Batman Training: Injury Prevention and Recovery – Part 1

By on March 20, 2020

So, I’ve been planning and researching this post for a while. If you want to train like Batman, or even just like an athlete, then preventing injury and optimizing recovery is crucial. And seeing as Batman trains in about every discipline every single day, then fights crime by night, a lot of the challenge for him will be not breaking.

The harder you push yourself in workouts and the more varied your training, the more critical it is that you balance that out with optimal recovery and healing strategies.

Knowing this, I’ve been employing multiple strategies for many years to try and ensure I do both.

But then a week ago, I put my back out.

And no, it wasn’t because Bane broke me over one knee. It was significantly less awesome than that.

I bent over at an awkward angle while picking up my 15-month daughter on a walk, and it caused a muscle strain in my lower back. Then I came down with a mega cold.

I thought for a while about not writing this post. After all, I felt a bit of a hypocrite!

But then I realized a few things. Firstly: everyone gets injured from time to time. I’ve actually never gotten a strain or tear of any sort while in the gym. So that’s pretty good.

There is simply no strategy that can promise you will never get hurt. And I wouldn’t want to claim otherwise.

There is simply no strategy that can promise you will never get hurt.

Also: this was the perfect time for me to assess what went wrong, how it could be prevented in future, and how I was going to accelerate my healing and get back to training. I’m learning along with you guys, it’s all part of the journey.

So, I did even more research, and now I’m ready to suggest how Batman might optimize his healing and prevent injuries on the job. And what all we mere mortals could learn from that.

Tendon Strength

One of the ways I have always tried to prevent injury, and one of the tools that Batman should certainly employ, is to strengthen the tendons. These are what connect our muscles to our bone, allowing us to exert force through our joints. Unfortunately, they also adapt to strength training and even anabolic hormones much more slowly than muscle does.

Tendon strength training

This is one reason that steroid use can actually lead to more injuries: as significantly greater blood supply and all those androgen receptors in the muscles causes them to grow much faster than the tendons can keep up. Eventually, this can lead to a serious strain or tear in that connective tissue (reference).

Whereas new lifters can see structural changes within the muscle in as little as eight days, it takes up to two months for similar changes to occur in tendons (study). That makes it important that you spend at least two months building up a basic level of strength before you start pushing yourself with serious progressive overload.

It’s also why Batman might choose to use high volume calisthenics as a method to increase blood supply to both the muscle and the tendons. Doing three hundred press ups several times a week for a few weeks will actually increase the number of capillaries supplying those muscles and tendons with blood. This can also aid hypertrophy, meaning you respond better to training in future! High volume calisthenics also has the added bonus of improving work capacity, thereby improving efficiency over time to prevent sloppy form being introduced as training goes on.

Press ups

I recommend sticking with simpler, low-stress exercises like push-ups and pull ups. You can also vary the specific movements you use between workouts, in order to minimize the amount of repetition on the joints.

Ready for Anything

Another method I use is training everything I can. By that I mean not just training in a single plane of movement, but working on things like rotational strength and mobility. Batman should certainly do the same, by training with calisthenics, animal movements, sandbags, kettlebells, and more.

This is important, as some more rigid approaches to training can otherwise actually compound the issues that modern life already introduce. When you sit at a computer all day hunched over, you create tightness in certain muscles like the pecs and hamstrings, while lengthening and weakening others.

Injury prevention

The same thing happens if you show preferential treatments to certain body parts. If you not only train the big three lifts – or worse the mirror muscles – then you’ll build back some strength in areas like the hamstrings, but completely ignore external rotation of the shoulders, rotational strength, etc.

Rotational strength is not sexy, but it’s crucial for every single sport and certainly in combat. Whether you’re grappling or twisting your body to throw a punch, this is the type of strength you need. Likewise, it’s the strength you need when you move furniture, or when you turn to pass something to someone behind you.

As Pat McNamara told Joe Rogan: “in the transverse plane lives life-saving and ass-kicking.”

Rotational strength

If you have let your obliques become weak, then a sudden movement in this position could result in a tear or an injury. And if you only ever train the attractive muscles on the front of your body AND work a desk job, then a shoulder injury is just waiting to happen as you’re spending your days with a whole lot of tension pulling your body forward all the time.

It has been said that gymnasts are particularly resilient against injury, considering the huge amount of high-impact training they do. I don’t know how true that is, as I’ve also heard specific gymnasts say that it’s “unusual for them not to be in pain.”

But the point stands that they do incredible things without breaking their backs. How? By training in ways that many conventional strength training methods overlook. Christopher Sommers of Gymnastic Bodies recommends using the Jefferson Curl to strengthen the back for example. This involves actively rounding the spine under load, which can feel extremely unnatural to those of us who have always been taught to keep our backs neutral during lifts.

Arched overhead press
John Grimek performing an arched overhead press

But the point is that your back has mobility there. It’s designed to do that. You can avoid moving it that way in the gym, but not in real life. So why not strengthen it? The key is simply to know what you’re doing (I highly recommend practicing with a coach), and to start with very light weights.

We can also take a look at old-time strongmen for demonstrations of this… They would do seemingly insane things like bending backwards while pressing weights. This kind of thing might look bonkers, but the point is that by training at these awkward angles, they become stronger in them.

BUT – and this is a big one – you absolutely should not do anything that looks crazy dangerous without the help of a coach AND a very light weight to start with. While your body may be capable of doing that, it is currently not optimized for it.

So What Went Wrong?

But if I know all this, then what went wrong? If I’m used to doing single arm kettlebell clean and presses with my 36kg kettlebell, why did picking up my 13kg daughter with both hands take me down?

There are several answers to that question. One of these is the specifics of the movement. I have developed twisting movements, and I have developed squatting movements. But in this case, I was walking in one direction, twisting backwards to catch my daughter who wanted to go the other way, all while bending down on uneven terrain. I was bending over rather than squatting because I didn’t have much time to react (that route is covered in potholes), and that meant my back was also rounded.

Batman injury

I might have done the occasional Jefferson curl, and I might have trained my rotational strength, but both at the same time? With a very unusual angle of resistance?

First thing in the morning?

In the cold?

While run down?

You get the picture.

So, how could Batman go one step further in order to prepare for the unexpected?

One option would be to focus on combining movements, and on transitioning between movements; that is often where we are weakest. A squat, a deadlift, or a bicep curl are all examples of “constrained movements.” Those are one dimensional, repetitive movement patterns.

Focus on combining movements, and on transitioning between movements; that is often where we are weakest.

In real life, we rarely use constrained movement patterns but rather need to dynamically adapt to ever changing demands.

One answer to this is movement training. Training systems like animal flow are about linking movements together and transitioning through all planes of motion. They also include large amounts of spinal articulation and rotation and no two workouts are ever the same.

Trail running using barefoot shoes can similarly prepare us for uneven terrain and ground.

Trail running barefoot shoes

It might be hard to imagine Batman rolling around in the woods like a snake, but it would certainly do him a world of good!

Another option is to use more hybrid exercises that combine two or more movements into a single repetition. I discussed this in my most recent Batman training program.

Another interesting strategy is to use something called Loaded Movement Training, first described in this form by Michol Dalcourt’s ViPR system. This type of training revolves around “task-oriented” movement patterns under load. That might mean carrying a heavy object to one side of the gym, repping overhead presses, then carrying it back with a different grip. Or it might mean moving a pile of kettlebells from one side of the body to another.

This kind of training challenges the body in a variety of different ways, and can help build that legendary “farmer strength” that gives manual workers seemingly invincible tendons, bulletproof mentality.

Mobility

Another factor is mobility.

This is an issue I know I had. I’ve been performing pistol squats on a daily basis, but if you look at my form, I actually have quite a rounded back. This is due to a lack of mobility in my right ankle, which in turn is a hangover from a very old injury (an avulsion fracture caused by an errant rabbit hole!). This prevented my knee from moving further forward, which forced me to round my back to stay upright.

Rounded back on pistol squat

Now a rounded back actually isn’t a serious crime when there’s no load. But doing this daily mostly likely was causing a bit of a tension on my back prior to the movement.

Now add in everything that I spoke about before, and you have a recipe for disaster!

This is just one of the reasons that mobility should be emphasized if you want to improve your longevity in training. It’s also why assessing your own form and being honest about your own mistakes and limitations is important too.

I recommend doing a short “diagnostic check” before each workout.

Keep in mind as well that limited mobility can be acute as well as chronic. An injury can cause tension for example, as can stress.

This is why I recommend doing a short “diagnostic check” before each workout. You can do this during a warm up, or even as part of a bodyscan meditation (which can also help to strengthen the mind/muscle connection and further reduce injury risk).

Daignostic check

In short, you should check in with each muscle group to see whether it is feeling stiff or painful, or whether it is carrying any tension. From there, you can try to address the issue with foam rolling, or simply decide not to push too hard in that area on that given day.

Ultimately, this is the difference between treating training like your job. If you can’t afford to be injured, then you need to be slow and deliberate in your training: you need to train for longevity, and not for your ego.

That’s when training gets serious. And Batman is always serious.

***

That’s it for part one! Stay tuned for part 2, where I’ll be discussing recovery. This is important as it relates not only to getting better after an injury, but also making sure that you are in prime condition to begin the next workout.

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About Adam Sinicki

Adam Sinicki, AKA The Bioneer, is a writer, personal trainer, author, entrepreneur, and web developer. I've been writing about health, psychology, and fitness for the past 10+ years and have a fascination with the limits of human performance. When I'm not running my online businesses or training, I love sandwiches, computer games, comics, and hanging out with my family.

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