Rest isn’t everything. While you may be tempted to stop exercising at the first twinge of pain, minor injuries can often heal while you keep training. You can also feel sore or hurt without any significant injury at all. So what should you do when you’re working out and something starts to hurt?
This video sums up an approach that a lot of trainers, doctors, and physical therapists are now using. The speaker, Austin Baraki, is a doctor and powerlifter who has written extensively about how pain during training is not something we always have to freak out about. He recommends a four step approach:
Assess what’s going on, and make sure there’s no serious injury. (Easy if you’re a doctor; the rest of us should seek professional help if we’re not sure.)
Lower the weight that you’re working with until you find a weight you can lift without pain. So if your knee hurts when you squat 90kg, you may still be able to make it through your workout squatting 45kg. Better than not squatting at all! If there isn’t a comfortable weight, move on to the next step.
Reduce the range of motion to avoid the specific movement that causes pain. So if your knees hurt in the deepest part of the squat, you can put a box behind you and only squat down until you’re sitting on the box.
Consider a similar exercise, if the previous steps don’t do enough to reduce the pain. To keep from losing too much training progress, you’ll want to choose exercises that are as similar as possible to what you were originally trying to do.
I’ve begun using this approach myself when I get a nagging ache somewhere that obviously isn’t a serious injury. It’s an amazing feeling when you go from “it hurts when I do this” to “Oh wait, I can do this just fine if I take a little weight off the bar.”
With some twinges, you may feel good as new by the time the next workout rolls around; other times, you may be facing a few weeks or even months of modified workouts while you’re healing.
Definitely get checked out if your pain persists or if you are feeling concerned about it for any reason. But you may be surprised at what you are still able to do.