Adventures in Contest Prep: Overcoming an Overuse Injury

The following is installment #1 of Michelle’s log and recaps the time after her first show, up to the end of June.

In this piece, you’ll hear about Michelle’s first-hand experience with a high-volume training approach, which serves as a great reminder to athletes everywhere: it’s not just about how you train, it’s about how well you recover!

Michelle’s Log

Following my last competition on June 16th, I was flying high. I had exceeded my expectations in terms of how I would place and I had qualified for the provincials in September. I felt really positive and my hopes were high – but not for long.

I had been training with a team in the U.S. for several months (because the costs of one-on-one coaching aren’t cheap!) leading up to the show and was working hard, really really hard.

The team wanted me to train a minimum of two hours a day and the workouts were intense. I’m old (relatively) and my body doesn’t hold up as well anymore to a daily two hour training protocol anymore.

I know this because over the three months leading up to the show, my back had started to rebel.

Twice leading up to the show I strained my back a few times during my weight workouts but was able to recover after a few days.

I was lucky that my back held up moderately well and supported me up until the show because the Monday after the show, it decided to give out on my completely.

I wasn’t even lifting anything heavy at the time, just doing my first set of warm up squats with just the olympic bar which to me shows that my back injury was the result of overuse.

A few days later, my doctor confirmed this and informed me that I likely had herniated a disc in my low back. He advised me to cut back on my workouts and follow a less intense program.

I laughed because telling me to cut back on my workouts was like telling me to stop breathing (remember the hyperactive overachiever comment in Graeme’s article?) but I was in so much pain that I hadn’t even been able to get out of bed for two days.

The following two weeks I remained in awful pain and couldn’t sit at my desk for more than 20 mins at a time and getting back into the gym anytime soon seemed like an impossibility. I felt really depressed because I couldn’t exercise and so I also lost my motivation to follow my diet plan.

Even “going off the rails” with her diet, Michelle managed to stay pretty lean!

It was then that I realized that the doctor was right and that I needed to listen to my body and take a break from my current regimen. I wrote the team and told them I could no longer train with them on recommendation from my doctor. I was sad to do it, but I knew it was the right thing to do.

Feeling sorry for myself, I emailed Graeme and told him what had happened. I explained how depressed I was because I had been on such a high only to have my hopes of competing at the National Qualifier dashed.

We had built a really great, open relationship and had stayed in touch even when he had stopped training me. I knew I could trust his advice and that he would make me feel better even if I had to take the rest of the year off.

Instead of telling me to give up, Graeme offered to sponsor me and work with me around the injuries all the way to the provincials. Even though I had my doubts that I could be ready in time, I was ecstatic that we was willing to work with me.

I felt like I needed to be completely forthright and explain that I was not able to do any flexion (forward bending movements) nor could I tolerate anything but light weights at the moment anything heavy compressed my spine. This meant that all the large muscle building leg movements such as deadlifts, good mornings, squats and lunges were off the table – at least for now.

Graeme said we could work around it. Again, I had my doubts, but I figured what did I have to lose?

Next update: Michelle’s doctor throws a monkey wrench into her prep plans…

Michelle’s experience with the dangers of a high-volume training approach is a powerful lesson for athletes everywhere, particularly those who are not “pharmaceutically enhanced”.

Although athletes tend to get focused on trying to optimize their training and diet regiments, it’s actually the recovery process where all the benefits take place.

If there’s one word of advice I would have for athletes everywhere it would be this: allocating enough time to proper recovery is absolutely essential, both for growth as well as injury avoidance.

Unfortunately, Michelle learned this the hard way.

On the plus side, sometimes having to take some forced time off after an injury is just what the doctor ordered and when you rehab properly, often the athlete can come back stronger than ever.

To that end, we have spent the last few weeks doing more rehab style training in the gym (no crazy heavy lifting or plyometric activities for now), as well as limiting how much high-impact cardio Michelle is allowed to do.

And so far, Michelle’s back is responding well to the reduction in training volume and she’ll well on her way back.

You can reach Michelle through her blog @ or follow her on twitter @mommefit.