The 3 Biggest Injury Risks in the Gym

When I work out in the gym, every now and then, I see these three gym routines which are done poorly and they are injuries in the making.

1)      Upright Row

The upright row routine is to lift a barbell with a pronated grip ( palm facing down), with the hands about 7.5cm -20cm apart, from the hips up to the chin and lower it back down. The weight is lifted in line with the vertical axis of the body of the upper torso. It involves multiple joints and mainly targets the shoulders.

Injury risk: When the arm is moving sideways away from the body into shoulder elevation, some amount of shoulder external rotation is required. The biomechanical nature of the upright row makes it difficult to allow external rotation to occur. Incorrect lifting techniques including arching the back or pushing the head forward when coming up, due to the excessive weights of the bar, places serious pressure on the spine which can lead to long term damage.

2)      Deadlift

The aim of this routine is to lift the barbell from the floor up to the hips, then lower it again while bending from the hips and knees. It is used to develop overall body strength and power, and requires the use of almost every muscle group in the body.

Injury risk: Excessive lower back bend during the lift. There is a jelly like material in between the vertebrae called the disc. It is most susceptible to injury when the spine is in a bend (flexed) position. The back extensor muscle called erector spinae lose their mechanical ability to stop the gravitational anterior shear force on  the vertebra. Therefore it is extremely important to keep the spine in neutral or slight extension.

3)      Chin Up and Lateral Pulldown

The chin up and lateral pulldown belong to the group known as the ‘vertical pull’ exercises.

The goal of the pulldown is to pull the bar from above the head down to the chin (or below it) and then control the weight back up again.

In chin up, the goal is to hold a stationary bar and lift or pull the body up from a hanging position until the chin clears the bar.

Injury risk: The primary concern is that the anterior structures of the shoulder (anterior labrum, ligaments and biceps tendons) can be ‘overstretched’ if the shoulder blades are allowed to tilt forward at the end of the lift (at the top of the chin up or when the bar is at chin level with pulldowns). If the shoulder blades tilt forward, the head of the upper arm bone (humerus) moves forward in relation to the glenoid (where the humerus sits to stay connected to the shoulder blade) and the structures in the front of the shoulder can be injured. Also if the neck extends excessively during the lift, which would occur during pulldown when the lifter is looking up or if the bar is pulled behind the neck, the joints and the discs in the neck will suffer.

In conclusion, simple exercises when done incorrectly can cause injuries during the move or they can occur further down the track. It is important to understand the biomechanics of the routines, the structures involved and the posture maintained during execution. When you visit us in PhysiCo, we not only treat your injuries, but also discuss with you why they happen and point you to the correct way of doing things to minimise injuries. Give us a try.

Written by Ben Lee, sports physiotherapist at PhysiCo. Hyde Park Medical Centre, 175 Liverpool Street, Sydney. NSW 2000. Tel: (02) 9267 3775