Are you in pain when you work out?
Pain is weakness leaving the body… right?!?
As a 22+ year veteran of the iron game (that’s the cool way to say working out), I used to think so. I’m denser than most, so it only took me about 18 years to figure out that I’m doing this to feel better, not worse. Learn from my experience.
After years and years of stacking weight on the bar, while not doing enough to take care of myself, the error of my ways became clear after an inguinal hernia repair. My surgery was probably due as much to genetic factors (all the men in my family have had to have multiple hernia surgeries) as it was to driving hard for heavy weights. It gave me an extended period of time to rest, reflect, and re-engage with physical training.
I realized that I really want to do power cleans when I’m 75. To that end, I started taking my pain a lot more seriously. I had creaky knees, annoyed elbows, and occasionally tingly toes. It was so important to me to add weight to the bar, that I wasn’t doing the necessary work to find balance and care for my body.
I know there are a lot of people like me that get so performance goal focused that they let their health slip. I think this tends to happen because of two honest errors.
First is thinking, “Maybe it will go away.” Typically, if a thing starts hurting because of what you’re doing, doing more of it is not the cure.
Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater though. You might be tempted to quit moving altogether if you’re faced with new or persistent pain related to working out. That’s almost never the answer. Avoiding clear pain triggers while maintaining your general fitness is the way to win the long game.
If handstands bug your neck or pistols hurt your knees, it’s time for a separation period. There is almost always an underlying cause that can be addressed to get you back to the particular exercises or activities you love. Ask a coach for help. We’ll either get you on the path or refer you to a trusted PT if it’s outside of our scope.
The second mistake is believing “if some is good, more is better.”
Squatting once a week is getting me stronger. What if I squat twice a week? You’ll probably keep getting stronger. What if I squat 11x weekly? You’ll probably go backwards and develop some pain that lets you know this wasn’t your best idea.
I started running a couple of times per week and lost a few pounds. Now I’m going to run 5 miles, 7 days a week and see what happens. STOP IT!
If some is good, if it’s working to move you forward, just do some. Rome wasn’t built in a day and I’ll never run out of cliches. Consistent effort in the same direction is the key to a fit, healthy, and pain free life.
If you do everything right, does it mean you’ll never have to deal with pain? No. We’re impressive machines, but no machine is perfect. When you run into issues, listen to your pain and look for help! Don’t ignore it until it’s so big that you can’t sleep at night and you feel like you have to quit training completely! Catch it while it’s small. Listen when your body whispers to you so you don’t have to hear it screaming!
Remember, we’re doing this to be better… not worse.
A quick aside: How you talk about your pain really matters. Being able to accurately describe what’s going on is really helpful if someone is going to walk you through getting pain free. What are common triggers for your pain? Does it get better when you warm up? Does it get worse after you cool down or stay the same? Is it a sharp stabby or pinchy sensation? Do you feel tingles or shooting pain? All of those feelings are different ways that your body is telling you what’s going on. A pro coach or DPT will want to know what kinds of pain you are feeling to help guide you on a path to health and fitness.