Due to the typical demands of bodyweight training, there are certain muscles and joints that are very prone to become overworked, stiff, and injured. If these areas continue to be overworked and not tended to, it can negatively impact an athlete's performance and even lead to permanent injury. It's not uncommon for upper body injuries to be caused by overuse, the joints take on more than they can handle, they don’t get the chance to fully recover, and then slowly start to break down over time. Overuse injuries tend to lead to extended periods of time away from training or even surgery.
Over the next few weeks, TSTM is going to share a number of blogs covering a handful of ideas behind why these upper body injuries occur and some possible ideas on how to combat them. The concepts and ideas we talk about here are not all specific to the upper body and many also apply to lower body injuries as well, so even those non-bodyweight people have something to learn. Our thoughts come from combining the research we have read, and from our experience teaching and practising bodyweight training.
1. Elbows and Wrists are not like Knees and Ankles
Inherently our wrists, elbows, and shoulders are not made to bear our entire body weight in the same way our ankles, knees and hips have been designed. As a result, they do not have the same weight bearing structures that our legs do (thicker bones, cartilage, shock absorbing surfaces).
We are not yet capable of changing human biology, but bodyweight athletes need to learn how to properly prepare the upper body joints for high force and high volume training demands. This relates to physical preparation, technical preparation, and keeping a close eye on training volume from week-to-week, month-to-month, and even year-to-year. A “long-term athletic development” mindset is essential to the sustainability of bodyweight training. Which leads to number 2.
2. Avoid sudden spikes in training volume
There are some fantastic research surfacing on training load and overuse injury risk in sports ( here, here, here, and here). Sudden increases in training volume over short periods of time can dramatically increase the risk of injury and decrease performance. Not enough preparation (physically / technically for skill as mentioned above) and often too much workload can quickly become a serious issue. This makes sense when you step back and consider bodyweight training. We all intuitively know that bodyweight training often requires high levels of strength, mobility, coordination, skills and drills to handle the array of incredible movements. It's relatively easy to increase the volume and stresses placed on the body when training so many different elements at the same time. Too little, and we know that the body will never adapt to handle it; too much in a short amount of time, and then we have someone’s wrists/elbows/shoulders getting really cranky.
It's easy to see how the training plan has a huge role to play in the health and longevity of the upper body joints. It's pointless trying to rush ahead and put yourself at risk of injury, no amount of training is going to speed up human biology. The body takes time to adapt to the correct amount of training stimulus and those who rush ahead are only buying themselves a one-way ticket to injury. Slow down, take the time, build some resilience and enjoy the process.
In the next post (PART 2) we will talk more about the importance of shoulder and wrist mobility as well as the importance of skills and technique work