4

My number one priority with resistance training is minimising the risk of chronic damage to my body over decades of lifting weights. I have found lots of conflicting information on this, and a lack of good empirical studies on the main compound lifts. I'm not interested in going very heavy with these movements: 1.5x bodyweight with squats and deadlifts and 1x bodyweight with bench press.

On the one hand there are many who believe that doing back squats, conventional deadlifts, and bench presses, in this weight range, poses no real long term risk as long as you pay enough attention to your form. On the other hand, there are some who say that the movements will damage your joints/tissues/cartilage over time and it's better to substitute them for other movements, even though they may be less efficient.

For example with squats: the conventional wisdom is that if you keep your spine erect and upright then the force applied is compressive, not shear, which your disks are good at dealing with. On the other hand, links like this and this argue that back squats lead to forward lean/hyperextension all too often, which significantly increases the chance of back issues if repeated over a period of decades during one's lifetime.

The second link makes similar points for many major lifts and advocates substitute exercises that would be less efficient but safer. For example, squats could be swapped for bulgarian split squats and single leg presses; deadlifts for dumbbell single leg reverse deadlifts.

I guess my actual question comes in two parts:

1) If I swapped the conventional barbell lifts for the variants I mentioned above, would that come with a lower risk of long term damage to my body? (Back, joints, etc).

2) If I swapped for these exercises, would it still be possible to build a moderate level of strength and muscle [enough that I could still squat and deadlift 1.5x my bodyweight if I wanted to], even if it's over a longer period of time?

3

If I swapped the conventional barbell lifts for the variants I mentioned above, would that come with a lower risk of long term damage to my body? (Back, joints, etc).

Not necessarily, no:

  • Single-leg movements such as split squats are inherently less stable than double-leg exercises such as barbell squats; a fall -- or perhaps worse, an strained attempt to prevent one -- may incur injury.
  • Machine-based movements significantly ease the application of stress to (often) a single joint. This also makes it easier to over-stress a joint and/or the muscles that operate it.

If I swapped for these exercises, would it still be possible to build a moderate level of strength and muscle [enough that I could still squat and deadlift 1.5x my bodyweight if I wanted to], even if it's over a longer period of time?

Possibly, yes; however, you have no way to determine whether you can squat and deadlift 1.5x your bodyweight unless you actually do so, which is best accomplished by training your squat and deadlift.

2

You're correct that in theory your body can deal effectively with the shear forces on your spine provided that you maintain good form, the question is do you maintain perfect form towards the end of a heavy set, when you're tired? Every time? As far as the single-leg exercises go, there's no question that they drastically reduce the compressive load on your spine, and also reportedly translate well into improved performance during "real-life" activities. If you haven't read any of his articles, strength coach Mike Boyle is one of the biggest and most knowledgable proponents of single-leg exercises. I would personally recommend adding some to your routine regardless of whether you persist with the conventional squats and deadlifts.

To answer your second question, I would say yes, it's certainly possible. In fact this article relates an interesting story of how gymnasts can pull a big deadlift having only done bodyweight training!

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.