Bodybuilding Legend Says Lifting Weights Will Make You "Injury-Bound"

posted in: Strength Training, Uncategorized | 11
Dave Draper at age 63
Dave Draper at age 63

In a recent interview with T-Mag (article here), Bodybuilding Legend, Dave Draper, was asked the following question:

Not to make it sound like you’re falling apart, but just a few months ago, you had a lumbar laminectomy. Are injuries unavoidable for the weight-lifting crowd?

Draper responds:

“Injuries are avoidable if the lifter is sensible, cautious, controlled, and mildly motivated. The lifter with these personality traits generally lasts seven to 10 days under the iron before he escapes.

A determined bodybuilder is driven, daring, intense, and injury-bound. Comes with the territory. It’s the last rep and the extra plates that kill you. These are also the ones that build large, powerful, and well-shaped muscle.

What’s a lifter to do? Eat right, rest a lot, warm up plenty, focus on muscle engagement, maintain proper form, take exertion to 99%, not 101%, and learn from the inevitable injuries that strike you down.”

Here’s my take on Draper’s response:

I think this is a very important point that needs to be heard again and again, that there is a tremendous risk to benefit ratio when it comes to lifting heavy weights.

With the bodybuilding boom that echoed across the United States a few decades ago, men were bombarded with an image of what the masculine “HE” should look like. While I think natural bodybuilding is an impressive and respectable sport, I cannot condone the notion that the pursuit of larger muscles and physique-based goals should be at the forefront of every man’s mind (or women’s). Muscle size is not an indicator of health, strength, or longevity. Neither is appearance. Our internal health dictates our external health. Said another way, a beautiful physique comes as a byproduct of excellent health.

As Draper confirms above, large muscles come at a price, injury. And there is a boat load of research stating that lifting weights has a DIRECT effect on creating injuries throughout the body.

It’s sad to think that many people, like Draper, have willingly accepted that they will be injured and suffering pain for the rest of their lives – that it just comes with the territory. This doesn’t have to be true, and we’ve been misled.

Unless you goal is to compete in bodybuilding, then you have no business training like a bodybuilder if you care about your health and longevity. Take it from one of the most respected bodybuilders ever to step out on stage. Bodybuilding-style training leads to injury, and that’s the bottom line.

That lifter who is “sensible, cautious, controlled, and mildly motivated” was right to escape the iron game before he got hurt, temporarily or permanently. If something doesn’t feel right, then it probably isn’t. There’s a valuable tool we have called intuition, and it’s linked to signals that our body sends us – pain or discomfort being one of them. It isn’t sensible to lift heavy weights regularly because it compresses your joints and leads to a downward spiral of joint and muscle problems that lead to even worse issues.

The message that needs to be heard is that you can create a strong, athletic, functional, and beautiful body without lifting heavy weights. You can build applicable strength without grinding away under a barbell or dumbbell. You can get stronger without neglecting the integrity of your joints, muscles, and their connective tissues. There are so many ways, you just need to look for them. One way is to start swinging weights, instead of lifting them. Another way is to master your own bodyweight without adding weights that compress your joints and squeeze out the lubrication inside them.

Now, if you are “walking wounded,” then don’t lose hope. There is a better way, and you will discover it if you pursue the right information and use your INTUITION.

Note: I’m not saying that you should abandon all forms of weight training – that would likely be just as catastrophic to your health as performing a improper routine for your entire life. I am saying to reevaluate what you’re doing. Ask yourself if you’re injured. Ask yourself if weight training makes you feel stronger, and feel good. Ask yourself if your strength is truly applicable in an athletic environment. Is your new PR at the bench press helping you run, play, or fight better?

And just for the nay-sayers:

You can build appreciable muscle without touching a barbell or dumbbell.  No, you won’t win a bodybuilding competition unless you train like a bodybuilder, but you won’t be injured for the rest of your life. For those that are interested in functional hypertrophy, don’t think that bodybuilding-style training is the only way to build muscle. If that’s all you’ve been told, you’ve been lied to.

Muscles only know resistance. They don’t know or care where that resistance comes from – a barbell, your bodyweight, a clubbell, kettlebell, etc.  As long as you are in a caloric surplus (you’re eating more food than your body needs to maintain it’s weight and activity level) and have a solid training program in place that pushes your muscles into appreciable exertion – the body WILL build muscle.

Everything is an act of conditioning, and the body is marvelous in its adaptive possibilities.  Whatever you do repeatedly, the body will try to find a way to do it better next time. In the case of strength training, this will often mean increased lean muscle mass.

Final Words

Now, if you would like to get stronger and/or build muscle, but you don’t want to get injured doing it, then you need to start training with your health as priority number one. That’ll be your best defense against pain and injury. If you’re not sure where to get started, here’s one good health-first workout program that does involve some weight lifting (and weight swinging, bodyweight training, etc.): TACFIT 26 is a lot of fun, and very effective, too!

Note: there’s also a sample workout here: TACFIT 26 Workout.

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Health-First Fitness Coach

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11 Responses

  1. Hi, John,

    Laree Draper here, Dave’s wife… nice to meet you. Funny this should show up today — I was just introduced to you yesterday via Scott Sonnon’s blog.

    I wanted to see if I could flesh this out a little, because in a interview format it’s hard to get some of Dave’s nuances. Point of fact, with him that’s hard even in his longer writings. :~)

    One thing the T-Mag editor left off from his answer is this:

    The last sentence was cut and should have been, “Don’t overtrain or overstrain, if you can figure that out.”

    Dave’s situation is an odd one. His fame was built on everything that goes into getting to Mr. Universe, and many — not most — of his readers want to know and perhaps follow how he did that. Still, he’s quite aware that training two hours a day, six days a week is ridiculous, and the three hours daily plus an hour cardio required at the countdown to competition is off-the-charts insane. He fully knows that, and in fact first tries to dissuade people from bodybuilding competition entirely and, failing that, to suggest limiting the competitions to a single experience.

    He doesn’t even call what he does bodybuilding; his gig from the outset is musclebuilding.

    The laminectomy referred to in the original question was, we believe, needed because of degeneration caused by repetitive crunches. We calculated it one day and decided he’d done about 2,500 HOURS of crunches over 50 years before discovering a couple of years ago that was a bad idea.

    2,500 hours of crunches. Oh, yes, he very well knows he’s made some mistakes along the way. :~)

  2. Hi Laree,

    It’s very nice to meet you. I’m very happy you were able to bring a little more light to this discussion. I think the most important point to take home from Dave is that to get to a professional level in any sport, such as pursuing the Mr. Universe title, takes tremendous sacrifice.

    Bodybuilding is an impressive sport, but it isn’t the healthiest. Many would-be bodybuilders should do a little research and talk to current competitors to see what they are really getting into. Then, after getting informed, weigh out the pros and cons for themselves personally.

    I think it’s great that Dave is able to shed a little more light on the true issues of musclebuilding, that many are disinclined to mention for fear of losing credibility. It shouldn’t be kept a secret that extreme forms of training (like trying to build as much muscle as humanly possible) have costs and risks associated with them. Nothing is ever free when it comes to health and fitness, and sometimes there are bad consequences for an excellent pursuit.

    Thanks again for stopping by, Laree. I hope you enjoy the blog.

    Best regards,

    John Sifferman

    P.S. Scott’s a great guy, isn’t he?

    P.P.S. If you’re following this conversation, and you do ab crunches, stop – it very well could save your spine long-term. Take it from someone who has done 2500 HOURS of crunches! For now, a better alternative would be planks held for time, and there are virtually infinite ways to improve your core conditioning – so don’t think you won’t have any way to get a six-pack. Do a search here on the blog for “core strengthening exercises” and you’ll find some more suggestions.

  3. >>P.S. Scott’s a great guy, isn’t he?<<

    You got that right. I’ve really enjoyed our conversations, and as for watching him move… wow! Nothing like it.

  4. All professional sports come with its risk of injuries. Bodybuilding just happens to be another one. Baseball, football, basketball. These are all filled with injuries that players have to live with their entire lives. Getting surgery seems to be the norm for the professional athlete.

    If your just the average person who wants to be healthier, then following the routine of a pro is probably not the way to go.

  5. Champions are not your average people. If you want to just be ‘average’, then forget taking risks in life. Determined bodybuilders don’t care about a few joint pain here and there. Their focus is like a bullet towards its target. They will do whatever it takes to get as close to their goal as possible. Arnold, Bruce Lee, Dave Tate are three primary examples of people who surpassed their own limitations.

    If you’re always afraid of getting hurt, the fact is you can get hurt anywhere. You can get hit by a car on the street or fall down the stairs, etc. You can’t be so scared of injuries like a little girl if you’re into professional sports.

    The good thing is we have professional doctors who know how to treat injuries if it occurs in order to get the person back into training. And we should educate ourselves before getting into the sport. In bodybuilding, injuries ‘WILL’ happen and the point is to limit it and learn from it. Focus on form, techniques, figure out what works for you and what doesn’t since we all have different strengths and weaknesses.

    But, my final point is telling people to stay away from lifting weights is just stupid and I know many bodybuilders that will laugh when told to stay away from the heavy weights.

    Injuries will come with the territory of bodybuilding sport. Educate yourself, take supplements, eat right, get proper rest and have a determined focus if you want to surpass your limits.

    • Good comments, Raf. You’re right, and the point of this article is to help recreational-level people avoid professional-level injuries. Too many people think they need to train like a pro bodybuilder when, in fact, their goals require nothing of the sort. You don’t have to stay average to avoid injury, and injuries aren’t inevitable for all whom strive for exceptional performance unless your chosen sport naturally produces injuries.

      • As a recreational weight lifter that just wants to be stronger and look half way decent that your intentions are very unclear. The article comes across as the usual opinion I hear from friends that “lifting weights are bad for you”. The reason for this is at what points/weight/intensity do you go beyond the cut off point. I think you should take more time to explain the difference between how a professional athlete (we’ll include pro bodybuilders in that category) and the layman that does it recreationally.

        Without more details the article is too vague to be of any use to someone that doesn’t do any bodybuilding already. It just creates more fear of weight lifting. Many people will read this and think “I should only be doing light weights for high reps” or I will damage my body.

        • I agree, The article does not show what someone like me need to be aware of when lifting. If that info is beyond the scope of this article, please give a few links to articles that DO explain how to know when you are pushing too far. Something besides Intuition, even though that is a helpful concept. (I’m 63 and just started back lifting again about 6 weeks ago. I took 2 weeks off to recoup and for Christmas – but I was getting very tired achy and could tell I really needed a rest – hence common sense.)
          PS: Thanks for the great advice, however limited.

          -Jim Furr >

    • “You can get hit by a car on the street or fall down the stairs, etc. You can’t be so scared of injuries like a little girl if you’re into professional sports.”

      this doesn’t mean you’re a “little girl” if you choose not to do unnecessary things that carry a higher risk of permanent injury. if you already know that you can easily be injured in your everyday life, what sense does it make to do things that increase your chance of being injured? is it really necessary? no, it isn’t.

    • Ha! Good comment Raf, however, I have to say that your comment comes across as patronizing. I am replying 5 years later but here we go.

      Just cos one exercises necessary and intelligent caution in lifting weights, doesn’t mean they are a little girl or “pansy”. That mentality, which is very annoying and dumb to me, underlines the false “macho” image ppl hold in their minds. Ppl like Arnold, Dave Tate, and Bruce Lee are great indeed but let’s not forget what makes them great besides their own determination and rock hard work ethics – the perception of greatness and of what “determination” looks like. Who said that if you aren’t at at least 90% muscle mass with 10% body fat then you are a loser? Who says that if I cannot lift 10 pounds more on my bench press a month later then I’m a loser?

      The topic of joint and connective tissue health is largely ignored cos well.. you cannot see them and they don’t add to the aesthetic appeal. Plus, no girl/ boy ever said “oh.. look at those healthy tendons/ cartilage”.. BUT that doesn’t mean that we should ignore their health, specially keeping advanced age in mind. While it is required for growth that the body does more than it is capable of.. not more than its “snap point”. That means increasing weights at a slower pace than recommended and taking periodical breaks.

      I do agree however that this article could be longer giving a clearer picture. I will try to add my 2 cents to that.
      For anyone starting weight lifting, first they should start with walking. For a person in good condition, walk for a few KMs 4-5 days a week for a month, Then they should start introducing resistance (mind you..resistance, not necessarily dumbbells). How..? Instead of full push ups, start with 45 degree push ups. SStart pull ups but not till failure. Even more important is to condition wrist, elbows, knees, and ankle, as these are smaller joints..especially wrist and elbow. There are plenty of conditioning exercises for these joints on the net. Then after about 2 months of starting from scratch, introduce weight training but do only 10-12 reps in the beginning. Never go to absolute failure. The muscles are NOT going to grow significantly larger or may be even not at all more than if you stopped shy of failure. There is a point which with experience can be gauged to be the point where gains can come and no overstrain occurs. A related and extremely important point to that is of – arousal. Many ppl cannot judge while working out when they should stop as they are feeling great at the time and keep going with those extra reps/ sets. That’s sue to the adrenaline and arousal. It is better, I have learned, to workout as much as possible, under little to almost no arousal. That means no grinding teeth, blood pressure spiking, slapping yourself before lifting efforts. In fact, one must be relaxed while lifting and sort of “go through the motions: but let’s say…of exerting nature.. I read a book called “Squat Everyday” by Matt Perryman which discusses this idea. Though I do not agree with other ideas in it like… we go.. Squatting! Especially frequent squatting even if it’s not HIT squatting.

      After every 4-6 weeks, take a break of 4-7 days from lifting, not necessarily from being active. Periodization is a great weapon in the natural lifter’s arsenal. It is another form of a break but not complete break.

      One thing of extreme importance is nutrition. One’s nutrition MUST be top notch at all times. Lack of good nutrition is bad not only for muscles but for joints too. Also, stay away from repetitive motions, especially loaded repetitive, intense, no-rest motions. I say this cos I worked in the hospitality industry for a few months for meeting living expenses and boy are they hard on the body!! If you work in an intense environment where may be you are required to, say, run the food or clear trays of used pots, etc then you are screwed. That stuff is hard. I did that and my knees, ankle, wrist, and hips were so damaged that I had to stop working and was limping. Plus moving around was torture. So in a nutshell, working within bounds of your body and punctuated by rests is EXTREMELY important.

      I hope this helped. I am very grateful to the author of this article for writing this and to Dave for sharing honest advice.

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