of my assistance exercises. And normally the first two weeks of a new routine I do “back-off” workouts where I don’t work as hard as usual, and I would be doing so for Bench Assistance and Bench days. However, I just started working hard on squats and deadlifts, so it made little sense to back-off for those workouts. I thus just picked up where I left off in my last routine on squats and deadlifts and worked hard on my “new” assistance exercises therefor.
For the first squat workout of the new routine my hamstring hurt a little bit more than it had been, but not too much more. Thus my final workout in my previous routine was a mistake, but thank God not a big one, as I was able to put in my planned workout. I squatted with sleeves 245/6, 257/4, 270/2. Those numbers are just 2.5 pounds shy of my 50s bests.
I then did chain squats. I held off doing them in my Rehab Routine, as I feared carrying the 90 pounds of chains and setting them up and the imbalance they cause during the lift would aggravate my hamstring. But all of that only bothered me slightly, even though I worked very hard on the work sets, harder than I had planned. That difficulty was probably due to not using chains for so long. But then what was really hard was leg curls. I had been doing them using both legs together throughout my Rehab Routine. In my last workout doing so I did 10/12, 10.5/10, 11/8. That’s not much, but it was much better than the 2.5/10, 3.75/10, 5/10 I started with.
In any case, for my new routine I figured I’d change things by alternating legs. With using ten or more pounds with both legs, I figured I could use five pounds with one leg at a time. But to warm-up I tried starting with 2.5 pounds, but that was too much! I could not bend my right leg without causing pain. I then took the weight off and did a set of ten with just the weight of the leg curl attachment on my FID (flat, incline, decline) bench. I have no idea what that weight is, but it’s not much. I then put on a big 1-1/4 pound plate and did three sets of ten reps. I can only assume that when I was doing the leg curls with both legs, my left leg was doing most of the work, so maybe it was a mistake doing them that way. Then again, with doing one leg at time being so difficult even now, I probably could not have done them at all right after the injury.
For this new routine, I was going to mix up leg curls by doing them alternating legs Week A and legs together Week B. But with the former being so hard, I think it will be best to do them one leg at a time every week to try to build up the curling strength in my right hamstring. But this revelation shows three things. First, my hamstring is still not fully healed. Second, I was correct when I said squats and deadlifts use the hamstrings in a completely different manner than leg curls, or I wouldn’t be able to squat and deadlift almost as much as before the injury but to only use such a tiny weight on leg curls. Third, this verifies why it is important for me to continue to do leg curls to fully rehab the leg.
Then on deadlift day, conv deadlifts went well. I planned on doing my lower reps this and the next week so I could still add ten pounds without working excessively hard given that my previous workouts were so tough. I thus did 330/5, 347/3, 365/1. The top set was just 15 pounds off of my best 50s single, and my hamstring only bothered me slightly, so it was probably okay at that point.
But then I tried doing rack pulls (partial deadlifts from just below the knees), something I hadn’t done in ages. But they did not feel good from the first warm-up set on. By the last warm up set, they felt terrible, and my form was way off. I warn about this in my powerlifting book--to be careful on partial movements, as your form can easily differ from your regular lift and thus they will not help as much as you think. Even worse, my hamstring bothered me on the second rep of that final warm-up set, so I stopped it a rep short.
I then switched to reverse band deadlifts, but I changed from the conv stance I used in my previous routine to a sumo stance. They went okay, except that I was getting very tired, as I had to warm-up all over again for them, and my hamstring bothered me a bit more throughout them and afterwards. Thus once again I had to hope and pray I hadn’t aggravated it. The moral of this story is while still rehabbing an injury, don’t try something new or at least that you haven’t done in a long time. Stick with exercises you are used to. Along those lines, I then skipped the sitting calves I had planned on doing. Those again were an exercise I hadn’t done in ages, so I thought it best not to do them. And besides, I was really getting tired and the workout was taking too long. Next time I will do standing calves that I had been doing.
By the next day, my hamstring only bothered me slightly, so I am sure it will be okay. But I wouldn’t know for sure until squats and deadlifts the next week. Thus once again I went through a lot of worry that could have been avoided if I hadn’t done something stupid. However, I think this injury is going to be like a couple of other injuries I have, namely the abductor on the same leg and my left pec. Those injuries occurred years ago but still bother me somewhat occasionally. But that is the price I have to pay if want to engage in a young man’s sport in my mid-50s.
My hamstring injury occurred on the last day of a 12-week routine. I had planned on starting a new routine the next day to prepare for a powerlifting contest on December 6, 2015. But when my initial squat workout went very poorly, I canceled those plans. As it turned out, it might have been possible for me to have entered that contest.
It is hard to estimate from doubles to singles, but with squatting with wraps 285/2, I probably would have been good for 300 or just ten pounds less than I did at my last contest. And with pulling 365/2 on sumo deadlifts, I probably could have pulled the 375 I did at my last contest. Thus if I had kept my plans, with my bench up about ten pounds, I might have been able to total as much as I did last time.
However, what happened on the reverse band deadlifts in my final rehab workout proved that I was correct in immediately changing my contest plans after the injury. If I hadn’t and had stubbornly kept that contest in mind, I would have been pushing harder than I did throughout my Rehab Routine, trying to add weight quicker, doing that “extra” five pounds almost every workout. That could very well have caused me to re-injure the hamstring and eliminate not only entering that contest but any for the foreseeable future. You see this happening all the time with professional athletes. They get injured near the beginning of the season, push too hard to try to come back, get re-injured, and are out for the rest of the season. But there was no reason for me to so push myself to get back into competition. It was better to look long term, skip that contest, and look for another one later. And that is what I did.
The last contest I entered was IPA PA States in York, PA on February 28, 2015. In 2016 the same contest is to be on March 5th. That works out perfect. I put in the last workout of my Rehab Routine on November 27, the day after Thanksgiving. Counting out the weeks after that, I should have the exact amount of time I need to put in a full 12-week Pre-Contest Routine to prepare for 2016 IPA PA States.
Slow and steady. That is the main plan when healing an injury. If you try to come back too fast you will just end up re-injuring the body part and having to start over or even making the injury worse than it was initially. And avoid the temptation to try to do too much too fast when it starts to feel better. It is much better to lay out a plan from the start and stick with it. Adjust downward if need be, but never upward, as that is when you can get into trouble. And stick with exercises you are used to. This is not the time to be trying out something new, unless it is something specifically to rehab your injury, like the leg curls I did. But for such exercises start very light and gradually work up from there.
I used this approach throughout my 12-week Rehab Routine, and it worked great. I only ran into snags when I deviated from it. But I thank God those were not major setbacks. I am now trusting Him for continued progress and to enable me to compete in my planned contest next year. For how things progress from here, see Full Workout Logs: Starting 11/29/2015 – Two by Two Plan; Routine B (Pre-Contest), Weeks 1-6 of 12.
Dealing with an Injury. Copyright © 2015 by Gary F. Zeolla.
The above article was posted on this site December 5, 2015.
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