Luckily, we have a definitive answer to this. Of course it wasn’t really lucky at all—there are many famous injuries that occurred along the way to Mr. O titles. Were these necessary? Are a torn biceps or vertebral/ disk issues a requirement to growing a big back? Of course not. And what about all the less famous injuries bodybuilders accept as the norm? As if some form of “-itis” is required to grow muscle. If this were true, every bodybuilder with a large, evenly developed physique would have pain in every bit of connective tissue, in every joint attached to their large muscles. The fact that it occurs only in some connective tissue, with some muscles, proves it’s not required to grow muscle. Not to mention most likely symptomatic of an underlying cause.
So what causes injuries? Overuse? Load (lifting heavy)? I do not believe there is a set usage limit (volume) or load at which things just break. That would be fairly arbitrary, at best—these factors are things that can just accelerate the underlying cause. Misdirected tension. Our bodies and joints have an intended design or use—for example, the hinge joint is designed to handle load in specific planes of motion, the planes the attached limbs move through. While our bodies are resilient, misapplied load over time (accelerated by the load and volume associated with bodybuilding, a truly extreme amount relative to the norm) can result in wear and inflammation.
The fix: Avoid or modify the arbitrary. Your body, structure, and joints are unique. Applying the same exercises, the same way, to everybody makes no sense. Instead, understanding training goals and finding appropriate ways to apply load to your body, adhering to your structure and joints, can theoretically help you completely avoid injuries. Or at least drastically reduce the occurrence.
AS EFFICIENT AS POSSIBLE?
Efficiency is really the combination of the above two: Are we putting muscle on as fast as possible and injury-free? Definitely not. The fact that bodybuilders are still getting bigger and bigger implies that we can always grow and develop faster. The fact that injuries are still prevalent in some but not all also implies we can still apply the loads more efficiently.
WHERE FROM HERE?
The point is to think, not to have your workouts guided by emotions or tradition. Analyze your actions in the gym and ask yourself, “Does this truly work for me?” The physical differences from individual to individual are vast, and I would argue the adjustments and “modifications” applied to exercises should be just as vast (even as simple as an adjustment in grip, stance, or range of motion). The truth is, achieving your best physique is not about specifics. It will never be a specific exercise or workout. Rather, it’s about having the right thought process. You can always be better, and your exercises, form, and effort can always improve.