Gaspari Nutrition

Ron Harris

Knowing When to Back Off

We bodybuilders are a hard-headed bunch. Most of us hate taking days off, even when all signs point to that being the smart thing to do.

Case in point? Last Friday while training legs, I somehow managed to sustain a very slight tear of a muscle on the very right hand lower corner of my lower back, where it meets the top of the glute. I say 'somehow' because I never felt anything happen during the actual workout other than the fact that my lower back felt pretty tight and it took me longer to warm up on squats than usual before I felt I was ready to start going heavy. Heavy is a very relative term - these days I rarely use more than 315 and squat toward the very end of the workout. Regardless, nothing really felt amiss until the next day, and by Sunday it was clear I had really hurt myself. That was an off day from training. Walking was painful, and getting up from a sitting or laying position took far more time and effort than it should have. I felt like I was 93 years old, not 43!

Monday was chest and triceps, and I was able to carefully train those with little difficulty. After the workout I headed to my chiropractor where I got an adjustment and EMS treatment on the area (Electric Muscle Stimulation).

Tuesday morning was scheduled as a back workout, and of course I decided to go ahead and do it despite my horrific back pain and obvious limitations. Chins and pulldowns were fine and I did those, but deadlifts, barbell rows, and even dumbbell rows were out of the question. Instead, I rigged up an incline bench inside a Smith machine as demonstrated by my training partner Rick in the middle photo. Traps are something I could have skipped because they are fairly dominant on me as it is, but I went ahead and did light dumbbell shrugs for high reps - 50's for 40 and 60's for 30. Thanks to a cancellation, I was able to get a deep-tissue massage late that afternoon which also helped a little.

Yesterday was shoulders and biceps. Again I was able to get through the workout, though I had to be very careful with my back. For instance, any overhead pressing had to be with moderate weight. We did them last on a Hammer Strength machine after various lateral raise movements, and I topped out at two 45's per side. By this point it was also clear I was coming down with a pretty bad cold. My appetite was nonexistent the rest of the day, which is always a very clear indication that I am getting sick.

Because I have to drive down to New York City Saturday to pick up my daughter from college and take her back here for her winter break, legs would have to be done either today or tomorrow to stay on schedule. When I woke up this morning, I was coughing up phlegm from my chest. There is one golden rule I heard years ago about training while sick that I have always followed. If the symptoms are above the throat, it's okay to work out. If they are below, stay home! That plus the fact that my back is still feeling terrible made me text both Rick and Mario to let them know I was not coming in today. What kind of leg workout would that have been? Instead, I took my son to school, came home and had breakfast, and went back to bed for a little over an hour.

I might go in tomorrow for a light workout if I feel up to it, but if not I have no problem skipping the gym again. On one hand it's frustrating because I had been starting to make some gains again, but at the same time I had to recognize that nothing positive could have come from training today. Most likely I will simply skip legs in this rotation. Looking on the bright side, they are my best bodypart anyway, so this is not a big deal at all.

This is cold and flu season (thankfully I did get a flu shot a couple months ago), and many of you are going to be faced with the same dilemma eventually. You will be sick and/or injured (hopefully you don't get the double whammy), and it will be up to you to decide whether to keep on training as usual, train but dial down the weights and intensity, or simply stay away from the gym to recuperate. No one can make that call but you. When it's time to decide, try to objectively stand back and decide whether you are better off pushing on and working out, or backing off and resting.

It's tough for us to rest even when we need to, especially for those of us who compete. We worry that our rivals are out there continuing to train hard, and we don't want to fall behind. But sometimes you have to take a step back to keep moving forward.

Talk to you all later!

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