Lee Labrada on Injuries - What Are the Top Injuries and What To Do About Them?

Lee Labrada Talks About Injuries, Preventing Them and What To Do If You Get Them

by Clayton South and Lee Labrada

Bodybuilding injuries can occur for several reasons and once they happen, they limit our ability to continue making progress.

With the new year upon us and spring and summer fast approaching, everyone – experienced bodybuilders and new – will be hitting the gym harder than ever, shedding body fat, building muscle and getting ready for warmer weather and the chance to show off the results of our hard work.



Inevitably, some of us will get injured in our attempt to get the perfect body. When this happens, what do we do? How can we avoid being sidelined or, worse, crippled, by injury? How can we continue on to achieve our goals?

In this interview, Lee Labrada shares his over three decades of professional bodybuilding expertise and knowledge, and answers these questions like no one else can.

The Interview with Lee Labrada on Injuries:

Clayton South: Lee, over the course of your career, you consistently put together a quality physique - and while you're undeniably an expert at building, shaping and keeping muscle, there had to be occasions when you got hurt. What were some of your injuries over the course of your career?

Lee Labrada: I competed all the way from the amateur level right to the professional ranks, including the Mr. Olympia. One of the common elements that I lived with from year to year were muscle strains.

If I had to narrow it down to one type of injury to which I was most prone, I would say muscle strains. Strains would happen to me in the spinal erectors, and occurred once during leg presses where my back was very tight from a back workout that I had done the day before and I came in very deep on the leg press, and felt something give in my back and one of my spinal erectors was sprained.

It was something that put me on my back for a week!

Some of the other injuries that I've had include strains to the hamstrings. I remember competing in a Mr. Olympia once, training right before the show, doing some lunges, and I felt my hamstring muscles feel like they were unraveling; it felt almost like a curtain tearing. Fortunately, it was just a strain – nothing huge – but it set me back for several days.

These are just some of the things that I've experienced over the course of my career.

CS: So your injuries were mostly strains. I know that Dorian Yates had a pectoral tear at one point. Did you ever have any significant injuries that kept you sidelined for a long time?

LL: No, nothing that I would call “traumatic” or “catastrophic” injuries vis a vis a pec tear or a biceps pull from the bone. Nothing like that. I attribute this to the fact that I was always very respectful of my body – I was always in tune with my body and able to differentiate between the pain caused by muscular exertion during a set, and the pain that's caused by an actual injury – injurious pain to joints and tendons.

CS: You've said already that most of the injuries that you had were strains, but did your injuries change as you became more advanced?

LL: I've seen others suffer from torn pecs, triceps injuries, blown discs in the back and so on.

As you become more experienced, you tend to be more cautious in training, and you tend to warm up more thoroughly and to execute the exercises more correctly. Over time, then, injuries tend to become RSI injuries – repetitive stress injuries like muscle strains, tendonitis, bursitis and more.

Training Over 40

CS: When you're young and your body has a greater recovery capacity, your risk factors are different than when you're older...

LL: Yes, and you learn to listen to your body and, as I mentioned before, you learn to tell the difference between normal pain associated with muscular exertion, and injurious pain, resulting from joint and tendon strain.

If I could give one piece of advice to bodybuilders and athletes, it would be this: learn to tell the two kinds of pain apart.

Too often, there is the “no pain, no gain” mentality that permeates the workout, all to the detriment of the young bodybuilder.

Often times, bodybuilders simply think that the pain they experience is something through which they must push. In reality, however, the body is telling them that there is injury being caused to the joints and tendons. So it is important to differentiate between these two.

You can typically tell the difference between the two by remembering that muscular pain, in terms of lactic acid, burning, fatigue, is normal normal during heavy training. It's not normal to have sharp stabbing pains in the joints themselves, or right where the muscle inserts. In this case, your body will usually give you a warning that something is about to happen. At this point you want to immediately back off.

CS: As you got older and more advanced, what were some of the injury risk factors that changed for you?

LL: Again, there are always risks whenever you train, and obviously the risk becomes greater as you become a stronger bodybuilder, as you become more experienced and the muscles actually become stronger. It's interesting that when you're a beginning bodybuilder, that one of the greatest dangers are that the muscles are growing so fast and become so strong so quickly, that the joints and tendons can't keep up – so you can experience a tear that way.

When you become older and more experienced, the muscles are so powerful – and typically the tendons have adjusted – but if you don't warm-up correctly, those powerful muscles can end up tearing as well. So, for this reason I think that the warm up is very important.

Young Bodybuilders and Injuries

CS: You've trained thousands of young bodybuilders. In your view, what are young bodybuilders doing that's getting them injured?

LL: For young bodybuilders I would say that the two biggest mistakes are: using poor form, and using too much weight. These things go hand in hand.

This typically happens because bodybuilders do not learn to perform the exercise correctly and, even if they do, because in their pursuit for added muscle size they use heavier training poundages, they end up pushing it too much – using too much weight on an exercise – and sacrificing form. Both poor form on an exercise – viz-a-viz leaning too far forward on a squat – or using too much on any exercise – is going to cause injury.

Not warming up is also another factor. Many times people forget that muscles are like rubber bands – very elastic when warm, and brittle when cold. Like an elastic band, when your muscles are cold and brittle, they tend to snap. By thinking of muscles in this way, you're more likely to perform a thorough warm up. Jumping on the bike doing some cardio and getting your core temperature is important.

Not listening to your body is something we mentioned before and it's a big one.

Two other ones are: not focusing on the exercise. In other words, being distracted by something else going on in the gym or having your mind somewhere else. Your body and mind work together and you have to get your mind in the muscle and you have to stay focused.

And, finally, you have to have a good training partner. If you have a training partner who is distracted by a young lady doing the stairmaster and they're not there to spot you at your moment of failure – say on a bench press – you can really get into trouble.

Warming Up

CS: Before moving on, I think it's important for us to talk more about the method of warming up because it is so important. Do you recommend doing cardio first and then stretching, or stretching first and then cardio?

LL: I recommend five to ten minutes of cardio. I'm not a big proponent of doing thirty to forty-five minutes of cardio prior to a workout. When I say do a little bit of cardio, I mean light cardio in order to raise the overall body temperature, after which time you can proceed to warm-up sets, which consist of the first exercise for the bodypart, using lighther weights.

Injury Prevention

CS: If you had a quick list of 5 tips that you could give to young and old bodybuilders, new and experienced, to prevent injuries in the first place, what would they be?

LL: We just mentioned always warming up prior to exercise, so lets go back to that. This one is especially necessary during cold weather and especially as you get older. I find that most trainees – beginners and experienced – don't do sufficient warm ups. Secondly, I would say to stretch prior to exercise once you're warmed up – you don't want to stretch a cold muscle – but once the muscle is warmed up, stretch lightly. You should also stretch lightly between sets. I find that stretching between sets tends to counter the contracting-effect that the set has on the muscle. By stretching lightly between sets, then, the muscle can be kept more flexible and less prone to injury.

When you do stretch, ensure that you don't bounce, because this has a negative feedback effect that can actually tighten the muscles; it's important to just stretch in a very smooth fashion to keep steady and consistent pressure on the muscle.

I would also say that it's important to pay attention to what you're doing, both during the pre-workout stretch and the warm up, as well as during the actual workout. It's easy to get distracted, and sometimes you even can be distracted if you're using a mirror to look at yourself exercising – in cases like these you can go outside of yourself instead of feeling what's going on inside the muscle group. I can't stress it enough that you have to get your mind into the muscle – that you have to focus on what's happening in the muscle and what it's feeling.

I would also say that you have to eat right. You have to eat a lot of protein in order to recover. You have to provide enough fuel for your body to store glycogen for the different workouts. You need to consume essential fatty acids because they are needed for the integrity of the lipid membrane in the cell. So, strengthening your body for the workout is going to ensure that you don't get hurt and you're not suffering from nutritional deficiencies that can make you weaker.

Then, finally, I would say: get enough rest. Recovery happens outside of the gym, and if you're not recovering sufficiently, then when you go into the gym, the muscle will still be fatigued - that is going to be detrimental for your workout performance, and that can also make you injured. Also keep in mind that if you don't get rest, you simply won't grow any muscle. Injury Types and Treatments

CS: So what are the most common types of injuries that affect bodybuilders?

LL: The most common types, in no particular order are:

  • Tendonitis: I mentioned this before which is inflammation of the tendon.

  • Straining: I mentioned this as well, and to me this is tearing a good percentage of muscle fibers. This comes from overstretching or overusing a muscle, and it's very common.

  • Spraining is very similar – it's overstretching the ligaments, and most people expereience this in the form of sprained ankles and similar injuries. You can get sprains even when you're working out, so you have to be careful with that.

  • Bursitis: This is inflammation of the bursa sack, which is the padding between the muscle and the bone. This tends to happen most often in shoulders, for example.

  • Avulsions: These are a tearing of the muscle, like a pec tear or something.

  • Contusions: These are injuries resulting from bruising caused by impact. These kinds of injuries are quite serious. I had an injury once as a younger bodybuilder when I was in my teens, and I actually dropped a bar that I was bench pressing onto my chest. I felt like I had been hit by a Mack truck! I ended up with a bruised sternum. So contusions are possible, and they're obviously more freak-type of accidents but you have to be careful to not drop a weight on yourself. These kinds of injuries can be potentially life threatening. Imagine if you're doing behind-the-neck presses with a bar and you drop the bar on the back of your neck, it can be lights out.

  • Fractures: These don't happen so much, but I've seen them, especially in powerlifters.


CS: Let's talk about treatment, so that you can get back into the gym without much of a layoff.

LL: Ok. First, back off. In other words, if you have a legitimate injury, you either need to take time away from the gym to allow your body to recover, or you need to work around the injury. I used to do this – work around the injury. If I had something going on in a leg muscle, for example, I could still go to the gym and work my upper body, or I would choose exercises that wouldn't directly antagonize the muscle group. There have been times, for example, where I've had sore elbows, which would prevent me from doing bench presses, but would not prevent me from doing pec deck or flyes with dumbbells.

Secondly, I would say go and see a doctor, or a chiropractic doctor is a good place to start, and let them determine if the injury is serious – what the extent of it is – they can spot potentially damaged bones and the like, so I think that's important.

If it's a minor injury, by contrast, and this is what I always used to do, first I would back off, but I would rest it and ice the area. I like to ice the area for about 10 to 15 minutes until the area goes numb, and then take the ice pack off and let it come back to body temperature slowly, and then I would repeat the process. What this does is create a “thermal pump” between hot and cold. The cold pushes blood and debris out of the area and the warming up allows warm and fresh blood to come into the area as temperature normalizes. You can do this several times a day. Injury Types and Treatments (Continued)

CS: Do you find that the technique of alternating hot and cold water in the shower has the same effect?

LL: Yes, I think that in totality. But I like the shower technique for recovery, if I have a lot of sore muscles, then oscillating between a warm shower and a cold dip works. In fact, I have a hot tub and a pool in my backyard, and when I get sore, I will jump in my ice cold pool to push blood out of my extremities and into my torso – I can do this only for a minute or two – but I then jump in the hot tub, and this pushed blood from my core out to my extremities. If you are not in good shape, don't do this because it is a bit stressful to the cardiovascular system but it is a good way of flushing debris out of the muscles using a thermal pump.

I think that, in the case of an acute injury like a very sore pectoral muscle, an ice bag is suitable, pressed against the wound for about 10-15 minutes, allowing the muscle to warm up after this time and then repeating the process.

CS: What about elevation of wound?

LL: Elevation is great, especially when dealing with leg issues. Once, I had a strain in my calf muscle where I had strained and contused some of the gastrocnemius, and there was discoloring and pressure build-up in the area and it actually felt good to elevate my leg while watching TV or reading, and to allow the blood to drain out. Elevation is something that is great, and when you can't do this, compressing the wound is helpful to reduce swelling.

Before moving on, I'd like to mention that you can use ibuprofen – also known as Advil or Motrin – and I like to take 600mg several times daily to help reduce inflammation – it's very effective.

Recovery Supplements

CS: Let's talk about recovery supplements. Which ones are ideal?

LL: From my perspective, I think that vitamin C is great for recovery, not to mention that it has a very positive effect on connective tissue. The amino acid glutamine helps with recovery tremendously. Systemic enzymes – proteolytic enzymes that break down proteins – you can use to help break down some of the adhesions that are caused during exercise.

One excellent product is our Sorenzyme – it's one of the best kept secrets in bodybuilding. Interestingly enough, I have many, many top UFC Fighters like Tim Sylvia, for instance, who eat this like candy because after a bouts and matches, they're so sore and bruised. This Sorenzyme literally breaks down all of the adhesions and helps to reduce the delayed onset muscle soreness – DOMS – and helps them recover faster.

Believe it or not, another one is fish oil. Fish oil is high in certain essential fatty acids that, taken in sufficient quantity – a couple of tablespoons per day – can help to reduce systemic inflammation.

Lastly, a good joint formula is essential – one that contains chondroitin, MSM and collagen is a good supplement to take because it strengthens connective tissue, it strengthens the collagen that's in the muscle cells. We have a product called Elastijoint, and it's probably the strongest one on the market.

Of course, drinking water is important. So is nutrition. It's just a fact that a good solid nutritional program is the basis for recovery, and as you point out, water is one part of that. Protein is another, consumption of carbohydrates and essential fatty acids is another – all of these have to be in place.

CS: Lee, it has been informative as always and I want to thank you on behalf of the readers for the great bodybuilding information.

LL: It's a pleasure as always, train safe!

About The Authors

Clayton South is an ISSA Sports Performance Nutritionist and recognized expert in the bodybuilding / fitness industry with over 150 bodybuilding, fitness and nutrition publications to his credit. Mr. South has worked as the Chief Research Officer (CRO) of a major nutrition company, and he currently serves as a marketing and advertising advisor to many of the major companies in the dietary supplement industry.

As a consumer advocate, Clayton South tests and reviews dietary supplements every day. In this role he is the author of "The Supplement Files" - an unbiased, truthful "no-nonsense" inside look at dietary supplement products.

In addition to writing other articles, Mr. South authors Clayton South Health Facts, Q and A with Clayton South, and Applied Bodybuilding Research.

He is a regular contributor to Double XL Magazine, Bodybuilding.com and Lee Labrada’s Lean Body Coaching Club. He has millions of readers every month from around the world.

Lee Labrada, is a former IFBB Mr. Universe and IFFB Pro World Cup winner. He is one of few men in history to place in the top four in the Mr. Olympia seven consecutive times, and was recently inducted into the IFBB Pro Bodybuilding Hall of Fame. Lee is President/CEO of Houston-based Labrada Nutrition.
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Rivera, Hugo. "Lee Labrada on Injuries - What Are the Top Injuries and What To Do About Them?" ThoughtCo, Dec. 27, 2015, thoughtco.com/top-injuries-and-what-to-do-about-them-415387. Rivera, Hugo. (2015, December 27). Lee Labrada on Injuries - What Are the Top Injuries and What To Do About Them? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/top-injuries-and-what-to-do-about-them-415387 Rivera, Hugo. "Lee Labrada on Injuries - What Are the Top Injuries and What To Do About Them?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/top-injuries-and-what-to-do-about-them-415387 (accessed November 18, 2017).