The ability to carry heavy loads is not only a vital part of work and life – it’s also just plain cool to do. But if heavy lifting regularly leaves you injured then you’ve got a problem, and if you rely on your ability to lift heavy things as a matter of life and death then you’d better be seriously well prepared. Here are some approaches that you can use to ensure you stay injury-free while still being able to perform at your best.
What Causes Injuries?
There are some injuries that, try as you might, you just aren’t going to be able to avoid, but for everything else, you’re going to need a strategy that will keep you in the game as long as possible and ensure that you can perform at your best.
1. Overuse Injuries
These types of injuries can occur over time as a result of over-stressing the body and/or not allowing sufficient time for recovery. Examples include muscle strains, knee pain, and lower back pain. Heavy lifting can exacerbate (and cause) overuse injuries.
2. Traumatic Injuries
These types of injuries happen suddenly and result in immediate pain. They can be caused by contact during sport and work. Examples include bruising, fractures, sprains and dislocations. Traumatic injuries are entirely possible during heavy lifting.
3 Ways to Prevent Injuries Under Heavy Weights
The safest way to carry a heavy load is to properly prepare yourself. This preparation should be three-fold: a strength program that is aimed at improving your abilities over the short-to-long term, a set of rules that you follow when lifting heavy things, and a system for ensuring that you recover properly and are able to maintain your performance. A failure to pay proper attention to one of these factors will significantly increase your chances of injury.
1. Your Strength Training Program
The strength training program that you follow will form the foundation of your ability to lift heavy loads both safely and effectively. It is the bedrock on which all performance rests, so you need to approach it intelligently.
You also need to be mindful of the fact that a strength training program can also lead to over use injuries that may actually cause problems during performance. Never forget that your training program should be supportive of your ability to perform and not be detrimental to it. Proper technique, programming, and recovery are all vital factors.
2. Your Pre-Performance Ritual
Assuming that you’ve already put in all the hard work developing your strength and that performance will come naturally, is incorrect (and it can be a dangerous assumption at that). If you are about to engage in strenuous physical exercise then you need to develop an effective routine that you can run through beforehand.
A pre-performance ritual or routine is defined as a “sequence of task relevant thoughts and actions which an athlete engages in systematically prior to his or her performance of a specific sport skill.”
What are the benefits of this? You’ll be more mentally prepared to achieve your goal and assist the neuromuscular pathways required to physically complete the task.
It seems almost too simple to be effective but there are two key things that can have a dramatic impact on your ability to succeed in lifting a heavy load (or indeed performing any task): Think about what you’re trying to achieve and imagine yourself achieving it. Practice the movement you are about to perform (this does not need to be done under load).
You may already be practicing your pre-performance ritual. It’s common for people to perform well when they report things like “I just felt really strong that day and the weight seemed almost effortless,” or conversely, “I knew I wasn’t going to be able to lift it” and a poor performance.
3. Your Post-Performance Recovery
Your ability to maintain a high level of performance is, in large part, down to the steps you take to recover following bouts of high intensity exercise. If you are likely to need to perform again very quickly, then time is an even more important factor. The following simple steps should form part of your recovery routine:
RE-HYDRATE: Where possible you should be drinking during performance but it’s also vitally important to re-hydrate during your recovery period.
E A T: The debate rages surrounding what and when you should eat following exercise. Eat relatively soon after you finish and eat foods that will help you to replenish energy.
REST/ACTIVE RECOVERY: Sooner or later you will need to recover. Even the most well conditioned athletes have a point at which they fail catastrophically and performance plummets.
Exercises For Carrying Heavy Weights
I’m a firm believer in the fact that your preparation should be relevant to your performance. That doesn’t mean that one has to be a carbon copy of the other, but that there should be a clear and definite aim when outlining your program.
If you need to be able to be able to run up a hill with 60lbs of kit, then practice that.
If carrying an injured person is a requirement of your job, then this is also something you should prepare for people do not act the same way as barbells!
If there are ‘pressure’ factors involved in your job, sport, or daily life then prepare for them, try to cater for things like weather, sensory elements (loud noise, poor vision, etc.), and terrain.
Where possible your exercise selection should enable you to build strength in a variety of movement patterns specific to the challenges you are likely to face. Compound movements like Deadlifts, Squats, Presses, and Pulls are great foundation exercises, but don’t be afraid to add adjustments where appropriate.
The training tool or method you select will also be of great importance here. Unconventional training methods are extremely useful as they have an inherent correlation with the performance-centric end of the training spectrum, examples include:
BODYWEIGHT TRAINING – Pull Ups, Muscle Ups, Push Ups, Dips, and Pistols are all exceptional exercises that improve your ability to move your body through space. If you need to be able to climb, clamber, and move over objects these are perfect.
SANDBAG TRAINING – Sandbags have a built-in instability that challenges you with every lift. Difficult to handle, and a perfect alternative to another person, the sandbag is a great training tool for anyone that needs to develop the ability to lift and carry another person. Use it for exercises like Loaded Carries, Shouldering, and Bear Hug movements for the best results.
KETTLEBELL TRAINING – The type of dynamic power produced through kettlebell training is incredibly useful in preparing the body for the rigors of high intensity performance. Swings, Cleans, Snatches, Get Ups, and Windmills all have a valid place in your training program.
Injury Prevention Program Development
As I always say, your program should be supportive of your goals. It needs to positively correlate with your ability to perform the tasks that you’re training for. With that in mind, it’s important that you regularly test that, making adjustments to the program where necessary.
Even the best program can be out of date the moment the pen leaves the paper.
Despite a number of established rules for achieving success in various physical disciplines, I don’t believe in cookie-cutter programs.
To develop a truly successful program you need to first consider what goals you are trying to achieve. You can follow this simple checklist:
Write a list of all of the physical challenges involved in your job, sport, or daily life (i.e. wearing kit that weighs 60lbs).
Write down the broad demands of these challenges, do this in plain english without getting too bogged down in the science (i.e. I need to be able to carry a person for up to 100 yards if they’re injured, this requires that I can lift up to 200lbs and carry it over 100 yards).
Decide if you can create specific training exercises using the broad demands you have defined in section 2. If so, then write these down as exercises.
Are there additional training methods that will assist you above and beyond the practical considerations you have identified?
Injury Prevention Heavy Weights Workout
Using this simple program development checklist above, you might produce something like this for a Hotshot crew:
A1: 3-mile Timed Hike in Full Kit
(Include 45lb rucksack, as fast as possible. Rest for 5 minutes.)
A2: 10 Pull Ups
A3: 20 Push Ups
A4: 30 Kettlebell Swings
A5: 200 lb Sandbag Load Carry 100 yrds Repeat for 3 rounds.
Additional Strength Work:
B1: Sandbag Bear Hug Squats 3 x 5
C1: Barbell Deadlifts 3 x 5
D1: Kettlebell Windmills 3 x 5