Thursday, March 17, 2011

Injury prevention in GS, or, stuff I should have done

So earlier this month I injured my left arm. It was just the second rep of a planned 10 minute set. I had planned to break my personal record for 2x28kg long cycle, maybe even get CMS numbers. Instead I injured myself, and had to stop doing jerks for a couple weeks. That stunk.
That incident forced me to own up to one major shortcoming of my sport conditioning:

I did almost nothing for injury prevention.

Like most US kettlebell sport athletes, I am an amateur (and an over-40-year-old amateur, at that). Like many of my fellow athletes, I have a regular job, and family responsibilities, too. So I try to streamline and eliminate any part of my routine that is not absolutely necessary.

It turns out injury prevention is necessary.

I think before this happened, I would have agreed with the last sentence with my mouth, but not with my actions. Sure, I stretched a little during the cool-down phase of my workouts. But that was it. But it took straining my left triceps badly enough that I could not even do cleans (much less jerks or snatches) in order to internalize this lesson and really learn it.

So in the meanwhile I improvised. I started doing jump squats with a barbell, as well as kettlebell swings. Gradually, I added back cleans, then bumps and (very) light barbell jerks, then one-armed jerks with a light weight. Last night was my first night back doing long cycle clean and jerk, albeit with the 20kg bells instead of my usual 28's.

I also took this time to study what the pros do. It turns out joint mobility work and stretching are a big deal. I saw an interview with World Champion and Master of Sport World Class athlete Denis Vasiliev and here's a summary of what he said about his stretching routine (as recorded by Tom Corrigan):

[Denis Vasiliev] believes that having a great stretching session can be even more important than having a great lifting session. His reasoning is that if he has a great lifting session, but a poor stretching session, he will recover less, sleep worse and not be ready to train as hard the next day. But if he has a poor training session (i.e. not meeting his goals) but has a great stretching session, his muscles will feel better, he will sleep great, and he will be able to train harder and better the next day.

Tom recorded Vasiliev's stretching sessions, and a video of one appears below. Note: Tom's record of Vasiliev's comments appear when the video is viewed at the YouTube site here.

Just as importantly, Tom recorded Vasiliev's pre-workout joint mobility warm up:

Tom noted: Here is the joint mobility warm up of KB Sport World Champion Denis Vasil'ev. He does this after a general warm up of his body done by running on a treadmill or an elliptical machine. He systematically works through his joints, making sure he is ready to start working hard.
The rest of Tom's comments may be found when watching the video here.

So now I've added a joint mobility warm up and cool down to my routine, and I've expanded the stretching I do once I'm done. I must confess that I had neglected true stretching for so long that I had no idea how much flexibility and range of motion I had lost. I'm thinking of adding a yoga workout to my off days.

On the bright side, many of my kettlebell compatriots offered me well wishes and helpful advice. Steven Khuong, in particular, was very encouraging, and even sent me two get well gifts. Here I am wearing the first one:

In case you missed the logo on the shirt, here is a closeup:

As many of you know, the Ice Chamber is one of the top kettlebell sport gyms in North America. Steven Khuong and Maya Garcia are the founders. Maya actually wrote an excellent article about restorative stretches for kettlebell sport just last week.

Recently, The Ice Chamber was host to an excellent sport camp that featured (among others) absolute world record holder Ivan Denisov. (Edited to add: I am told that the camp also featured coach Cate Imes and the legendary Valery Fedorenko, so you can imagine how good the camp was). Denisov is widely considered to be one of the best (if not the best) kettlebell sport athletes in the world. My other gift from Steven was a calender featuring Denisov, signed by the champion himself. Here is a photo:

After my injury, I asked for help designing a convalescent workout regimen at the WKC forum. Steven not only offered suggestions, but offered to send get well gifts. I was truly touched that Steven sent such thoughtful gifts to me. I hope its not long before I meet him, and the other great athletes from the Ice Chamber.

In the meantime, I'm back on the training road. I've decided that now its unlikely that I will make the Candidate for Master of Sport Rank (CMS) this summer at the state championships, although its still a reasonable goal for the year. We will see. In the meantime, I'll leave you with a photo follow up from my last two posts. It seems that my youngest daughter Maddie thinks the best thing about the Perform Better Kettlebells is the foam packaging they send their KB's in. Turns out they can be used as planters for summer tomatoes. I'll let you know how they turn out.


  1. Man... sorry to read about the hard knocks. Perhaps the lessons learned will allow for better results down the road. Get well!

  2. Thanks, Britt. Really, it could have been a lot worse. This is my first KB-related injury in several years of training (and close to two years of training GS).
    I hope this post does not fall on deaf ears. Part of the reason I wrote it was to influence other lifters and prevent them from repeating the same mistakes.
    I think I can still make CMS this year, but its unlikely I can do it at the GA State Championships. Thanks again, and hope to meet you in person soon.