working out

Stop training through pain; train around it

By Dan Fouts 

In this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” – Benjamin Franklin

I’d like to offer up a third certainty; you will sustain an injury at some point in your life. It might not be as serious as a torn ACL or ruptured rotator cuff, but a time will come in your future when you will wake up with sore knees and cranky elbows. This isn’t a result of your exercise and activity level, in fact, most research suggestions exercise increases your resistance to injury. But no matter how robust your body is, you will always be susceptible to injury. Does that mean you should give up exercise? I think you know my answer. Of course not! So I am here today to offer up 3 tips on how to work around an injury.

Decreased range motion: When a full range of motion causes pain, say in a squat, use half reps to your advantage. If the bottom of a squat causes hip pain, stop the motion just before the pain occurs. This allows you to still get some of the many benefits from performing a squat, without causing worsening pain.

Do you get low back pain during deadlifts? Raise the bar off the ground using a plate or pad to decrease the range that you must reach for the bar.

Our goal is to always perform exercises in a controlled manner throughout full range of motion as our bodies are meant to. However, this is a great temporary solution to keep you moving and benefiting from these exercises without worsening your pain.

Reduce volume, especially for overuse injuries: Any kind of inflammation or tendinitis is going to get worse if you continue to push through the pain. Reducing volume by decreasing reps and sets is a great way to stimulate a muscle without creating unnecessary inflammation. Spending a few weeks in this reduced volume period allows you to continue moving while simultaneously allowing your body to heal appropriately. Tendinitis can be persistent and unpredictable. Always spend a few minutes at the beginning of a workout gauging how your body feels today. This allows you to make the decision of whether today’s the day to push the weight or to back off a little and increase recovery time.

Change the plane you are working on: Is horizontal pulling such as rows causing elbow pain? Before giving up working out your lats entirely, try changing the angle to a vertical pull such as an x-pull-down/pull-up. These small changes can allow you to still stimulate a muscle without forcing you to perform exercises that cause pain. One quick anecdote; since my shoulder labrum tear, most vertical pressing, such as strict press, push press, and push jerks, just don’t work for me. However, horizontal pressing, such as bench or landmine press generally feels great. This allows me to still perform a fundamental human moment, the press, pain-free. Just because one exercise causes pain does not mean that every similar exercise will too. There are lots of ways to stimulate a muscle without pain.

This list is not an end-all-be-all but rather a few tips to keep you moving around pain. Of courses, if your doctor or physical therapists recommend you rest, then you need rest. These tips are for the days and weeks when you wake up not feeling one hundred percent. These days, movement is just as important as any other day and I believe these tips, when used appropriately, can be the key to keep you moving pain-free.


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