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Should I be Training at the Gym when I have Pain?

As a Crossfitter for the last 8 years of my life, I understand that training at the gym can be an important part of your day, stress relief and health. Along the way, with any form of training, we can encounter injuries that set us back. When in pain, it is essential to approach workouts with caution and guidance. Contrary to popular belief, avoiding exercise altogether due to pain can often be MORE detrimental than continuing to train without a proper plan. In this post, I will explore how to navigate gym sessions when experiencing pain, emphasizing the importance of a structured approach and modifications to loading for safe and effective workouts.

The simple answer to the question, should I be training at the gym when I have pain, is YES, but not without a plan. Experiencing pain during a gym session or after, does not necessarily mean that you should halt all physical activity. In fact, unstructured rest can sometimes exacerbate the underlying issue and lead to further complications and longer recovery times. Our tissues adapt in response to the load we put on them. If we completely remove the load (i.e. the training) you can't control how the injured structure is going to heal. Instead, it is crucial to have a well-thought-out plan that addresses the source of the pain and allows for targeted rehabilitation that loads the tissue properly.

How do we modify the loads? When dealing with pain we can modify different parameters to help alleviate the discomfort while still allowing you to engage in meaningful exercise and allowing the tissue to heal the way you want it. Here are some of the key strategies for modifying loading:

  1. Change the Tempo: Slowing down the tempo of your exercises can reduce the stress on your joints and muscles, making movements more manageable and less painful.

  2. Modifying the Range of Motion: Limiting the range of motion in exercises can help avoid aggravating sensitive areas while still engaging muscles effectively. For example, doing a squat to a target above parallel.

  3. Managing Volume: Decreasing the overall volume of your workouts by reducing the number of sets or repetitions can prevent overloading and allow for adequate recovery.

  4. Exploring Different Body Positions: Altering your body position during exercises can shift the emphasis away from the affected area and provide relief. For example, performing a seated exercise instead of standing ones can reduce strain on the lower back.

  5. Modifying Sequencing: Changing the order in which you perform the exercises can help minimize fatigue in specific muscle groups, allowing you to continue training without exacerbating pain.

  6. Selecting Appropriate Equipment: Opting for equipment that provides additional support or reduces joint impact such as using resistance bands instead of free weights, can help manage pain during workouts.

  7. Focusing on Stability: Incorporating stability exercises into your routine can improve joint stability and reduce the risk of injury. Utilize stability balls, wobble boards, or suspension trainers to challenge your stabilizing muscles while minimizing stress on painful areas.

As you start to add these modifiers, keep in mind the principle of progressive overload. This means you will gradually increase the intensity, duration and frequency of your exercises to continually challenge the body and stimulate adaptation. When we apply this concept to tissue healing, progressive overload refers to the systematic and controlled application of stress to injured tissues to promote healing and strengthen the affected area. This can be done using the principles I discussed above, and should be monitored by a health care professional.

Training at the gym when experiencing pain requires a strategic approach that prioritizes safety and injury prevention. Instead of avoiding exercises altogether, it's essential to have a structured plan in place that includes modifications to loading parameters. By adjusting the tempo, range of motion, volume, body position, sequencing, and equipment selection, you can continue to engage in meaningful workouts while managing the pain effectively and promoting healing of injured tissue. Always remember to listen to your body, seek the guidance from qualified professionals and prioritize long term health and well being into your fitness journey.

Dr. Alfredo is a health enthusiast who’s goal is to help people and families live healthier, happier lives. My philosophy on health is simple - our body’s have the amazing ability and potential to self-adapt, self-regulate and THRIVE in this world.

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