Painful workout? Listen up! Your body is talking to you


Injuries aren’t the sexiest of topics to discuss when heading into summer. Most people want to hear about the quickest way to get a six-pack or firm up their butt. However, if you’ve been hitting the gym hard over the winter to shape up for the beach, a wedding, a show, or even your favourite summer sport, then you probably have some aches and pains that are hindering your training, or at least making it painful and a little less enjoyable.

Here are some tips to help you overcome your injuries and continue to train without making them worse.

Listen to your body

Now this may sound cliché, but pain is your body’s way of telling you something is wrong. Continuing to do something that hurts doesn’t make you “hardcore”. If you feel a tweak, pop, pull, or hear an odd crunching sound, this is not the time to go for a personal best. Step back for a minute and let your adrenaline levels come down before you make a bad decision. If something feels wrong, there is no shame in deviating from your plans. That may be simply leaving the squat rack and trying some machines, doing some cardio instead of heavy deadlifts, or heading off to see your doctor. Whatever the case may be, listen to your body to avoid making things worse.

Change your program

Most gym injuries are not sudden acute blowouts. Often they are the result of one too many of the same old thing. Fatigue in our bodies builds up over time. Lack of proper rest and nutrition can be culprits here, but so can overuse. If you’ve been doing heavy squats and deadlifts two to three times a week and your back  is beginning to ache, you may be due for a change in exercise choice. Volume and intensity is likely all you need to start feeling like superwoman again. We all get addicted to our workouts; they can become our personal comfort zone very quickly. However, overuse injuries can creep up on even the most experienced lifter. If you have been doing the same thing for more than six weeks, you are already a few weeks overdue for a change.

Go see your doctor

Not everything can be cured in the gym or with organic food! I’m a huge advocate for using diet and exercise to help with all of our health issues; however, lifting weights and cutting out gluten can’t fix it all. Go see your doctor regularly as well as your physiotherapist, dietician, and other allied health professionals. Their diagnostic skill and medical expertise can save you months of pain and frustration. Don’t be that arrogant lifter that denounces anything medical; FYI, nobody likes that guy!

Take a break!

Seriously, just don’t go to the gym for a week! Go for a walk instead, or try a low intensity yoga class, or something else outside of your normal routine. If the sheer thought of a single week away from lifting heavy things just gave you a panic attack, you probably need two weeks off! If your diet is clean and you remain active, you are not going to get fat and your strength will not go down. Actually, you will likely set some personal bests on your first day back after your rest. If you have some lingering aches around your knees, elbows, shoulders, or low back, a little bit of nothing might be all you really need.

Hire a trainer (even if you are one)

Even the most seasoned among us still get hurt, and we are often our own worst enemies. Ever hear the saying, “A lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client”? The longer I spend in the fitness world, the more I believe it applies to trainers as well. Get a fresh set of eyes to look objectively at you, your goals, and your program. Put your ego aside for this one, all great athletes have a coach!

Focus on what you can do

Right now I have a minor tear in my left bicep that prevents me from performing a lot of heavy pulls and a sprain in my right wrist that keeps me from heavy pressing. I’m not going to lie and say this doesn’t bother me, but other than resting and following proper rehab, there is not a lot I can do about it. So, to dwell on it makes little sense. What it has done is allowed me a lot of time to work my legs…as well as do a little extra cleaning around the house!

There is nothing groundbreaking here. These are very simple tips, however, from personal experience, I’ve learned that they are all things that we need to be reminded of from time to time to prevent longterm injuries and to maximize the results of training efforts.


Mike Samson is a strength and conditioning coach and university instructor who lives in St John’s, Newfoundland. Mike holds a Master of Science degree in Kinesiology and is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist. A competitive athlete in Judo and BJJ disciplines, Mike is available for consultation in the St John’s area and also provides services online.

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