Just going through my blogs and sites that I read on a fairly regular basis and happened upon this quote from one of my colleagues in Toronto in an interview that he was doing about CrossFit from a client who he helped after she had severely injured herself lifting during a CrossFit workout. During most of my days I am in some capacity helping people who have injured themselves, more often than not through every day general living but also as the result of athletic movement. Part of my mission as a trainer is to get people feeling less pain and stronger from a whole body and joint perspective so that they can get back to doing what they want to do, or do things that they didn’t think they could do with their body. But a lot of this starts with a simple question – why does this hurt? If I’m feeling pain, what should I do? How do I stop the pain and prevent this from happening again?
To give a general description of what happens when you experience pain, your body has receptors in it that indicate when something is damaged or something is wrong. This is relayed through your spinal cord to your brain, which is essentially your body saying “stop it” or “something isn’t right here”. There are two classifications, those being acute pain (like I just fell down) or chronic pain (like your back hurting). What I mostly deal with is chronic pain, but often this is the result of an acute pain episode where the person did something their body didn’t like and then decided it didn’t want to move that particular thing anymore. When your body doesn’t want to move something or something is damaged, it causes inflammation in the area. This is actually a protective mechanism designed to remove whatever is hurting it and initiate healing.
Chronic pain is the mantra of some gym warriors. They hurt all the time and take it as a badge of courage. They would rather wrap their knees in order to lift another 50 pounds on a squat, or wear a lifting belt to try to support their back when they have no business lifting the weight they are. Some people do things too fast and don’t have any concept of shear force or momentum, not realizing that a 200 pound bench press can quickly become 400 pounds if it is lowered fast enough. Then in ten years when they are wrapped up like a mummy or have arthritis everywhere they would give anything to go back and do things properly rather than loading their body with scar tissue and joint replacements.
My point there is that when something hurts, many people think it is something that they can ignore or push through and everything will be fine. Well, it’s not. This is your body telling you that if you don’t stop what you are doing or change it, then it is going to do something worse or shut something down. Think of it as the check engine light in your car – when it goes on, you know there is something wrong. You can choose to ignore it, but then your engine falls apart and you have to deal with a very long term, expensive problem rather than correcting what was wrong in the first place and possibly saving yourself a lot of grief, pain and expense. So when your body says, “ow, quit it!” – listen to it. I often see people in the gym doing a set of something like a bench press, and then grabbing their shoulder afterwards – because it hurts. They stretch it hard (which ironically enough makes it worse) and then go right back doing what they did before because they don’t want to be seen as a wimp. Let me ask you something. Would you rather deload 25% right now, or change an angle 30 degrees and save your shoulder tendon possibly snapping and having to deal with a four month layoff? 99% of the people I ask that would of course say yes, and the other 1% are too stupid to be lifting anything anyway.
Part of my philosophy is that you deal with the person and what they can handle at the time, set by set and rep by rep. Your body doesn’t care if you’re trying to max out on bench. If it doesn’t have it – today – then it doesn’t have it. Pushing it beyond a certain point is not only ignoring a very blatant signal, but it can also put you in serious jeopardy, when often a simple adjustment can prevent this pain and keep you moving forward. Always remember, train smarter, not harder. Pain is not a mistake. I can’t be any clearer than that.