Now that I have your attention, this post should have been called ‘How I Gave Myself Patellar Tendonitis’.
Because it doesn’t really matter what the sport or activity is, if you’re body has a weak link, it has a weak link. The straw that breaks the camel’s back can represent any discipline. Shit, it can even be bending down to pick up the mail off of the floor. Where there are weaknesses, there are heightened probabilities of those weaknesses being exposed whenever you move the body around. Especially, if like me, you are a moving human who enjoys moving through new planes and axes and exploring just what is possible.
Since developing an aggrevated, spicy filling in my patella sandwich, I have come to learn the hard way, yet again, that iif your body can’t handle the relevant positions you need to achieve without load, you can guarantee when you apply load you’re going to hit a roadblock before long.
Weightlifting as a sport is essentially dependent on applying load. Add in a generous helping of male ego and ball-swelling, goal-chasing mentality and load becomes your reason d’etre.
Add that load to a body that doesn’t like to move in certain ways, and make it perform 5 days a week like this, it’s not long before the weakest area gives out.
So here’s some interesting things that I have discovered about myself which had been sat under the radar of body consciousness, plus other things that I had subtly, yet deliberately ignored about my body’s functioning.
- Starting at the point of contact with the floor, an area which is literally the foundation for Weightlifting; my ankles. Turns out that my ankles really like to roll on their outer edges, known as inversion. They like to under-pronate, or over-supinate if we are getting technical.
They also are extremely sub-par in the dorsiflexion arena, something I was born with; super high arches in my feet and seriously short achilles tendons in my legs. For the first 15 years or so of my life, I pretty much walked around on my tip toes all the time. I have calves the size of inverted bowling skittles because of it. And they’re notoriously tight as fuck.
What all this means is that the ankle as a mechanism cannot absorb shock efficiently. Weightlifting successfully is very much centred around efficient shock absorption.
- Moving further up from the floor contact area, to the hips. Turns out that my hips love to do just that; turn out. External rotation is my favourite. Internal rotation is an abomination. This imbalance in my hips’ rotational ability also means that they cannot absorb a jumping force efficiently enough to be successful in something like weightlifting.
- My hip stability added fuel to the knee-burning fire – my hip stabilisers, the glute medius and glute minimus, were piss weak. So when nullifying momentum or absorbing force was supposed to happen, the hips yet again couldn’t do their job properly. So take into account no shock absorption at the ankles, no shock absorption at the hips, and no stability in the hips, is it any wonder that the patellar tendons took all the brunt and my right tendon popped whilst receiving the bar in a power clean one Tuesday evening?
- Moving on to things being under the radar and below my level of body-consciousness; I knew my ankle dorsiflection was shit. But I had wrongly assumed that the wedge of my lifting shoes would still allow me to hit positions properly. How wrong I was. They definitely assisted my in being able to hit a static deep squat position – we all know a slightly elevated heel will permit those with tight ankles to get a bit more range. However, weightlifting is an explosive action-sport and if your knee cannot track over the toe a sufficient distance even with the assistance of a wedged shoe, trouble lies ahead. You can’t rely on a prop like this and hope you can get around the effect of pure physics.
- I knew my adductors were tight, so I just did the sensible thing and stayed away from movements which reminded of this fact. Because who wants to be reminded that they suck?
- I thought my glutes were strong. Why? Because I did weightlifting!! There’s no way I could be a weightlifter AND weak. Surely not? My ego did a fantastic job of pushing the possibility of weakness under the rug and instead aided me to focus on hitting the numbers.
- Surely my coach would have mentioned that I sucked in the areas of the ankle and unloaded deep squat? Surely he would have prescribed me to stick with the wooden broomstick or PVC pipe drills for two years, like the Chinese? Well, let me tell you this, in the West, if you told everyone who came to your class that a) they sucked, and b) they had to do the most mind numbing of drills in order to re-program and re-pattern their brain-body connection, you would have ZERO clients. That is not what people want to hear when they sign up for learning a new skill like weightlifting. I’m pretty sure I would have quit the same day I had started if my coach looked at me and said ‘You know what? You’ll be good at this, but first you must practice with this broomstick for 18 months until your ankles looses, your hips can absorb force and your glutes are strong enough to remember to fire when you jump and land.”
- Applying load whilst simultaneously performing an explosive movement WILL expose your weakest links, either directly or indirectly. In my case, it was indirect; my knees gave out, which highlighted that my hips and ankles were the culprits.
It sucked to have my knee pop out on me. And it sucked to have to call it a day just some 12 months since first starting the whole journey. I definitely chased the numbers too fast, too soon and a lot of that behaviour was due to knowing and being told that I could achieve those numbers if I tried. That was true, I hit those numbers, but I also butchered myself in the process.
Had I worked at a lower intensity regarding load and been aware of all my mechanical and mobility-based issues from the start, then perhaps I would still be lifting by now.
Instead, I am now working from what feels like square one, as I try to rectify the causes for my patella tendonitis. This means rebuilding a better foundation via a more conscious, intelligent, ego-free approach.
I think weightlifting is a fantastic activity and movement practice. It’s also really fun and can really fuck you up if you don’t take care of all the areas that could contribute to your downfall later down the line. The hard part is discovering what those pitfalls are before you fall down in to their pits…
The good news about this injury is that a) I have discovered my true areas of weakness and b) I now have a chance to work on my inversion and handbalancing, and become a much stronger mutant in my upper body!
Silver linings and all…..
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