Training for health through strength is a worthy pursuit, but the specter of injuries looms over every exercise regimen. You yearn for strength and vitality, yet injuries can throw a wrench into your fitness journey. So why do we persist in our training endeavors despite the potential for injury?
Making peace with this idea
There are no completely risk-free physical activities. Consider Devika, who was enjoying a peaceful evening stroll when an insect stung her face, leading to a nose infection. The unexpected can happen, even in the most benign situations.
While sitting on a couch and watching TV all day may appear safe, this sedentary lifestyle can lead to long-term health risks. Moreover, it doesn’t shield you from pain. How many sedentary people do you know who are grappling with some form of aches or pains? My guess is that it’s nearly everyone.
Fortunately, convincing most people of the health benefits of physical activity is not challenging.
Unfortunately, strength training is often perceived to be within the category of risky activities. However, it’s crucial to acknowledge that injury rates in strength sports remain relatively low. Shaun’s article shows the statistics of injury in sports and highlights the importance of training while minimizing risk.
Injured, now what?
Pain, perhaps the most irritating aspect of injury, can disrupt the simplest daily activities and generate stress, especially when a significant event is on the horizon.
Take Greg, for instance, who experienced a back tweak just days before his eagerly anticipated annual ski trip last year. Greg had been looking forward to this trip for a long time, as it was a once-a-year event where he reunites with his best buddies and have a blast on the ski slopes. However, with this unexpected injury, he could already envision the long, painful airplane ride to the ski destination. And the question loomed – would the pain even allow him to ski at all? It was a devastating twist of fate.
Before we delve into tips for managing injuries, let’s explore the nature of pain with this video: Understanding Pain.
What this video underscores is that our brains interpret the pain we experience. It’s not to say that the pain isn’t real; it’s very much so. However, heightened stress and anxiety can intensify the sensation.
To illustrate, imagine being on a dance floor beside a giant speaker when the bass drops unexpectedly. Ouch! The speaker’s volume and your ear’s capacity remain constant, but the sensation becomes louder due to your proximity. Therefore, you move to a safer part of the dance floor, free from concerns about your hearing, right?
This analogy is where it gets tricky. How far do you distance yourself from the giant speaker?
Full withdrawal: “Let’s go home”
Some lifters, including cases like Greg’s, have encountered back tweaks and immediately chose to halt their training session for the day. In other situations, individuals may go to the extreme of discontinuing their training until the pain subsides, a process that can take 10 to 14 days. However, this approach often proves to be inefficient. Rehabbing back tweaks the way we do as opposed to complete rest often speeds up recovery and does away with requiring several additional weeks to regain their previous training momentum.
In Greg’s case, and considering various factors, I made the mistake of removing deadlifts from his exercise routine. This decision was influenced by a concept I had learned from another coach, but it’s possible that I either misinterpreted its application or applied it too rigidly to Greg’s specific circumstances.
In many cases, people tend to excessively withdraw from the “speaker”, either out of fear of exacerbating the injury or a desire to avoid discomfort at all costs. However, a more balanced approach to managing pain and maintaining training consistency can yield better results.
Why is this not the best idea?
Most gym-related injuries involve soft tissue and typically heal within 6 to 8 weeks. However, the initial 72 hours are critical, especially for muscle belly tears. When we expose ourselves to manageable stress within the optimal range of motion, soft tissue healing occurs with less scar tissue formation.
Additionally, movement and muscle contractions enhance blood flow to the affected area, offering pain relief. Many individuals experience a reduction in pain as they warm up and engage in training.
Moreover, pain management is essential. As pain initially sets in, our brains create a defense mechanism. We need to gradually reprogram our brains to become less sensitive to specific activities.
Finding a suitable entry point: “Find your sweet spot”
My coaching strategy can be summarized as follows: Instead of a complete withdrawal, find an entry point for the exercise. As a coach, this approach combines an understanding of physiology, movement mechanics, and human anatomy. Here are some examples:
1. Try another set: If a client experiences non-specific pain during warm-up, encourage them to attempt one more set with the same weight or slightly reduce it. Sometimes, sensations come and go without a clear explanation. If the sensation disappears, lessens, or remains tolerable, it’s a win. If it worsens, valuable insights are gained, guiding future adjustments.
2. Work on form: Sometimes, altering your stance or posture can alleviate pain. For example, if a client feels hip discomfort during squats, experimenting with different stances or toe angles may provide a solution.
3. Explore alternative exercises: If a particular exercise causes pain, try less uncomfortable variations. You can also achieve this by restricting your range of motion (ROM) to a tolerable level. For instance, if the bottom position of deadlifts is painful, you might want to consider Romanian deadlifts or Rack Pulls.
As a strength coach, I can’t guarantee precise injury diagnoses every time. In more complex or unfamiliar cases, I’ll refer clients to a medical professional or physical therapist. However, for most situations, discovering an entry point that keeps discomfort manageable should suffice for healing within the standard 6-8-week timeframe. You can apply the same principle when managing your injuries:
– Find an entry point, even if it means lowering the weight or modifying your form.
– Gradually increase the load or return to the full ROM / primary exercise.
– Monitor the sensation as you train. If you experience consistent or reduced intensity, it’s a positive sign. Additionally, if the pain transitions from a specific spot to a more generalized discomfort, that’s also a promising development.
– Embrace the recovery process while staying committed to your training. You might experience increased aches and pains at the start of your session, but many clients have reported feeling better as they warm up and after completing their workout.
By doing this, you can also maintain your fitness level and sometimes even continue to improve strength in other exercises that aren’t affected by the injury.
In the world of fitness and training, injuries are an unfortunate reality. However, they don’t have to be the end of your journey. You can recover while finding suitable entry points, managing pain, and maintaining a balanced approach to your workouts. Remember, the pursuit of health and strength is a journey worth pursuing, even with its occasional bumps and detours.