In fitness and life we naturally navigate away from pain and move towards pleasure. It’s normal, natural and part of our DNA. However, there a two different forms of pain and they need to be understood first, before we make the leap to trying to eliminate or avoid.
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The first type of pain that we all experience is the one that we need to learn and alter our behaviour because if we don’t, then there will be negative outcomes. For example, if we burn our hand on a stove, we quickly learn that holding our hand on it will have a negative outcome.
People generally learn very quickly with this type of pain. They will pay attention and alter behaviour. To equate this to a gym scenario, if we do squats and we feel back pain days afterwards, we associate pain to that exercise.
I don’t want you to look at this type of pain in a negative light at all, because it creates paths for us to take and
forces us to problem solve and seek out information that is relevant to stop this pain altogether. This type of pain is one of the most powerful teachers, and has forced us to evolve as individuals, coaches and as a species.
The second type of pain is something we want to welcome with open arms. It helps us to improve, grow and adapt. Rather than defining it as pain, I prefer to refer to it as discomfort. If you have read my previous articles on discomfort, it’s where our growth comes from physiologically and psychologically. This comes from pushing yourself hard on a run or to learn a new skill like a language. It’s not easy, but there is a tipping point where adaption and improvement takes place.
Obviously there are limits to the levels of discomfort and there can be a transition from this type of pain to the other type, which we want to avoid completely. For example, if we over train, we can get sick. That is where being smart and learning from our pain will create success in the gym and out of the gym.
A few years ago, a client of mine was experiencing the second type of pain in one of his shoulders after our training sessions. It was a dull, aching feeling that was progressively getting worse every week. It wasn’t like the stove example where he did an exercise and instantly felt it, it was accumulating.
Initially, I didn’t know what was going wrong. He seemed to be passing all my assessments and his form was great on every exercise. So, I consulted with one of my mentors at the time and asked what I should be looking at. I was getting caught up on the actual shoulder, scapular and thoracic. My mentor I suggested that I look from a more global perspective.
That was when I looked closely at his wrist. Due to an old injury, his wrist was extremely limited in mobility (on the side of the injured shoulder) and stuck into an extension position. When he was pressing and even holding a bar when he was squatting, he was compromising his movement and beating up his shoulder. It wasn’t obvious from the exercises that this movement was jeopardised. It was the pain that gave us the indication to look deeper and learn.
After establishing it was his wrist, I went away did some research on possible solutions for this problem. I managed to find some mobility drills that helped and tied it in with some positional awareness exercises once his range of motion had been restored. And like magic, his shoulder improved and we were able to continue doing the exercises in his program.
Three takeaways from this story are:
- Pain isn’t always a stop sign. If we stop in our tracks, then our overall goal of getting leaner and stronger (for example) would be put on hold. Rather force yourself to become resourceful and problem-solve!
- Warm ups and stretches must be specific for what the individual brings to the table. One man’s medicine, is one man’s poison. Generic stretches and programs produce generic results.
- Don’t ever ignore pain to try to achieve your larger goals. If you use the pain as feedback, it will not only get you to your goal faster, but it will improve your overall performance.
Train smarter and produce the results!
P.s. If you liked this article see my article on back pain and strength training here.
P.p.s. See video of this article below