“The deadlift serves as a way to train the mind to do things that are hard.”
— Mark Rippetoe
When I was in college, I was into deadlifting. Really into deadlifting. Being long-limbed, I am built for it (long limbs are good leverage for pulling), and during my college years I discovered that I could increase my deadlift numbers with relatively greater ease than other big lifts like bench and squats (which tend to favor shorter limbs).
The improvement in my pulling power was exciting. As a result, I trained deadlift with increasing frequency and intensity. I maxed out my Junior year pulling 395 lbs at a bodyweight of 146 (2.7x bodyweight). That’s very bad in competitive powerlifting terms, but it’s very good in bro-at-college-gym terms.
Six months later, I was pulling an “easy” 315 early in a workout and both felt and heard a crunching tear from my lower back. Best professional guess is that I tore ligaments in the L5-S1 region of my spine. I wouldn’t be able to do any lower body lifting for 6 months.
I’ve had a lot of other injuries over the 9 years since then, although fortunately none have been as crippling as the lower back crash of ’08. I am now very fortunate to have a live-in physical therapist (aka fiance) to provide immediate treatment when I injure myself.
About a year ago, I tried doing a yoga consistently for the first time in my life. I’d always looked down on yoga as basically glorified stretching that didn’t fit into my programming, which is very strength-focused. I didn’t want to add more training days to my schedule or sacrifice lifting days to go to yoga classes. I finally gave it a real shot over Christmas vacation last year, when I was spending less time in the gym. Rather than going to classes, I watched Youtube videos. [hat tip Yoga With Tim]
During my January to July lean-out period, I used yoga on my off days to get a little training effect without over-taxing myself. I liked it. But come fall, I tapered off as my commitment to getting such frequent exercise waned.
To my (sort of) surprise, I started feeling a little creaky in the gym. More random joint pain, especially in my back. My fiance told me I needed to mobilize some areas (especially my lats and other scapular depressors). Turns out, child’s pose and downward dog are great for that…
Of course this is anecdotal, but when I started doing yoga again, I got a little less creaky. You can’t get strong if you aren’t able to lift, and you can’t lift very well if you’re injured. I’m not saying — I’m just saying.
Yoga has plenty of benefits. It’s good for mobility and stability. It’s good for endurance-strength. It’s good for mindfulness (10x more so if you already have a meditation practice). But for me, it would be worth it just for the injury-rate and general pain reduction I perceive when I mix yoga with lifting.
Would yoga have prevented my major back injury? Who knows. But I’m hoping it can help me avoid the next one.