End The Debate About Negative Effects Of Heavy Lifting
February 24th 2020
Are the negative effects of heavy weight lifting true or not?
I hear a lot of horror stories about why you should not lift heavy.
And through the injury rehab process, many lifters will conclude that lifting heavy during their youth was the primary reason for your suffering and agony.
And for anyone thinking about lifting heavy, that it is not worth it.
How true is this opinion?
In this article, we will talk about this opinion and finally settle if heavy weightlifting is the primary cause of these negative effects:
Negative effects of heavy weight lifting
Research Verdict - Heavy lifting is one of the safest activities relative to other sports
Studies have shown time and time again that resistance training, bodybuilding, Strongman and even the Highland games have one of the lowest injury rates per 1000 hours of training..
You can also see that this study for the injury rate in college contact sports such as football and soccer are much higher than that of any strength sport.
Here is a brief summary in a bullet point format so that you can see:
- Swimming and Diving - 1.8 injuries per 1000 athletes
- Men’s football - 39.9 injuries per 1000 athletes
- Men’s wrestling - 13.1 injuries per 1000 athletes
- Women’s gymnastics - 10.4 injuries per 1000 athletes
- Women’s soccer - 17.2 injuries per 1000 athletes
Now, here is a brief summary of lifting sports:
- Bodybuilding - 0.24-1 injury per 1000 hours trained
- Strongman - 4.5-6.1 injuries per 1000 hours trained
- Highland Games - 7.5 injuries per 1000 hours trained
One reason why lifting sports may be reported in this manner is because they are not as popular as contact sports.
As a result, there may not be 1000 athletes available to draw data from.
However, pro strength athletes definitely trained well over 1000 hours and many other elite lifters as well.
And if you attempt to convert the college data into training hours, I am confident that the amount of injuries should increase.
Freak accidents, one time accidents may ruin your life
These stories are very common.
You have someone who lifted heavy weights and established impressive numbers over the years.
Then, whether they were going for a PR, or something strange happened, an injury occurred and they needed surgery or major time off.
It is at this point many lifters disavowed ever to lift heavy weights again.
And they will preach to never lift heavy.
Yet, when they were making all those gains during the early stages of their training, there were zero complaints.
Objectively viewing the situation, some of these accidents are extremely unfortunate.
And once you suffer any injury to this magnitude, you will be setback significantly.
However, it appears that as lifters get older, more things are of higher priority than lifting weights.
It was as though the injury or accident was a way to escape this hellhole of lifting heavy.
That this was the way out of the sport and you were not going to go out gracefully.
In a weird way, it balances out these people’s lives since they were consumed by lifting weights and chasing numbers/records.
It was another challenge for them to overcome and they decided that it was time to “retire” from lifting heavy weights themselves.
And the ironic part about the entire situation was that even though this big injury halted their lifting journey, they still speak about heavy lifting very poorly and are very cautious about recommending it to anyone.
They will never suggest it to anyone unless the other people came up with that goal on their own.
Form, technique and mobility are underrated
Lift with perfect form and technique.
Work on your mobility!
You hear these phrases from professional strength athletes, coaches and older lifters.
Hell, even the beginners and intermediates are barking the same phrases.
This topic is geared more towards younger lifters.
They are able to get away with not warming up, being stiff, being immobile.
Yet, despite having these weaknesses, they can still lift heavy for a long period of time.
For form and technique, you need to learn from the best and to do what is safest for your body.
For example, for the bench press, retracting and depressing your scapula to protect your shoulders from taking over.
Making sure you have adequate ranges of motion for all body parts:
- Hamstring flexibility test - Touching your toes without bending your knees
- Shoulder mobility test - I will include a video below on what you should look out for:
Keep in mind that I only provided a small fraction of what you could be working on.
As a general rule of thumb, you should be able to more pain-free in everyday motions.
Walking, standing, sitting, reaching, twisting, turning, rotating, etc with different parts of your body are basic and functional movements.
As you begin to lift heavier and heavier weights, depending on your strengths and weaknesses, some of these functional movements will be compromised.
So, it will be one of your lifelong tasks to make sure that you are staying mobile and to prevent any body part from getting too tight.
When you are lifting weights, tightness and rigidity will occur.
That is part of growing new muscle and firing neural signals.
At the same time, this might cause you to be sore and stiff and you should remember to resist those urges and make sure your body can still go through basic ranges of motion.
Pain might be inevitable (or is it?)
With father time closing in on everyone, do you want to be in pain and weak or in pain while strong?
I am confident everyone would rather choose the latter.
But it is hilarious that so many people will still complain and talk down about heavy weight lifting even though if they were weaker, their situation would be so much worse.
Of course, there are exceptions but this is generally speaking.
And why is this the case?
Why must pain always come?
Quite the contrary, I believe that pain just not suddenly show up.
I believe that people who complain about pain when they are older are the same people that neglect perfect form and taking care of their bodies while they were younger.
And now that the chickens came to roost, it is all of a sudden the heavy lifting and not what they did outside of the gym.
One common question people always ask about heavy lifting is the impact it has on your joints.
I would like to contrast that situation with people who do not lift weights and also experience similar problems.
Again, it comes down the first question I posed, if you will inevitably have joint pain, would you rather be weak or strong?
Nearly everyone will rather choose to be strong.
When you constantly push yourself to the limit, you either succeed or get injured
You see them all over the internet.
Young lifters and even some veteran lifters lifting 3-4x their bodyweight in the squat.
Bench pressing over twice their bodyweight
Why can’t it be you, right?
However, you are not seeing everything from the bigger picture.
How much hard work and effort it took for them to get to that goal is nothing to take for granted.
They worked hard and they pushed through a lot to get to where they are.
For a lot of successful PR stories, there are hundreds of lifters who suffered an injury along the way and was never able to continue training as hard as they could.
This is one reason why I started 5/3/1 Forever.
So that I can understand strength training principles that can get me strong.
Not just chasing gym numbers.
And this is one of the double-edged swords of training.
You are on a time-crunch to get stronger by competition date.
And in order to make sure you are ready to hit new numbers, you need to push yourself to chase numbers in the gym.
There really is no other way to get stronger on a timeline.
You want to hit a certain PR by a certain date.
You need to be on track to hit it.
There may be some ebbs and flows on how your body reacts but nothing too drastic.
And this is a major challenge because you may not be 100% all the time.
However, science is working on that and we are getting much better with recovery and hormonal balances.
So, part of the reason we are hitting new heights in all strength sports is because we are able to recover better and are more knowledgeable about how to treat the body so that we can tackle more stressful training sessions.
And with more successful training sessions, we will always get closer to your strength potential.
The healthiest way of training, slow and steady over a long period of time
Nearly 100% of programs in the strength and conditioning industry will violate this principle.
Especially programs I advocate for many beginners.
However, there is a method to my madness.
If you throw too much information at a beginner, they will not be receptive to it.
So, you just give them information that they want to hear and allow them to think for themselves.
Starting strength is very useful to beginners with little training experience.
However, over the long term, their training principles did not sit right with me.
That is another reason why I chose 5/3/1 Forever.
You focus on the overall big picture rather than the training numbers.
And for beginners, this is a difficult concept to understand.
You have the capability to make progress fast.
So, why wouldn’t you?
The true answer to that is just because you can, that does not mean it is the BEST thing to do.
When you follow systems that value your strength, you will make slow progress over time.
And this is not exciting nor instagram worthy.
It is boring, repetitive and you seem to not be making any progress.
Keep it that way if you want to make strength progress forever.
And for the record, you are still lifting heavy.
However, there is a balance within the program that prevents you from overreaching too much.
So, you are still lifting safely and making progress.
I really cannot see any other way that lifters can make progress long term if you do not follow principles and systems for strength training.
Verdict, Heavy weight lifting is safe! (under certain circumstances)
Many lifters can get away with lifting heavy for years without any injuries.
Whether this is from youth, smart programming, genetics, etc., if you do not follow certain strength training systems, you will eventually suffer a serious injury.
And what are these systems?
- Lifting with perfect form, technique with excellent mobility
- Not chasing gym PRs but focusing on building strength
If you violate even one of these principles, you will compromise your long term progress in some way.
Though it might not happen in the short term, your body will accumulate the stress.
And as this stress builds up, it will cause an injury in the future if you do not deload or autoregulate your program.
With that said, the negative effects of heavy lifting are results of reckless lifting, ego lifting, and freak accidents.
Priorities change and people want to not hold themselves accountable.
Show me one people who suffered an injury from heavy weight lifting that took responsibility for their actions and I can show you hundreds of lifters who blame heavy lifting for their circumstances.
People who not like to have their egos hurt and lifting heavy is a perfect outlet to blame especially since it is not as popular as other sports.