How to Deal with Pain in Training

So you’ve been working out and training but you’re dealing with some pain. The most common question I get is, “what do I do?”


The first step involves understanding what pain is.


We tend to look at pain in a mechanical sense and see it as a sign that we’re breaking down or getting old. This is often reinforced by many healthcare professionals who are consistently cautioning us against hurting ourselves and telling us that we shouldn't be doing certain things anymore.


However, this view of pain is overly simplistic.


Think about our feelings of hunger. We understand that hunger and cravings are two different things. We also understand that there are many different factors that affect our hunger and not all of them relate to our actual need for food.


Hunger is affected by biological factors as well as psychological factors (stress, anxiety, preferences), and social factors (social gatherings, our environments).


Similarly, pain isn’t caused by one single factor. Primarily it relates to our perceptions of a threat. But it also is affected by psychological factors (fear, anxiety, expectations), and social/contextual factors (reactions from others, others’ experiences of pain, our environments).


This creates a very poor correlation between the intensity of pain and actual tissue damage.


Remember this as we move forward.


There is a common public misconception about lifting weights and training in that if you deviate from this arbitrary “perfect” technique, then we will severely injure ourselves.


What we don’t realize is how unbelievably adaptable the human body is and how there isn’t really such a thing as a “bad” position. Rather, there are movements and positions that we aren’t prepared for.


One approach that we now know is NOT the answer to pain in training is absolute bed rest. While recovery is important, completely stopping an activity causes a decrease in adaptations and the ability of your tissues to tolerate force. This increases your risk of injury in the long run.


A better approach is to find an entry point in training. That is, a movement or exercise that allows you to train relatively pain-free and have a point in which to build from.


There is no “best” way to do this, and requires some experimentation on your part to find an intensity that’s tolerable whether that be by decreasing load, range of motion, or simplifying the movement itself.


Once you do find this entry point, the goal is to build yourself up through small wins and keeping your expectations sound. This means to continue to progress yourself without making overly aggressive jumps. As hard as it is to be patient, it’s one of the most important factors to keep in mind at this stage.


Keep your progressions conservative and don’t be discouraged by ups and downs in the process. It is unreasonable to be completely pain-free throughout. Your goal should be to have symptoms either stay the same or improve (on average) as you increase intensity.


If the above steps lead to a decrease in pain and an increase in your strength and ability to move, then great! But the process can be a difficult one as it is tough at times to find an entry point and to know how to progress yourself while staying as objective as possible with your experiences of pain.


This is where an experienced and qualified rehab assistant can come into play. They can help coach you through the process and make sure you’re on the right track!


To your good health,

-Coach Stephen


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