Managing Risk in the Gym

I think of the potential for injury in sport or training as coming down to five fundamental things:

#1. How aware are you of the risk?
#2. How frequent is the risk?
#3. How big is the risk?
#4. How able are you to make a course correction?
#5. How WILLING are you to make a course correction?

Competition can (and probably should) alter the fifth factor in a fundamental way. Training may ask the same. As a good friend of mine says, you can’t run a machine at its limits and not expect some level of breakdown.

I’m not saying this from some removed place. My neck is still sore from a very large man trying to crank it in a way it doesn’t like to go. That was a short 90 minutes ago. Jiu jitsu is my weird hobby of choice. I make some compromises for it. Even within a relatively relaxed training session, I still can’t always move in a way that is in the best interest of my joints. 230 lbs worth of somebody else’s bad intentions can get in the way of stuff like that.

I think about strength training for both athletes and regular folks quite a bit. Not shocking. At Bang Fitness, we manage risk factors in a few different ways. The closer to the rehab end of the continuum someone is, the higher a priority #4 becomes. The ability to immediately and completely disengage is essential. Isometric loading (muscular contraction without movement) is useful here. Speed of disengagement can be a bit more negotiable for a more durable person (or durable body part). You earn the right to risk.

Risk itself is fluid. High loads can wreck you if you’re caught in a terrible position. But a tremendous amount of diligence goes into ensuring good positioning and skill. So #3 can be high but #2 is reasonably low.

But what ultimately differentiates training from competition – at least for us – is #5. There is no prize money or gold medal for what happens in a single training session. Our north star is how we’re feeling years from now, not minutes. So willingness to make a course correction is high. Building awareness and capability (#1 and #4) is a big part of our job. So, while all hard physical work carries some level of risk, we can minimize that risk in important ways.

If you want to compromise on #5, do it for fun. Or for glory. Or for millions of dollars. Maybe don’t do it for short-term progress, or for ego, or for a competition that only exists in your head. That stuff just isn’t that important. You could argue that none of the above is (except maybe fun).

What we do is not a sport. This is a good thing and an important differentiator. It means that we never have to compromise on #5. We push hard – often aggressively. But are willing to hit eject the second it becomes wise to do so. There’s no attachment to anything but the process. That non-attachment is what guides our day-to-day decision-making, manages risk, and guides our process.

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