You're Not Invincible

"I'm never satisfied. I'm always trying to get better and learn from my mistakes."

-Russell Westbrook

When it comes to lifting, I've always had trouble accepting my limits.

In my early lifting days, I'd grind out sets of 3 or 4 reps to total failure; the movements would get to the point where the bar was stationary above me for several seconds despite me squeezing as hard as I could.

During my first few months of trying out Deadlifts, I'd try to work up to 315 and feel disappointment as I failed to get the bar up even halfway for even 1 rep.

None of these incidents injured me, however. That had more to do with luck than anything else.

Back in the Fall, my luck ran out.

I tore my chest muscle.

What do I mean by tore?

Well...

That's no moon, Luke Skywalker. That's a muscle tear.

The Incident

Honestly, a muscle tear is not normal. It's a very rare thing to happen in the gym, and this particular case was the result of several factors.

I had first felt my muscle pull slightly during Barbell Bench Press. Since there was no physical sign of damage and the feeling had vanished in 2 days, I thought nothing of it.

4 days later, I started my second Upper Body Workout of the week. Having only slept 3 hours during the night before, I probably shouldn't have been performing any heavy lifting at all. I was too stubborn to worry about that though.

After doing Overhead Press, I performed some weighted Pull-Ups. Admittedly, the shirt I was wearing felt a bit tight; the weight dangling from my belt pulled down on my chest as it tried to stabilize my body for the exercise.

For my third exercise, I chose Dumbbell Bench Press. The first warm up set went all right, with nothing seemingly wrong. During the second one, however, I had felt something strange in my chest.

Determined to get something going for the muscle, I ignored the feeling and started a high rep set with 70s that I should have completed for at least 15 reps.

Instead, by the 5th rep, I felt a sharp snag in my chest, as if a towel were ripping. Dropping the weights and rushing towards the mirror, I lifted up my black shirt to find a sharp, red mark across my pectoral muscle.

I just stared in shock. Due to a poor night of sleep, a preexisting muscle pull, and the crappy form, my chest muscle literally tore open.

Before this event, I took some pride in that I'd never been injured from lifting. Now I had to accept with humility that I had hurt myself.

A trainer came by and said it didn't look too bad. That didn't mean it would just go away, however.

By not "too bad", he meant it wouldn't need surgery. Grateful for that at least, I knew steps had to be taken to rehab this.

Rehab 101

Turns out there's not much help online about recovering from injuries. Everybody is so worried about getting sued these days that they won't give specific guidelines for treating muscle injuries.

The first week it was in a fair bit of pain, so I avoided any direct exercise toward it. IcyHot became a staple in my new routine; I put it on as often as 3 or 4 times a day. Beyond that, I performed dynamic and static stretches to help pump blood back into the damaged tissue and accelerate its healing.

Once the pain was gone, I focused on high-rep bodyweight exercises for my chest. Pushup variations and Dips were the only movements I could perform without irritating the tear. I might have gotten away with performing Bench Press with a reduced range of motion, but I didn't want to risk it.

At first, I thought only changing the rep range for pushing exercises would be necessary, but I quickly learned otherwise. Your muscles don't work in isolation. Even if an exercise doesn't directly use a muscle, it still might involve it as a stabilizing muscle.

Your upper chest helps stabilize your body during Pull-Ups.

When performing Squats, your delts and chest are tucked back to hold the weight.

Though neither of the above 2 movements builds muscle for your chest, each of them bothered my injury due to the circulation issue that resulted.

I also had a setback when my chest had almost healed.

During a Deadlift session, the bar pulled my body down so much that it almost re-injured my torn chest. More than ever, I understood why this was considered the King of All Exercises; I never expected chest to receive activation during it, yet there I was in noticeable pain.

After that, I took 2 full weeks off from the gym, save for some Lower Body calisthenics. This final rest gave me the push I needed.

Recovery

In the weeks that followed, not only did I recover from the tear; I got stronger than ever on Bench Press:

Now, should EVERYBODY who's torn their chest go back to benching?

Of course not. If you initially hurt it doing Bench Press, why go back to that?

But for me, I tore it doing Dumbbell Bench Press dangerously; my shoulders weren't tight enough and the increased range of motion really irritated my chest.

Properly performing Barbell Bench Press, luckily, does not bother me at all.

More than anything, I'm glad my weight was able to progress again. Before this, I could only do 6 clean reps at this weight.

Conclusion

Injury does NOT have to be part of exercise. As long as you have proper form, sleep well, and avoid any dangerous movements, you'll be all right.

Felt your muscles tweak a bit at the gym the other day? Maybe avoid the weights for a week and perform some stretches for it.

If your shoulders are in pain during Bench Press or Overhead Press, stop trying to tap your chest during the movements. Cutting down the range of motion could help you immensely.

If your lower back aches for DAYS every time you do Conventional Deadlifts or Barbell Rows, try Back exercises with less pressure on your spine.

If you find your knees and joints are bothering you when you do long-distance running (7+ miles) on a regular basis, try reducing how far you go.

Ultimately, do whatever you can to make your exercise safer. I value longevity as much as I do strength when it comes to my workouts. I want to be able to be at least as strong and fit as I am now when I'm 70 years old. If I wear out my body before I'm 30, however, there's no way that's gonna happen.

You might not be invincible, but you really don't need to be. You just need to take caution when exercising.