I've had spasms a few times before, and it is caused somewhat by congenital issues to do with the curvature (or lack thereof) of my lumbar spine. And past sports injuries/ poor mechanics. But there are some things I could have done to prevent the most recent flare-up. Hopefully it can serve as a lesson to others.
#1: Better control workload/volume in training. I simply went too long without deloading or taking a break from training. A chance to compete in a kettlebell competition at The Arnold Classic came up so I decided to forgo a break and try to train through until just before the competition.
Didn't work out too well...
The bottom line is I was training at too high an intensity and volume for too long, and not enough rest and balance in training. I scaled back my normal array of hip mobility movements and paid the price.
#2: Not going to get active release treatment when needed. I could feel some tightness in my hips/SI/low back but decided to delay going until right before the competition. I had learned previously that to stave off problems I need a chiropractic and ART treatment every 6 weeks.
My job involves demonstrating exercises, picking up weights, unloading bars, and being on my feet for most of the day. This adds up over time. As osteopath Lenny Parracino said in a workshop the summation of stresses on the body must be taken into account.
Pay more attention to preventative treatment and listen to your body.
Now for more info on common gym mistakes check this article I contributed to in Men's Health UK: 10 Muscle Building Mistakes.
1 Get with the programme
"Without a doubt the foundation of many troubles people have in building muscle/getting fit is not using a programme designed by a professional and sticking to it," says personal trainer Chris Bathke. "I've seen hundreds of guys over the years do the same chest, arms and ab exercises and get literally nowhere. If they had been working with a programme that utilises the overload principle, periodisation and other facets of an intelligent scientific programme then progress would be constant." Work hard. But also work smart.
2 Focus on food
Even if you're armed with the best workout programme in the world, it's all futile if you fail to kick that Big Mac habit. "Without addressing your nutritional approach, and tweaking it to meet your goals, you are unlikely to ever make much progress in changing your physique," says Derran Langston (realworldfitness.co.uk). "Sure, you might get stronger and a little bigger, but you're never going to look good." Spend at least as much time sorting out your diet as you do planning your workout.
3 Good manners cost nothing
It's also useless getting ripped only to get ripped apart by furious gym-bunnies. "If you're strong enough to lift 100kg on the bar, you're damn well strong enough to put it back on the rack," says Dr Elesa Argent, personal trainer and ex-bodybuilding champ. "Don't squat on a piece of equipment either – let people jump in during sets if the place is busy." And say please and thank you.
4 Compound your mistakes
People who neglect the biggest muscle groups, wasting time and effort on relatively ineffective isolation movements, are a personal bugbear of Bathke. "If you want to build serious muscle then you need to make compound movements that work across more than one joint, such as the deadlift, pull-up, squat and press-up staples of your training. It is no coincidence that athletes in strength sports who have physiques we all envy built their foundation upon such exercises," he says.
5. Know your limits
"A lot of people try to copy the routines of professional bodybuilders, doing 15-20 sets for each muscle group," says sports scientist Christian Finn (thefactsaboutfitness.com). The problem? "You can't take a programme used by a heavily drug-assisted and genetically gifted bodybuilder and assume that someone who trains without the same level of pharmaceutical assistance will get the same results." Stimulate, don't annihilate.
6 Watch your form
"Too many trainees throw weights around with poor form and no regard for controlling the speed of the reps," says Scott H. Mendelson (www.completegymsnutrition.com) "Manipulating the length of the set by assigning a time in seconds for the lowering, bottom position, lifting and pause on top is an important strategy for increasing muscle-fibre stimulation. Lack of control is most evident with those using loads that are way too low to produce any benefit."
7 Squat like a baby
Squats, in particular, are a valuable muscle-builder often rendered near useless through poor technique. "Watch a baby move and they will easily perform a deep squat while transitioning into tiny footsteps," says MH online fitness editor Neil McTeggart (neilmct.com). "As adults the deep squat has been replaced by two-inch knee tremblers: guys attempting to impress everyone by squatting triple their bodyweight in front of their chest dominate their peers." Go deep to build both size and power.
8 Back yourself up
"The Monday night bench-press session is a ritual in gyms up and down the country," says McTeggart. "Unfortunately a routine rich in push and poor in pull can lead to all sorts of problems. To keep the shoulders healthy and add visual size to the chest, work the back with more volume and frequency than anything else."
9 Leg it
One of the most common sights in gyms everywhere is huge-chested behemoths waddling around on spindly legs, risking injury and looking ridiculous. "You can't get great symmetry without well-developed hamstrings, quads and calves," says Dr Argent. "Substitute some benching time for squats, curls and lunges and you'll look so much better."
10 Use kettlebells correctly
As anyone who's recently checked into the MH forums will know, kettlebells are big news at the moment – but that doesn't seem to have led to an increase in the knowledge of how to use them. "Time and time again I see PTs getting new clients to use kettlebells for side bends or floor presses, or any other number of exercises that would be better carried out with other equipment," says Langston. "Kettlebells are designed to be used for dynamic moves like snatches, clean and presses, and swings. If your PT doesn't know how to teach those moves or claims they are too advanced for you, find a different PT!"