Pain is something we will all experience in some form during our life. For active people it can interfere with exercise and training routines. The advice available (on how to approach training with pain) is often  lacking and too often rest is advised (though obviously needed in some cases). Here is a practical approach to training with pain, and when to avoid it and rest.

General rules

  • If your pain is no worse 24hrs after training you have found a good training load.
  • Increase rest times between sets, exercises and training days. Generally, rest enough to minimize your fatigue during a session.
  • Measure your response to training both during exercise as well as after 24 hours using a pain scale

Seek an opinion from a health provider (ideally one who understands exercise)

The first port of call is to seek advice from a well trained health practitioner, ideally one who has expertise in exercise and training. An accurate diagnosis of your pain is essential to rule out any major pathology that may require immediate medical attention.

Keep it simple

Simplicity to training is key. Try limit your exercises to no more than 3. This way, we can isolate which exercises are beneficial and which are not.

Know your aggravators and relievors

Knowing which movements, positions or loads aggravate your symptoms will allow you to make better decisions in the exercises that you choose.

Obviously, it is important to avoid the aggravators and perform the relievors. For example, if it hurts to bend, we may want to avoid bottom of the squat positions as this may bend the spine. If our shoulder hurts when raised overhead, we will want to avoid overhead positions. Sometimes it isnt movements that are bothersome, but rather the load that causes the pain. If we know deadlifting with 100kg is painful but 50kg isnt, then obviously we should work on the lower weight. The opposite is true for relieving positions, find which movements relieve your symptoms (or at least don’t make them worse) and due exercises that mimic those positions. For example, If my shoulder pain feels good when in a pulling type motion, I would work on pulling exercises such as rows of pull ups.

Increase your rest between sets and training days

Double or triple your rest between sets. We want to minimize fatigue, ideally your training sessions should incorporate rest which allows your muscles and nervous system to recuperate. It is also important to have rest days between sessions. This allow us to observe the after effects of training and helps our body to mitigate fatigue.

Keep a pain diary

A pain diary is a great way to observe trends. Write own your pain levels during training as well as the  following morning. Put it on a scale of 0-10 (10 being excruciating pain and 0 being none). You can also describe the pain as sharp, dull, catches and so on to get a feel of how the body has responded. You can then modify each training session to be lighter or heavier accordingly.

Optimize your health

Sleep, nutrtion and stress all contribute to quicker recovery times. Focus on getting enough good quality sleep (7-8hours, unbroken if possible), eating plenty of good proteins and vegetables and reducing your stress levels through deep breathing exercises.

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Daniel Rothenberg

Daniel Rothenberg is a Sports Chiropractor with a Masters of Chiropractic and Masters of Exercise Science majoring in Strength & Conditioning. He works closely with a range of athletes in Brisbane and Ipswich.