Shrugged Collective

Overcoming injury and staying brutally strong for life

The vast majority of my life has been devoted to becoming as strong as possible. And because of that I’ve had to work around my fair share of injuries in order to stay strong, and keep making progress.

In my view, there are four key actions that every athlete should adopt.

1. Be grateful

The most important thing is to be extremely grateful every day that you have the opportunity to train and participate in the sport you love, regardless of the result. If you can’t accept this first, you are fucked. Go try another sport.

This lesson doesn’t come easy. My lifelong dream was to become the strongest person to walk the plant, so I know how easy it is to get caught up in performance measures only. To get unbearably pissed off and frustrated when you don’t find the progress you’re after. But this is a futile mindset, and it will only lead to more harm, trust me. Instead, you have to appreciate every opportunity you have to train. It is a gift, regardless of the outcome.

No matter how tough and focused your mind is, your body will not comply in a perfectly linear fashion. I don’t care how tough you are, or what magical program you’re on, sorry. Weightlifting is a sport where you have a black and white measurement of your best, and yet we are naïve enough to try and beat this best each and every day we strap on our lifting shoes. In other sports all you have to do is be better than the other person, or just be good enough to get the job done. Not so on the platform, right? That’s an extreme amount of pressure to put on yourself. Learn to appreciate both the up’s and the down’s.

Follow Justin on Instagram for some amazing lifts and pearls of information. 

2. Take real notes!

I cannot believe the number of times I’ve stopped myself from making the same dumb mistakes over and over again. My training log makes that possible.

They key to taking proper training notes is to not just think about writing down sets and reps. You need to track quality points and helpful pearls that you learn each day. Technique cues. Programming mistakes. Helpful hints. This makes all the difference in the world.

I can look at training logs from over 20 years ago and see the notes I wrote about cues that led to breakthroughs. These lessons accumulate and lead to better, more consistent lifting. This made all the difference, helping me develop a new awareness of subtle, advanced issues that were limiting my performance.

Take detailed notes and be sure to review them each workout!  Ever session builds upon the next and is connected to its result. Likewise, your past workout establishes your plan and goals for the next, and the more data you have the better you can predict you training responses and your next move.

Here are some key things you should be documenting:

  • Date
  • Quality and amount of sleep
  • Rating of current feeling/recovery state/soreness (scale from 1-10)
  • Supplements used
  • Of course, sets, reps, weight, quality of the reps, difficulty of reps (RPE)
  • Comments on errors/problems as to why things went good/bad, and any plans/recommendations you have for next workout.
  • Finally, I often use a quality score based on a point system for perfect form. At The Lab we simply use A+, A, A-, B+, B, B-, and so on. There are various points removed for various errors. For example: inadequate range, soft back, knees cave, etc.

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Sample notes from Justin’s training log

With such a system you will see that a 140kg snatch is not just a 140kg snatch. If it was performed with less difficulty, better positions, and so on, that is progress. Likewise, if you see that your numbers are dropping, you will quickly be able to diagnose the problem based on your notes and avoid the stupid decisions and errors that lead to more injury and stagnation. Adjust your plan. Be cool.

3. Work on your positions HARD!

For about 19 years I was invincible. I had no serious injuries.  There was pain and every ding imaginable, but nothing that ever forced me to miss a workout. This was a time before Kelly Starret, before mobility and stretching were in vogue. Hell, in those days we all just accepted that mobilizing and stretching would lead to lost strength and power.

I didn’t know any different. I was always sore and stiff as shit, and went through variety of technical changes and approaches to just get comfortable with the lifts. Furthermore, I actually started out as a Powerlifter at age 10, so my positions for Weightlifting were already jacked to hell by the age of 17.  Once I figured out how to squat for Weightlifting, to not rip the bar off the floor like in the deadlift, and to properly execute the lifts I was already primed for my first injury.

In 2011 I tore my left meniscus squatting while trying out a new pair of lifting shoes. As soon as I picked myself up and got back under the barbell, I tore the labrum in my left shoulder. So it goes.

After nearly a year of experimenting with every knee and shoulder rehab modality I could find, I realized that I was not addressing one key issue aggressively enough – Mobility. This lesson only took about two decades to learn!!!

After nearly a year of experimenting with every knee and shoulder rehab modality I could find, I realized that I was not addressing one key issue aggressively enough – Mobility. This lesson only took about two decades to learn!!!

One day while performing a simple banded shoulder internal rotation stretch I finally got pissed off enough to push the stretch pain tolerance further than usual. The very next day I felt brand new, or close to it. It was a giant break through

Here’s my winning formula: Stability + Mobility = “Stobility.”  You need to be both strong AND flexible if you want to be resilient enough to tolerate heavy loading. This idea may seem obvious, but the degree to which these qualities are being trained in most gyms is severely inadequate.

My basic goal is to never let soreness or stiffness win. This is a daily battle just about as hard as pushing the squat numbers up, but here’s the bottom line – Just about every elite lifter in the world these days can do both the sides splits and squat over triple bodyweight raw. One million Chinese can’t be wrong! Get to stretching and make it hard work.

4. If it hurts, don’t do it

You must understand good pain from bad. You have to find a movement pattern and strategy that is comfortable, fits your build and make, and does no further harm. If you can find that pattern and stick with it, you’re off to a great start. And if your pain is the result of making poor decisions in loading prescription, missing lifts or braking technique, stop being a such a dumbass! As funny and obvious as it sounds, properly executed lifts don’t hurt as much. Go figure, the barbell always finds a way to inform you of your mistakes.

Learn on

Mike Bledsoe


  • We’ve had the chance to interview loads of smart, strong coaches. Justin is right at the top of that list. If you know what’s good for you, you will check out all of his stuff.

  • As someone working through post-surgery rehab right now, it’ always cool to read stuff like this from such a high level athlete.

  • I just had ankle surgery in March, and although it’s been extremely aggravating it has given me great perspective. As the classic saying goes “you don’t know what ya got till it’s gone”, and boy is that more true than ever for me right now. Whether you’re limited in training from an injury, or completely unable to train at all, just keep improving the best you can. While your short term goals may change, you’ll find that your long term goals will still be there waiting for you when you’re back at it.

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