I've screwed my squats.
February 23, 2012 4:09 AM   Subscribe

Started Starting Strength, but I think I've done some damage with my squats. Halp!

So at the end of last month I started Starting Strength. Actually, that's a lie - I started Stronglifts 5x5 but I'm getting all my information about how to actually do the exercises from Rippetoe's excellent book.

I'm an absolute sub-novice, never lifted a barbell in my life, and am fat and weak and pretty out of shape, and I'm doing it at home so I haven't had any pros or trainers giving me tips on form or technique. In my defence I have been reading loads on the five exercises, and I've watched the Rippetoe DVD and everything I've been able to find I YouTube.

I started with the 20kg Olympic bar and progressed as instructed (adding 2.5kg per workout). Everything else is progressing fine - I've stalled on the overhead press a couple times but eventually power through it - and am really enjoying the working out, I already feel stronger and have lost about 10kg. But I've obviously done something bad with my squat and was hoping some experienced Mefites could provide me with guidance.

(Before I go on, I AM going to see a doctor about this if I can't get it under control, and I have stopped squatting until I do, which is a bit shit as I was only up to 50kg but whatevs.)

I *THINK* I have done some damage to my hip flexors in my left leg. I say this because I was doing fine with the squats until I hit 47.5kg, and I guess about halfway through my sets, having lowered myself to the floor, I felt a pain begin to develop in high in my left inner thigh.

From the first picture on this Wikipedia page, it FEELS as though it is around the area of the adductor brevis, basically because that's the highest-up thing, but it also radiates around the front of my thigh (basically the crease between my fat gut and blubbery thigh) and sometimes bounces down the left side of my leg.

The pain comes and goes. I'm taking a couple of Advil now and then and it's generally okay when I'm sitting or walking around, but if I'm standing more or less static the pain flares up. I find myself imagining that the head of my femur has popped out of its socket. It sucks.

Also I don't KNOW that it's my hip flexor or adductor brevis, it's just that from doing mad amounts of Googling and checking the StartingStrength forums and bunch of other lifting forums, it SEEMS that it's a RELATIVELY commonish problem and from what other people describe, it more or less fits the bill.

I've been sitting most of my life and probably my form is rubbish so this has likely contributed, though I'm doing my best to follow Rip's expert advice to the letter. I know I need to get my form checked and double-checked though, and intend to do so once I can find an appropriate gym or trainer for a couple of one-offs.

But, uh, anyway, where am I? Oh yeah. Lifters of Mefi: what does this sound like it could potentially possibly be, and what do I need to do about it so I can get myself back under that bar and get squatting again?
posted by tumid dahlia to Health & Fitness (20 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Stop doing squats. Take the time to rest your back. Try treading water in the pool and stretching. When you feel better, go ask the gym's trainer to show you the correct position for a squat.
posted by parmanparman at 4:14 AM on February 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Yeah I've definitely stopped, I at least know enough about myself not to power through an injury that feels as problematic as this one. If it was just muscle burn I'd know, and it's not that. I'm just trying to identify what it is exactly because it's on the inside of my thigh near my crotch and then people are talking about hip flexors but when I look at hip flexors they're concentrated mostly on the outside (anterior? Is anterior out and posterior is in?). And once I've identified it I'll know how to target treat it.
posted by tumid dahlia at 4:22 AM on February 23, 2012

it's an easily strained muscle but not the hip flexors. Best you can do is take it easy. You'll walk funny for a couple days.
posted by parmanparman at 4:25 AM on February 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Which muscle/s does it seem likely to be? I've been able to continue with deadlifts and barbell rows with no pain, and am sticking with the upper-body stuff, but the squats were what were really doing the trick for me and getting my thighs and calves hella swole. So yeah I'm staying off the squats but still curious about the problem itself, so that I can be sure to correct whatever's causing it.
posted by tumid dahlia at 4:37 AM on February 23, 2012

How wide is your stance? I get too much stretch and a little pain right there when I squat too wide. I narrowed my stance by an inch or two (and lowered the weight until I got used to it), and the pain went away and didn't return.
posted by uncleozzy at 4:55 AM on February 23, 2012

Could still be the hip flexor if it's on the inside. It is really hard to say. It's unlikely you have done serious damage however. If you heard a pop and saw bruising it means a tear. As it is it's probably just a slight strain. What I like to do for slight strain is use the Bill Star rehab method, being very gentle with it and picking an exercise that directly works the area that hurts (so perhaps hanging leg raises or scaled hanging leg raises for you).

If you have been sitting all your life you likely have tight, weak hips and glutes. Work on doing hip mobility work, stuff like squat-to-stands, making sure to really push your knees out and maintain your arch. And start doing glute activation work (good article, ignore the T-Nation context)--do the bodyweight stuff he mentions prior to every workout, at least 3x/week. Glute/hip dysfunctions will lead to issues from your lower back to your hip flexors to your knees. Oh, and do some gentle stretching of the hip flexors as well.

If you can't see a trainer or coach get a video of you squatting and post to an online forum where you know there are people who know their stuff. Try to take it from a 45-degree angle from behind, not directly from the side, front, or back.
posted by schroedinger at 4:56 AM on February 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

And needless to say in that description I posted the author trying the protocol is talking about it being tough . . . Except for the volume perhaps making you tired, the weight should not feel hard and it should not initially feel difficult to maintain good form. The first few days you should feel like you are just taking the muscle through its paces.
posted by schroedinger at 5:00 AM on February 23, 2012

Response by poster: uncleozzy: my stance is just outside of shoulder width with toes pointed out enough that my knees track over them when squatting. I was looking at that as a possible culprit too but I don't *believe* my stance is too wide. Of course that's something that needs proper confirmation so I'll add it to the list of things to get sorted, cheers :-)

schroedinger: No popping or tearing which is why I wasn't frantic and didn't rush off to the ER right away. That Bill Starr stuff looks really good and I will definitely give it a whirl once the sharpness of this pain has dulled a little more. Those squat-to-stands look like a safe bet too. Squatting is probably my favourite thing so I'm definitely going to get to a gym for some advice from experienced folk, or maybe post a vid if all else fails.
posted by tumid dahlia at 5:07 AM on February 23, 2012

Everything Schroedinger said (Hi from the SA Xfit thread, Schroedinger).

But yeah, when you're back squatting again -- work more hip mobility stuff. We do something along the lines of the first three 'movements' of this at my gym before anything involving our hips -- makes a huge difference in how good my hips feel before during and after. (We do it way, way slower -- doing gentle hip circles for 30-60 seconds in each position). Also, sitting on a lacrosse/tennis ball like this nails the piriformis which, while not related to your question directly, feels flippin' fantastic and helps your hips for squats.
posted by wrok at 6:01 AM on February 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Most of the previous answers are off the mark, IMO.

What your describing sounds like a simple groin strain injury (which is just a strain of any of the hip ADductors -- the hip ABductors are on the outside of your legs). You should do two things: 1) do a lot of hamstring and hip flexibility exercises (I suggest checking out the Mobility WOD website) 2) narrow your squat stance until your groin pain is better (this is the exact suggestion made in Starting Strength)

I don't think you need to see a doctor (yet -- if the pain does not get better with frequent stretching, see one and get more exercise/stretch suggestions), nor is it worth it to see a personal trainer. I don't care for personal trainers because the barrier for entry into such a position is quite low and they FREQUENTLY don't know how to do a proper squat or deadlift (as described by Rippetoe) -- hell, they often suggest use of machines!
posted by imagineerit at 7:15 AM on February 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, but I do suggest you have either a workout partner to check your form, or that you video record yourself to check it yourself. And do several sets of VERY light weights to warm up and get your form down before doing anything heavy. If you do that and carefully follow Rippetoe's book, you should do just fine.
posted by imagineerit at 7:16 AM on February 23, 2012

If it's right in the crease between your leg and torso, it could be a hernia.
posted by lulu68 at 7:56 AM on February 23, 2012

I think imagineerit has it about right.

I think the Stonglift program is good, but I also think the pace is too swift for many people, especially in the squat as you are adding 5lbs every session. That amounts to 15 lbs a week and 60 lbs a month. That is too fast for many people. You can easily get into a situation where your big muscles can handle more weight, but your smaller supporting muscles or your tendons are not yet ready. That is an injury waiting to happen. In any exercise program if you feel unnatural pain, back off. Taking a few days off from a particular exercise early, when you first notice the pain, can prevent having to take months off after a full blown injury. I also suggest that when you feel better enough to squat again that you drop back down somewhat, say to 30 or 35Kg, and then work your way back up.
posted by caddis at 9:58 AM on February 23, 2012

Yes, caddis is correct about Stronglifts 5x5 -- it's too much for a beginner.

You ought to do the real starting strength program for 4-6 months before moving on to a different routine.

I don't know much about SL 5x5 -- does it include a lot of warming up?

Here's how you _should_ do a Starting Strength program (for any exercise):

2 sets of 5 reps with just the bar (or the lightest plates available for a floor exercise like the deadlift)
1 set of 5 at 40% of your 'work set' weight
1 set of 3 at 60% of your 'work set' weight
1 set of 2 at 80% of your 'work set' weight
3 sets of 5 at your 'work set' weight

keep at that work set weight until you can go at least 2-3 sessions of successfully completing all 3 sets of 5. Then add some weight -- 10-15 lbs for deadlifts and squats, 5-10 lbs for press and bench press.

Consult the Starting Strength wiki for lots more info.
posted by imagineerit at 10:16 AM on February 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Stronglifts and SS are virtually the same program. Simple programs based around linear gains. A beginner really does not need anything complicated and there's no need for her to change her program just because Rippletoe likes SS. tumid, your main concern should be form and identifying any specific weaknesses you have. As I said, most likely you've got glute and hip issues, which often go hand in hand with the ham weakness imagineerit mentions.

If you are feeling you are adding weight too quickly or unable to keep up with the rate SL prescribes, simply add less weight. I would really not overthink your program at this juncture, and instead put your focus on mobility work and form.

(it is also worth mentioning that the "proper squat described by Rippetoe" is not necessarily the greatest way to squat, but again, not something you really have to worry about at this point, his version isn't going to injure you)
posted by schroedinger at 2:23 PM on February 23, 2012

Response by poster: lulu68: I've had a good poke around and am fairly confident it isn't a hernia, thankfully.

caddis: I'm definitely going to drop back to 30kg and really concentrate on form for a few weeks. At least I'll still be squatting (have I said already how much I fucking love squatting?)

imagineerit: Stronglifts doesn't specifically prescribe warmups. In fact it's hard to figure out what it is, exactly, that Stronglifts prescribes, because it's a hideous horrible shitty mess of a program as presented on the Stronglifts website and it's only about halfway through the terribly-written sales spiel that you find a quarter of a paragraph on what the program is about. That's why I went to Starting Strength (I admit to torrenting the ebook but I have a hard copy, as well as a copy of 'Strong Enough?' [and a Donald Duck collection :P] coming from Amazon) and much prefer just about everything about it...BUT I was still doing the Stronglifts program. So that's just: get in there and do 5x5 on each of the 5 lifts, adding incremental weight with every workout. I figured once shit was getting too heavy for me I'd start doing warmups, but I obviously don't know much about my body because the 50kg squat obviously was too much for me, and too soon.

I will dump the Stronglifts 5x5 bollocks and just stick exactly to SS, I think, incorporating the proper warmup sets (though I admit I'll probably stay with the barbell rows rather than the power cleans for the time being, because they're good fun). But for now I guess it's upper-body and glute/hip toughening/mobility work until this pain goes away (it's almost nonexistent this morning, though it was hurting like mad last night when I posted this).

Any other general tips about SS, to prevent other possible screwups in the future, would be super-appreciated, and thanks everybody for the answers so far.
posted by tumid dahlia at 3:27 PM on February 23, 2012

Response by poster: Also I read in a few different places that goblet squats (I guess these are them?) are a good idea for exactly this sort of problem. Any thoughts?
posted by tumid dahlia at 4:01 PM on February 23, 2012

Slow down.

If your body has been sitting all your life, give it several months to even as long as two years (!) to *just get used to being moved differently*. Yes, you can insist on adding weight, but it will result in injuries more often than not.

Wait until your body becomes completely comfortable with the weight before adding more.

For now, stop squatting until the pain goes away completely, then wait a little bit longer, then do empty-bar squats or even no-bar squats as long as it takes to get comfortable with it.

Disclaimer: I'm not a fitness instructor, just someone who took up weight lifting and running at a later point in life and is learning the hard way.
posted by Ender's Friend at 4:11 PM on February 23, 2012

What Ender said about not squatting, then starting again with an empty bar.

When you start again, really focus on form and range of movement. It may help to video yourself squatting, even if you don't want to hire a trainer.
posted by Elcee at 7:22 PM on February 23, 2012

Response by poster: So I took a few days off, and started squatting again yesterday. I dropped back to 30kg and widened my stance a little - what I thought was "shoulder width" really wasn't, and while I did experience some pain it wasn't anywhere near as severe as previously, and cleared up in a couple of hours. Did deadlifts too. I squatted again tonight as an experiment and same deal: pain for a while but it's okay now. I was going to deload everything else and start the whole routine from scratch but hopefully should be able to power through. More squats and barbell rows tomorrow and we'll see what happens! Thanks for all the advice everybody, greatly appreciated, and if it flares up as severely again I'll drop the squats and try and figure out the root cause. Right now I'm labouring under the assumption that's it just growing pains because I'm not used to training.
posted by tumid dahlia at 3:55 AM on February 28, 2012

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