I’ve discussed this before, but reducing aches and pains is a process. Simply taking time off isn’t enough and often doesn’t even heal the problem.
To reduce aches and pains, you need to do the following things:
- Massage or Self-Myofascial Release (foam rolling)
- Ice and/or Heat
While rest is important, often chronic aches and pains are caused by the muscles of our body being out of alignment. If we never loosen the tight muscles and activate the weak muscles, then we are going to continue to have problems no matter how much we rest.
All components of our body must be working together for us to move properly. If one part of our body isn’t working properly and efficiently, then other parts will have to compensate. And when other parts take on a load they aren’t supposed to handle, they break down. This overload and faulty movements lead to INJURY.
So those minor aches and pains could accumulate if you don’t do something to correct them!
So there are all sorts of “pain” related discussions that really get on my nerves.
One is when clients who are working hard for the first time in their life tell you that an exercise “hurts” when, upon further investigation, you find out that it is merely making their muscles fatigued and that they aren’t used to the burning sensation of a muscle working.
While I don’t like the phrase “no pain, no gain,” being sore and working hard isn’t always “comfortable.”
But at the same time having the attitude “no pain, no gain” and never recognizing when something hurts isn’t good either.
While I can get annoyed when someone can’t recognize the difference between “injury pain” and “discomfort from muscles working hard,” I get way more annoyed by the client who thinks they are cool because they push through the pain.
And honestly this “no pain, no gain” client WAY worse than the client that mistakes muscles working for pain.
You may be shaking your head and going, “Heck no! They aren’t near the same! You have to work through the pain sometimes! You are TOUGH if you just push through!”
Uhm no…I’m sorry….You don’t…and you aren’t.
You are stupid.
Yep that’s right…STUPID.
I can say this as someone who has been stupid one too many times in her past. I have the torn muscles and scar tissue to prove it.
And guess what I have now?
Improperly rehabbed injuries that years later I’m now having to deal with.
Trust me…injuries aren’t cool.
You aren’t “bad-ass” if you push through.
Honestly, unless you are a highly paid athlete, there is never a reason to push through true pain and injury. And even if you are a highly paid athlete, there is a very fine line between stupid and something you push through because it is your job.
When you work through the pain, generally all you do is make the injury worse. And then you are either eventually going to have to take time off, and probably MORE time than if you had rested and rehabbed it immediately, OR you are going to have something that restricts your movement and causes pain for the rest of your life.
Doesn’t sound like great options if you don’t just DEAL with the pain immediately.
But rehab and pre-hab aren’t “cool.”
It is way cooler to be like, “I can’t do push ups because of my shoulder.”…Right!?!
I can’t tell you how many people recently I’ve encountered coming from other gyms who say they “can’t do” something because of an injury they’ve never dealt with and just “worked through.”
And every time I say to them the same thing, “Well what have you been doing for rehab?”
And I always get the same answer…NOTHING.
Can someone please explain this to me?
Why is pain cool and rehab not cool?
Don’t we workout to feel BETTER!?! Don’t we go to look BETTER? Perform BETTER?
If we want exercise to make us BETTER, how do we expect to do that if we are restricted and in PAIN?!
If you have an ankle injury, even one from decades ago, and you never rehabbed it, it may be causing problems up your leg. It may be why you have low back and hip pain. It may be why you have balance issues. It may be why you can’t lift as much as you want to. It may be why your butt isn’t as strong and perky as you would like!
It may be causing a whole load of problems that aren’t even related to the initial injury!
But it is better to just push through…huh?
Ok here is your chance to stop being an idiot and stop accepting pain.
Take five minutes at the beginning of your workout and add in an exercise or two to rehab or better yet “pre-hab” any weak points or areas of past injury. (Just because at one point in your life you did some rehab for an injury doesn’t mean you are just now done with it now. That area may always need some extra TLC.)
Here are a couple quick things you can do for four common areas of injuries…
- ANKLE/FOOT PAIN/INJURY (Heck these are even good for some knee and hip problems) – Roll out the bottom of your foot, your shin and your calf with a roller or small ball. Then work on your balance. My favorite balancing drill is when you either stand on one foot on the ground or on a foam pad and then you swing the other leg. Do swings forwards and backwards, side to side and even rotational (like you are lifting your foot to step back over a fence and then bringing it back forward over the fence without touching down). Then do glute activation drills. Pick one or two from this list and do 1-2 rounds of 10-20 reps.
- LOW BACK/HIP PAIN/INJURY – Low back pain is a super common problem. While rolling out the whole leg is ideal to find all trigger points, you can start with your hips, glutes and low back. A great way to roll out your hips, can be to take a bigger, foam ball and lay over it. The ball will actually be pressing into your abs right above your hip and beside your belly button. Relax over the ball as much as you can. You will also want to stretch your glutes and hips. Here are some more great trigger point release tips for your hip area. You will also probably want to do some stretches and trigger point release for your thoracic spine and lats. We can sometimes compensate and use our low back because our thoracic mobility is bad. A great thoracic stretch is one you do when kneeling. Kneel on the ground with one hand planted on the ground under the shoulder. Then reach your other hand back over your head with your finger tips pointing down your spine. Then rotate your elbow of the hand down your spine, under your arm that is down. Then rotate open, reaching the elbow up toward the ceiling. Again, glute activation exercises are key. If our glutes aren’t firing, we are going to use our low back and hamstrings more than we should!
- WRIST/ELBOW PAIN/INJURY – Yup…you can even roll out your forearms. If you have wrist or elbow pain, rolling our your forearms, triceps and biceps can help, especially if you target the areas of insertion. Wrist/forearms stretches are also important. We sit at computers all day with our wrists flexed and never really think to do anything to extend and release the muscles. One of my favorite wrist stretches is, when I kneel down and place my hands on the ground under my shoulders. I then turn my finger tips to face my knees with my palms flat on the ground. I then rock back and sit on my heels, keeping my palms flat on the ground, and then return back to kneeling and release. To also help activate the extensors of my wrist and forearm, I use a trick I was taught by Corey…The rubber band extension. Take a rubber band and place it around the outside of your fingers when they are all together. Then spread your fingers out as wide apart as you can before bringing them back together. This really helps with a lot of elbow pain!
- SHOULDER/UPPER BACK/NECK PAIN/INJURY – Roll out your traps, chest and lats. You will also want to stretch your chest and neck. You can easily stretch your chest using a wall or doorway. Place your hand and even your forearm on the wall or door frame and then step forward till you feel a stretch. To stretch your neck, lean your head to one side and gentle pull your head down toward your shoulder, making sure you keep your shoulders relaxed. To change exactly which muscles you hit, look up, down and straight ahead. Then you will want to do a scapular wall hold. If you do it correctly, you will activate your lower traps which will help you relax your upper traps and usually helps with neck pain. YTWLs are great too to activate the muscles in your upper back and strengthen your rotator cuff. Check out this video by Nick Tumminello on how to do them.
Here is another article with some essential mobility drills that can help you move better!
You don’t have to do these every day, but you do want to make sure that spots that need improvement get attention! So stop accepting pain and start doing something about it. It really doesn’t take that much time.
Be smart…It’s way more “bad-ass!”
NOTE: If you are suffering from an injury, it is best to get checked out by a doctor. Most of these drills are meant for already diagnosed injuries or minor recurring injuries/pains. Also, this list is by no means comprehensive. It is just to give you an idea that there are some quick things you can do before your workouts, to correct problems!
For awhile now, I’ve been telling myself that I need to start up yoga again.
Yoga makes me feel so good…after it is over.
In a way, it’s like foam rolling and stretching…even warming up and cooling down…people either love it or skip it because they don’t see an immediate benefit, like sweat pouring off of them and their heart beating hard.
You may not be gasping for air or have that feeling that you were just “destroyed” by a workout, but if you want something that will help your lifts and make you both mentally and physically stronger, yoga is it!
Very quickly though, I will note that there is a big difference from a yoga that is simply stretching and one that does force you to hold more strengthening poses that may cause a bit of muscle shake-age. Both have their place and can be very beneficial, BUT there is a difference between what you will get out of each.
The yoga that I prefer is one that, yes does have stretching, but more importantly creates a bit of muscles shake-age. (AND also to note…I’m not necessarily talking about one specific “type” of yoga. Sometimes people can take the same class and get very different things out of it based on how low they choose to go in their warrior pose….)
While both can be great for recovery and mobility and flexibility work, ones that force you to hold a low and strong warrior pose for a decent amount of time are going to create more strength both mentally and physically.
I believe that one of the best ways to create more mental strength (and physical for that matter) is to force yourself to do something longer than your mind tells you that you want to do it. Our minds will give up way before our bodies have to.
Do one more squat than you want to…One more push up…Run that extra sprint…
All those things push you just a little beyond what you want to do.
But personally, I don’t think any are quite as good at developing mental strength as forcing yourself to hold an isometric pose while your muscles start to shake just a bit.
Pushing yourself to hold that Crescent pose even when your leg is shaking is an incredibly difficult thing. You don’t get to move…AT ALL.
At least when you are doing that extra sprint or extra squat, you are moving. For some reason, getting to move makes pushing yourself to do an extra rep just a wee bit easier. It’s like because you are moving you can feel yourself getting closer to the end so you can hold out through that extra rep or so.
Whereas it is WAY easier to give up when you are simply holding a move while being super uncomfortable and just waiting for the time to pass. It is hard to keep calm while your legs or arms are shaking and your mind is screaming at you “GIVE UP!” and you aren’t allowed to move.
Continuing to hold Warrior I as your legs shake until that teacher (or timer) tells you to stop can be incredibly challenging. You just want to stand up so bad as your leg muscles burn.
And the best part is…your instructor is probably also telling you at the same time that your mind wants to give up, “Just relax and breathe.”
Just relax and breath….
As your legs or arms are shaking, as your mind is telling you to give up, just RELAX and BREATHE.
And the reason the instructor is telling you this?
Because your mind will give up before your body has to.
Your mind will start screaming at you all sorts of negative thoughts. It will make you tighten and clench muscles that don’t even need to be clenched. It will force your breath to become more shallow, labored and even “panicked.”
But if you just focus on deep calming breaths and keep your mind on trying to relax the muscles, you may just manage to beat your mind and successfully hold the pose longer than you ever thought possible.
If you want to reach your full potential, if you want to lift more or run faster, you’ve got to not only strengthen your body, but also your mind.
You’ve got to be able to be RELAXED UNDER TENSION.
So the next time you consider skipping yoga because it isn’t that hard a workout, think about what your body and mind really need.
My guess is that most of us out there aren’t getting enough mobility and flexibility work let alone ever really focused on working on our mental strength during our workouts….Physical strength yes…maybe even “pushing ourselves” but truly focused on relaxing under tension? I DON’T THINK SO!
So try adding in yoga once a week. It may just be what your body and mind need to take your performance (and even your health!) to the next level!
The more intensely you work out, the more attention you must pay to your recovery.
Our bodies can get run down by daily life especially when we are working out hard on top of everything else. If we don’t take care of our bodies, then we won’t reap the rewards of all of our workout, and even dieting, efforts!
But recovery doesn’t simply mean taking time off and laying on the couch doing nothing.
Recovery can be active and includes more than just sleep and relaxing. Recovery means stretching and SMR. Recovery means eating correctly and staying hydrated. It can mean contrast showers and icing or applying heat.
It means taking care of any places that need extra TLC.
And it doesn’t mean five seconds of stretching or rolling out. If you actually have areas that feel worn out from the week or bug you from time to time, you have to take care of them.
Ice, stretch, roll out. Do all three and not just every once in a while. Do them every day, numerous times a day to help the problem correct itself more quickly.
More isn’t always better but not enough won’t get you anywhere. If you are a tight person, or have imbalances, rolling out the few times a week you go to the gym (for like a minute before you workout), isn’t going to be enough.
You need to spend time correcting the imbalances. You need to create a program and probably spend time every day for at least a few weeks to help correct the problem.
That can mean activation exercises for the muscles that are underactive. It can mean stretching tight muscles and rolling out knots. It can mean icing muscles that are particularly worn out or areas that get inflamed from lots of use.
It doesn’t mean ignoring the issue or just dealing with the pain. It also doesn’t mean not going to the doctor if your pain is severe or chronic.
BUT it does mean taking care of yourself so that some pain doesn’t become an injury – so that a little tightness or soreness doesn’t turn into an overuse injury or strain.
Even injuries you supposedly “rehabbed” can have long-term consequences if you don’t take care and make sure they are truly recovered. An ankle injury years ago could be the reason why you are now having knee pain, especially if you don’t take care to make sure everything has been rehabbed.
The best recovery program is the one that does something BEFORE you actually have issues!
The better your recovery program, the quicker you will heal from any injuries (or even prevent them from happening in the first place) and the more ready your body will be each week to handle the challenges you throw at it.
So what areas are tight on you? Where do you get knots and soreness? How is your posture? And remember, just because you have low back pain doesn’t mean your low back is tight…it could be a trigger point somewhere else around the area causing the pain!
It’s funny…when you first lose weight or lift a new PR, you feel super good about yourself.
But then after a while, when you stay at that weight or keep lifting around the same amount, you aren’t as happy or as proud with where you are.
It is obviously still a good point if you were happy to get there, but at some point, you begin to expect and want more.
You can actually become super UNHAPPY with where you are even if it is miles beyond where you started.
It’s like we get used to our success and begin to not see it as the success it once was – we begin to see it as the new normal.
And once something is our normal, we just seem to want to improve on it.
I know I do.
Sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever be satisfied no matter how much I achieve. Sometimes I just keep pushing and pushing expecting more and more NEVER giving myself a chance to take a break and enjoy all that has already been accomplished.
But you will drive yourself crazy that way.
Yes we can always become better, fitter, stronger, faster.
But is always pushing forward really good? Don’t you need to at points sit and enjoy what you’ve already accomplished?
Don’t you need to give yourself a break even if it is just a mental break from constantly pushing forward?
I whole-heartedly believe in giving yourself a “break” every few weeks if not a small break every week.
This new “normal” that you achieve can easily become a plateau if you keep pushing forward at the same pace day in and day out.
Honestly, your body and your mind can’t handle the same intensity day in and day out and sometimes you are lucky if you simply plateau when you don’t give yourself a chance to relax and reflect. You run the risk of actually going BACKWARDS if you never give yourself a break!
So once you’ve achieved a new normal, how do you use a “break” to keep you moving forward?
What do I mean by periodization? I mean that you cycle through times of intense work and really pushing toward your goal, working harder and harder, and then taking a little time to let your mind and body recuperate BEFORE you push forward again.
And when talking about workouts, I don’t mean the day or so you take each week to let your body recover from the week of workouts. AND I don’t mean a complete week off from working out.
When you create your workout program, you want to create a progression. A progression can be anywhere from 4-6 weeks in length. And over those weeks you should build each week on what you did the week before. This means heavier weights or maybe even earning more advanced and complicated variations of moves.
But anyway you look at it you are PROGRESSING. You aren’t randomly picking workouts. You are building each week toward a goal…even if that goal is simply to do a heavier squat or be able to use weight on a single leg deadlift.
And then after building for those 4-6 weeks, you need to recover. This can mean going back to body weight for a week. It can mean completely switching up your progression or even just doing different workouts for a week.
Whatever it is, you’ve got to give your body and your MIND a break from the constant pressure to move forward.
Same goes for dieting. And again I don’t simply mean a cheat meal or even a cheat day each week.
Sometimes you have to let go completely…like on a vacation. Sometimes you have to take a couple of days and just enjoy even if they aren’t on whatever usual schedule/plan you follow.
Your mind and body can’t keep pushing forward all the time. You’ve got to give yourself a chance to relax and enjoy your new “normal” but still improved/better/fitter/happier state before you push forward again.
So think about your program right now…Are you actually building toward something or just haphazardly going about things and then getting mad when a new normal turns into a month-long plateau?
Have you been working at the same intensity for the last three months and been wondering why you haven’t seen results?
Give this a shot. Write up the next few weeks and then PLAN in a week to enjoy how strong you’ve gotten while not focusing on moving forward or your goals for the next few weeks. Plan a week every 4-6 weeks where you are going to just enjoy and PLAY!
Ok maybe I’m the only one that laughed at the title, but it was worth it!
Anyway, recently while going in and out of overtraining to quickly achieve my goals, I’ve found that ICE is my best friend.
Ice packs, ice baths, contrast showers….all of them are just PHENOMENAL!
They help my muscles recover and they help me prevent any old injuries from flaring up and cause issues.
Ice reduces inflammation and can help reduce swelling. This can help keep injuries from flaring up and cause you to have altered movement patterns. I know that recently with all of the activities I’m doing, my ankle scar tissue has been irritated. So I’ve been taking extra time to do rehab exercises and ICE every single night. Most of the time more than once a day.
And guess what!?! My ankle is actually bothering me less than it has in a while even though I’m doing a ton more things to irritate it!
Icing can also help reduced muscle soreness so that you can take less time off between intense workouts! Icing helps injuries heal…exercising intensely basically causes minor muscle trauma, which when the muscles heal they become stronger – ice speeds this process. YAY!
Icing also helps flush out waste products such as lactic acid from the muscles, which again HELPS YOU RECOVER FASTER!
So if you want to recover faster, you may want to experiment with contrast showers (alternating hot and COLD water) and icing.
I mean who wouldn’t want to recover faster!?!
Anyone else using icing or contrast showers as part of their recovery routine?
Anytime there is a holiday or I have a vacation planned, I always start thinking about how beneficial the time off will be. I actually wrote another post about Rest right before my California vacation.
I’m bad about taking more than one day off a week BUT sometimes your body really needs more recovery than that. So vacation/holidays are a great time to take a few extra days off!
When you workout, you break down muscle tissues. You create mini tears, which when they heal, make your muscles stronger.
BUT for your muscles to rebuild the layers that were broken down and become stronger, you must take some time off. YOU MUST REST!
For me its sort of hard to accept how important time off is – even though I know that it is just as essential to a workout program as the lifts you design.
I just want to believe that all the work I’m doing in the gym is all that matters, BUT the time off that I take is just as important (if not more so!).
Rest is about more than even muscle repair. If you never rest you are probably overtraining and overtraining has consequences:
- Your energy level will drop and you may regress in how much you can lift or how far you can run.
- You can actually lose some of your leanness if you are overtraining. Working out too much can actually cause muscle wasting and fat deposition. You’re burning calories but those calories are coming from predominantly glucose/glycogen and precious muscle tissue.
- You are unable to sleep soundly. If you are working out too much, you won’t be sleeping well, which will hurt your workout intensity.
- You’re getting injured more often and have lots of aches and pains. Uhm injuries prevent you from hitting your lifting/weight loss/workout goals. So if you are training so hard you get injured, you need to take some time off because injuries won’t help you progress!
- You’re getting sick more often. Yep..overtraining can cause a lowered immune system. And getting sick…well that doesn’t help you workout hard!
So next time you think about skipping that rest day…DON’T!