“No pain, no gain” is perhaps one of the biggest lies in fitness history. While anyone who’s serious about fitness will experience injuries from time to time, training through pain only makes things worse. Learning to listen to your body and train around pain instead of through pain will help you recover faster and let you maintain your fitness levels.
Nothing can replace your doctor’s advice, but you can use common sense and grit to keep training. Here are three do’s and don’ts for training around an injury.
DON’T: PUSH THROUGH THE PAIN
DO: LISTEN TO YOUR BODY
Pain is a reliable indication that something is wrong. Your body senses pain via nociceptors, which are nerve endings that detect signals from damaged tissue. You have nociceptors in your skin, joints and organs — all of which alert your body to problems. If you ignore these signals and keep doing what hurts, you’ll likely cause additional damage.
Instead of pushing through the pain, listen to your body and stop exercising when something hurts. Avoid the specific exercise or range of motion that causes pain, and seek a doctor if the pain persists.
DON’T: ASK THE INTERNET
DO: ASK A DOCTOR
The internet is full of misinformation. After you let the irony sink in as you read an article about pain on the internet, realize that the only people truly qualified to diagnose and treat your injury are medical professionals. Don’t ask Google what you should be asking a doctor.
Seek out a primary-care physician, physical therapist or chiropractor for help with your injury. They’ll have the education and experience to point you in the right direction, whether that entails certain exercises, therapies or medication. Do your homework and find someone who has experience working with athletes; they’ll understand that you want to get back to exercising as soon as possible and be more proactive with their recommendations.
DON’T: STOP TRAINING COMPLETELY
DO: TRAIN WHAT DOESN’T HURT
One of the biggest mistakes people make when injured is stopping their training altogether. In fact, complete rest can often make pain worse. Unless your doctor prescribes complete rest, find a way to keep training with pain-free movements.
A pivotal study published in 1981 found that chronic pain patients who performed more exercise experienced less chronic pain that those who exercised less. This challenged a long-held belief that rest was the best cure for pain. In fact, your body’s ability to recover and heal itself relies largely on your cardiovascular health, metabolism and immune system — all of which are bolstered by exercise.
Instead of curling up in bed with Netflix and an ice pack, continue to train whatever doesn’t hurt. That may mean avoiding certain exercises, only working certain muscles or reducing the intensity of your workouts.
You can go as far as only training one arm or leg if the other side is hurt. Fun fact: Many studies have found that working out only one limb actually strengthens the other limb too via a phenomena called cross-education. The lesson? Keep working out, even if it’s only one side at a time.
KEEP FIGHTING THE GOOD FIGHT
Don’t let an injury hold you back from reaching your goals. Train smart, ask for help from the right people and you’ll be back to full strength in no time.