f the Northeastern USA got walloped by a monster blizzard. My native Massachusetts got the worst of it, with up to 30 inches of snow in some places. My town got over two feet. This really isn’t so unusual, despite the media coverage this time. We almost always get at least one storm that drops two feet at once. If you have never had to clean up that amount of snow, let me tell you that it’s a lot of work. Thankfully I have a snow blower now, but there were many times when I did it the old-fashioned way, one shovel full at a time. Digging out a couple cars and a good size driveway and walkway can take you literally all day, and it’s back-breaking manual labor. If you’re lucky, the snow is the lighter and fluffier kind. If it’s the wet, heavy type, you’re in for a very rough day. When it’s over, your shoulders, arms, and particularly your lower back are going to feel like they’ve gone through a meat grinder.
What does this have to do with bodybuilding? Plenty! Most of us these days don’t have physical jobs. A lot of us talk to people, talk on the phone, and work on computers all day. Our only real exercise happens in the gym. But occasionally, all of us will indeed have to do something that is very physically taxing. It could be shoveling snow, as I mentioned. Or it might be moving to a new house or apartment, helping someone else move, a home improvement project like tiling a floor, cleaning out a garage full of 40 years’ worth of junk, etc. In fact, if you’re a bodybuilder AND you have a pickup truck, I would bet you’ve been asked to help quite a few people move! Any time I have done anything like this, I gain a new respect for people like movers, construction workers, contractors, or anyone who does this type of thing 40 hours a week or more. It’s brutal!
But like I said, most of us are not accustomed to it. It will put demands on your muscles that you’re not used to, and some areas like your lower back will definitely feel it for at least a couple days. That’s why you need to be very smart in the gym in the days that follow, otherwise you may very well set yourself up for a serious injury.
Let’s say you spent a good 4-6 hours shoveling snow today, and it was the heavy, wet kind. Tomorrow you are supposed to train back, and you normally deadlift. Optimally, you should simply postpone the workout and take an extra rest day. That’s what my training partners and I did earlier this week. Rather than train shoulders on Wednesday, we took the day off and did them yesterday. Today was legs. Normally we squat. But one of my training partners had a sore lower back from shoveling. When your lower back is sore, two things I feel you should never do are squats or deadlifts. Instead, we used a vertical squat machine and a leg press for our compound movements. He still got a good leg workout, but his lower back was not asked to stabilize his spine with 400 pounds on his back.
Many times when I speak to bodybuilders who have suffered a serious back or shoulder injury, they trace the problem to something outside the gym the day before. One guy told me about hurting his lower back squatting the day after unloading pallets from a truck for 8 hours the day before. He had squatted heavy many times before without any issues. The reason that time ended badly was that his lower back was being asked to work too hard on consecutive days.
Look, we all love to train. We are the opposite of those ‘regular’ people who look for any excuse to skip the gym. We have a hard time missing workouts even when we are sick, hurt, or otherwise compromised and potentially vulnerable. I’m here to tell you, as someone who has trained too many times when I would have been better off staying home, that you really need to consider extra rest days when the situation calls for them.
It’s tough because we all want to keep making progress, getting bigger and stronger and looking better. But if you get hurt, you can forget about all that. You won’t be getting better, and in fact you could very well lose size and strength if an injury is severe enough to limit what you can do in the gym.
I don’t recall anyone ever regretting taking an extra rest day or two if they were overly sore, sick, or otherwise not in a position to be at their best in the gym. I have heard from many over the years who wished they would have listened to their bodies a little better and given it a break when it needed one.
So that’s it. Train hard, but please train smart! Don’t be stubborn and insist on working out when all signs point to it being a bad idea at that moment. Rest up and come back in a day or two to hit it hard. You may not even know it, but knowing when to go all-out and when to take a break will be a key to your progress in the long term, and I mean over years and even decades. Take care of your body, respect it, and you will be glad you did.