Need a Lift
MAXCY G. HANNA
76th Operational Response Command
Salt Lake City, Utah
Bro, I love to lift. I've been following a high-intensity interval training program for about 12 years and continue to see positive changes in my ability to handle difficult physical tasks. I will never compete, but I do enjoy it — so much so that I built my own backyard gym. I track my workouts carefully and measure key metrics every six months. I honestly find a cathartic release in workouts that leave me gasping for breath and questioning my short-term future. In this journey, I have learned the difference between the pain of exertion and the pain of an injury, which is handy when doing Army stuff.
It was early November and I had a “soul crusher” planned, which included 30 minutes of heavy deadlifts, pushups and box jumps. I did the math and knew all the gates in order to set a personal record, or PR. My partner and I did a quick warm-up and then set the timer — 3, 2, 1, go!
I believe the deadlift is a critical movement that must be practiced. It applies to everything we do: moving heavy things, getting in and out of a chair, or picking up a bag of groceries. But I hadn’t been deadlifting lately. I set a PR in the spring, then moved on to shore up other weaker movements.
I was on my second set of deadlifts when I felt a slight twinge on the left side of my lower back. I dropped the bar, reset my feet and tried again. The twinge got worse when I grasped the bar and I knew I was done for the day. Fortunately, I already had a doctor’s appointment scheduled for the following morning. She sent me to a physical therapist.
The therapist and I broke down the accident: improper/inadequate warm-up, heavy deadlifts after an extended break from heavy lifting, and here's the key — an uneven surface. Because I was trying to set a record, I wanted to be able to drop the bar. I don't have bumper plates to protect the floor, so I lift in the dirt in my backyard, which is uneven. The plates dig into the ground, but honestly, my yard will never be a “lawn.”
So my feet were not on a flat and level surface. In fact, my left foot was slightly lower than my right, and the bar was uneven too. This resulted in my left leg, and hence the left side of my back, taking the majority of the weight. The result was a relatively minor muscle strain that resolved with some physical therapy and rest.
I also learned another lesson: The body can adapt to almost anything. Like a wire coat hanger, you can bend and straighten it. But bend it too fast, too far or too many times and the wire will break. That uneven, heavy, fast lift was that straw the broke my back. My physical therapist said that if I hadn’t stopped when I did, I could have catastrophically torn a muscle or ligament or ruptured a disk. An injury like that could have changed my life in a very negative way.
The take away is this: Don’t get carried away with setting a PR. Do your warm-up, honestly asses your current ability and if something goes wrong, stop before you do serious damage. There’s a difference between pain and injury, and no PR is worth a lifetime of back pain. And, bro, stop doing curls in the squat rack.