Surviving a pectoral tear. In 2006 while entering my second year of competing in the IFBB Pro League,
and within a week of filming my first DVD, Driven, I felt what can only be described as a zipper-like
sensation in my right quad. It was on my 12th rep of leg press with about 12 plates per side. I never
forgot that zipper-like feeling associated with a muscle tearing, and didn’t experience it again to a
significant degree until 2010.
What is it about guys that makes us want to see how much weight we can move?
I learned my lesson the hard way on that fateful night at Kirkland Gold’s Gym some seven years ago. Warming up on bench press, I cruised through 405 pounds, though the eccentric portion left me saying, “My pecs feel tighter than normal.” By the time I loaded 500 pounds on the bar, my mind was set – never mind the fact I compete in bodybuilding and how you look on stage matters infinitely more than how much you bench press.
Rep one went up okay, so my training partner demanded: “One more!” The fleeting thought of damn my pecs felt tight on the eccentric phase of my first rep quickly vanished on rep two, as I felt that pronounced zipper-like sensation lowering the weight. My training partner helped me get the weight up and excitedly exclaimed, “Nice work!” But I laid there on the bench nervously responding with, “Shit! I think I just tore my pec.” I headed for the bathroom trembling at what I might find upon removing my shirt.
Standing shirtless in the men’s locker room, the damage was hardly noticeable. There was no discoloration but there was some slight swelling. It felt like someone punched me extremely hard in the left pec. Back in the weight room I tried something light and knew the workout was over. Thankfully, the tear did not include full pec tendon detachment and no surgery was required. The following details my recovery approach and how came to surviving a pectoral tear.
Hindsight is 20/20 — the preponderance of pec tears comes on barbell bench press.
Undecided on the best course of action, I went home and iced my pec to minimize the swelling and applied the topical ointment Traumeel. Waking up the next morning to limited mobility due to tightness in the pec, but gratefully little to no discoloration, which I assumed indicated the telltale sign of something more serious. I went to see Dr. Neno Pribic, my chiropractic and active release technique (ART) specialist who has helped a number of Seahawks recover from pec tears. He confirmed that I experienced a partial tear to the muscle belly near the attachment to the pec tendon.
Neno went on to explain the initial goal is to expedite healing and minimize scar tissue. Minimizing scar tissue during my visit meant applying ART to my torn pec. To say it hurt would be a gross understatement, as he proceeded to dig his thumb into my pec while moving it through a full range of motion before sending me off to ultrasound therapy.
Ultrasound therapy is used to transmit ultrasonic waves through soft tissue, ligaments, and tendons to heat the area and increase blood flow. Getting fresh blood to the injury as well as removal of old blood is key to healing. I began cupping and acupuncture for these reasons as well.
Sound assist soft tissue mobilization (SASTM) is another available technique for breaking up scar tissue, which I highly recommend. It is similar to the Graston Technique in identifying and resolving lesions and other fascial restrictions. Unfortunately, I was unaware of SASTM at the time, but began using this therapy in the past year. I wrote an article about my experience here.
Return to Training
Surviving a pectoral tear takes time. Recovery took a good eight months before I could train without feeling like my pec might tear again. In terms of training progression, I started simply with resistance bands. Attaching one end around a cage upright, I would press out and hold the contraction with one arm at a time. Full range of motion movement is good so long as you don’t overdue the weight. Initially, a bodyweight push-up felt dangerous.
You can progress up in banded tension via these suggestions:
Eventually I progressed to push-ups and very light weight machines. I now rarely ever feel anything “off” when pressing with 100% intensity, but I also train much differently. There’s wisdom in avoiding exercises that don’t over stretch the pec tendon insertion, increasing muscle tension through bar instability, and/or deloading weight at the transition from eccentric to concentric.
Suggestions include the use of an elitefts Shoulder Saver Pad, or stick with floor presses, hanging band technique (HBT) presses, or reverse banded incline presses rather than conventional barbell bench press. The videos below show these examples:
Reverse Banded Incline Press
My desire for you is simply that you never experience a pec tear. You really don’t want to be surviving a pectoral tear. Learn from my error and implement strategies to minimize the risk of serious injury with the previously referenced exercises. If ever confronted by that evil zipper-like sensation, I hope the recovery methods I shared will mean surviving a pectoral tear for you and get you on the fast track to full training and make you one of the people who surviving a pectoral tear Train hard. Train smart!