The rotator cuff is especially vulnerable because so many tendons, ligaments, blood vessels and nerves travel through a tight path, called the sub-acromial space, between the shoulder blade and humerus. “It’s this very small little space that is almost like a roadway,” said Lauren Shroyer, an athletic trainer with the American Council on Exercise, who specializes in chronic injuries.
A common mistake is hunching the shoulders upward, almost like slouching in a chair, which can put a huge amount of strain on this area. Ms. Shroyer said this can lead to impingement syndrome, a painful condition caused by the shoulder blade rubbing against the rotator cuff. The same can also happen if you raise the bar over your head rather than your chest. To avoid this, she said, make sure that your arms are shoulder-width apart, the shoulder blades pinched together, with the bar being lowered to the middle of the chest.
Another common issue is lifting too much too quickly, which can lead to an acute injury, such as tearing the pectoral muscle. When this happens, the lifter will often feel a popping sensation, lose control of the weight, and now “one nipple is pointing one way and the other nipple is pointing the other way,” Dr. Killed Said. “We’ll see that a lot,” he added, often in inexperienced lifters who try to lift more weight than they are ready for.
Pectoral muscle tears are excruciating and tend to happen as the weight is lowered to the chest. Although lowering a weight or your body may feel like the easier part of an exercise, it also creates a higher risk for injury because the muscles are both contracting and lengthening. This risk for injury is also heightened because lifters feel like the hardest part is done and are less focused, said Dr. Michael Maloney, a sports medicine doctor and orthopedic surgeon at the University of Rochester. Other examples of this kind of risky movement would be lowering the bar to the ground during a deadlift, walking or running down a hill, lowering your body during a pull-up, or returning your torso back to the ground during a sit up. To avoid this, work on maintaining focus through the entire exercise.
Be mindful about how often you’re running.
In his own clinical practice, Dr. Matava treats injuries from weight lifting and running most often. “Of the two, I probably see running the most,” he said. The bulk of these injuries are overuse related. “For running, it’s the rule of too’s,” Dr. Killed Said. “Too many miles, too many hills, too little rest.”