Injuries can happen. But there are safeguards and precautions you should follow in order to avoid them. Here are the top four.
1. The Straight Bar
One of the primary rule I give the athletes that come to Therapy Central is to avoid using a straight bar while lifting if at all possible...really.
Using a straight bar to do military press, bench press and bent over rows, (the three exercises that work the shoulders, chest and back the most where you can use the greatest amount of weight), puts the shoulders and elbows in an extremely compromised position. This is the cause the majority of upper body tightness and injuries in the athletes we see.
Using a straight bar to do squats, lunges and power cleans, (the three exercises that work the quads, hamstrings, gluts, and back where you can use the greatest amount of weight), causes more neck and low back injuries in athletes than any other exercises. Without good neck and back health, an athlete is not very athletic!
Note: If you insist on using a straight bar in your training routines, please keep your elbows tucked into your sides, hands shoulder width apart. Doing so keeps stress to your shoulder and elbows to a minimum and increases sport specific muscle memory patterns.
In football you block your opponent with your hands and elbows tucked into your body. If you don't it's called holding.
When firing off the line and exploding up into your opponent, again, your hands and elbows are tucked unto your body...not to the side as you would see in a traditional bench press or push up.
2. Isolating Muscles
The second rule is to avoid exercises that isolate individual muscles like the biceps, triceps, quads, hamstrings and calves.
These include bicep and hamstring curls, tricep extensions, calf raises and leg/quad extensions. These inevitably lead to muscle imbalances which, if you add speed and torque result in tears, strains and sprains.
3. High weight, Low Reps, And Fast
The third rule is to avoid doing high weight and low reps...fast in your weight training routines. This flies in the face of nearly every middle school, high school, collegiate and professional weight training program...for a reason.
If you haven't noticed they all have a lot of athletes getting injured on a regular basis! They say it's all a part of sports and is to be expected...and it is expected, if you continue to do the things that cause the injuries in the first place!
Is there a sport where the athletes do 8 repetitions during their sport? Let's think about it–baseball, nope. Soccer, nope. Football, nope. Does doing 3 sets of 8 repetition train your muscles for endurance or stamina? Nope.
I've heard many athletes that say, "I used to be fast, and then I started lifting and now I'm one of the slowest kids on the team. What happened? I'm stronger but I'm slower." One, an 8th grade football play was slower by over a minute in the mile and his vertical leap was over 2 inches less than before starting a strength training program the year before. Not the 'progress' he was looking for, I'm sure.
I understand the motivation and rational of working with high weight in combination with quick burst movements. I also understand how much risk is involved with this weight training technique. Because of this, plyometric exercises should be included in any training regimen to achieve the killer combination of power and speed.
4. Maxing Out
And the final rule–avoid any and all maxing out in your training regimen. This practice is the one thing that I have seen more acute injuries that have ended many an athletes' career prematurely.
I'll give you an example.
I treated a 13 year old baseball player with a low back injury who was injured under the supervision of his middle school coach while 'maxing out' doing 'power cleans'.
A kid at that age has growth plates aren't completely closed yet. So they should never lift anything close to 70, 75 or 80% of their 'max'.
Think of it like this–teaching a teenager to 'max out' with weights is like giving them the keys to your car and asking them to see how fast the car can take a corner before it rolls over!
In each case, they are going to get hurt. If not in school under the coaches supervision, they will get hurt when they inevitably are working out without supervision.