If you're like me, you are
- middle aged
- sits a lot
You are a prime candidate for permanently fucking up your knees and other joints by going too heavy too fast on a new weightlifting program.
My story: 4 weeks into SL I tore my meniscus on a warmup squat with the empty bar. It was a year before I squatted weight again. Eventually after doing stronglifts twice in a year I developed pain in both knees, both shoulders, and both elbows, and my strength plateaued.
Eventually I realized the root cause of all my knee issues was FAILURE TO ENGAGE MY GLUTES. I was squatting without using my glutes. I was doing it all with my quads. I just wasn't engaging them at all.
In fact I realized that I was NEVER engaging them EVER. Not when I walked, not when I climbed stairs, never ever did I use my glutes and I had a pancake ass and a torn meniscus to show for it.
If you are like me and you are new to squatting:
- Start with BODYWEIGHT (your fatness is already adding a bunch of extra weight)
- Don't add weight until you can hit 15 reps with bodyweight
- Add weight slowly; start with dumbells, work up to the empty bar
- SQUEEZE YOUR GLUTES AS HARD AS YOU CAN THE WHOLE WAY DOWN AND THE WHOLE WAY UP (also applies to dead lift and overhead press)
- Update: Do 3rd world squats daily; great squat mobility exercise
- Update: Drive your knees out HARD; squats happen BETWEEN your knees; use the machine to strengthen this if you need to
I can't emphasize this last point enough. Since I had my epiphany I've been making a conscious effort to squeeze my glutes ALL THE TIME. When I'm walking, when I'm standing, even when I'm sitting. Now when I walk up stairs or up a hill I lean forward a little and REALLY use my glutes to propel myself.
When I squat OR deadlift I squeeze my glutes at the TOP and I KEEP them TIGHT the whole way down so they stretch out like a rubber band and store all that energy. I don't worry about my quads, they activate themselves, but I have to really make a conscious effort to activate my glues.
HST is beneficial to new squatters because the lactic acid released during the high rep phases triggers connective tissue growth and strengthening.
My shoulder problems started, ironically, after I STOPPED strong lifts for the second time. A few days later they started to ache. There was no obvious injury, it was simply overuse from trying to break through my 185lb bench press plateu. Lifting close to my limit for weeks on end had taken it's toll.
The answer was to switch from StrongLifts to HST. After one HST cycle, my shoulder problems were gone, even after the heavy parts of the cycle. The higher rep ranges with lighter weights really work to prepare the joint for the heavier lifting to come. And restricting the heavy low rep phase to two weeks works to reduce the risk of injury. It's the lactic acid. I used to hate it. Now I LOVE it.
My pull strength has lagged my other lifts, partly because I developed tennis elbow in both elbows from too many heavy bent over rows.
The solution here, once again, was to switch to HST and prepare my joints for the heavier sets by doing lighter, higher rep sets first. I also added lat pulldowns and sometimes I do a few bicep curls just to get a little extra pull love. I've also started to warmup on the rowing machine; a great pull warmup.
The other thing that really helped me here was the Tyler Twist. I outgrew the red bar pretty quick so I switched to a 10lb dumbell which I raise with my free hand and lower eccentrically with the working wrist. I've gotten popular at my gym since I started telling the tennis players about it, it's really helping them.
Fuck strength, I like not being crippled by bad joints. Joints take longer to adapt than muscles do and SL and other programs with continuous low rep high weight are prone to injuring joints because of this especially in older fat fucks. Besides, once your muscles hypertrophy, you'll be able to increase your strength again.
HST is better because it has you start out with 15 rep sets. The lactic acid stimulates joint adaptation preparing them for the heavier sets to come. And when the heavier sets do come they end after two weeks so you don't grind your cartilage down to the stump trying to get that next 5 lbs. I don't like the suggested HST lifts so I made my own HST program based on compound lifts. I'm loving it and I can really see the results.
If you DO start with a strength program, STOP WHEN YOU PLATEAU and switch to HST or some other program that spends at least some time in higher rep ranges.
The key takeaway WRT squats is start light and SQUEEZE YOUR GLUTES.
The other day I was in the gym and one of the trainers was saying to a new client "Yeah a lot of guys come in here who've never lifted before and they download a program off the Internet and hurt themselves" and I was thinking "fuck that hits close to home".
Especially with squats. For the love of knees, if you're a fat fuck like me, start with body weight, focus on form, squeeze those fuckin glutes, and get high rep sets, before you get under the bar. You don't even want to know what surgery costs to correct sports injuries, or what the success rate is.
Lifting is one of the best things you can do for your body. Science is discovering all kinds of great things about myokenes and their healthful effects and there's no other way to reap those benefits than to build muscle in the gym and that means hypertrophy. But take it slow. DON'T GET HURT. You only get one body and you need it to last a long time.