Listening to Your Body to Prevent Injuries

Written by Robert Forney ISSA CFT

The other day while lifting with my lifting partners, we were performing our max bench presses. Before one of my lifting partners started to lift he said his shoulder felt a little sore. He warmed up and then did a light 295 pound bench and felt a sharp pain in his shoulder. After racking the weight he felt O.K. again and wanted to perform another set. I said to him "I don't think you should perform another set, forget about bench pressing today and wait until we get to our next exercise and see how you feel." In which he responded, "no I think I am ok, I can go up." I then said "OK, but when you get hurt, don't complain to me, your body is trying to tell you something! Since you still feel ok, take a break and wait until your shoulder feels better". As if I was a psychic (actually, it's common sense), he went to perform another set with 335, he un-racked it, brought it down to his chest, and then bam, he said "grab it, s**t, grab it, I hurt my shoulder." Lucky for him it is a fairly mild injury, but it could have been much worse. This is what has compelled me to write this article.

Think back to every time you were injured while training, or every time you seen someone else get injured while training. Did you or they feel a little pain in the area, but decided to ignore it? When I think back to a few years ago when I hurt my back a few times, every time I would feel a slight pain in the back. Of course I simply ignored the pain and decided to "work through it", but what I really did was work myself right into an injury. The more I thought about it, the more I realized how many people I seen get injured had a slight pain, or "weird" feeling in the area before the injury. Let me go back with a few examples of the injuries I have seen occur.

Of course we can start with the injury that I repeatedly sustained years ago to my lower back. Everytime I would feel a slight pain in the lower back, but instead of backing off, I would try to work through it, and  every time I would end up injured. Every since then I have been listening to my body, and I have not had another injury.

Next there was this woman powerlifter in the gym who was complaining about lower back pain. A couple of my training partners suggested that she not max out or go heavy on the deadlift. Of course she ignored them and ended up on the floor with an injured back.

In another case, there was this lifter who was complaining about a pain in his chest muscle for months, but still kept benching hard until one day he tore his pectoral muscle. Every time I have witnessed or heard of an injury, the person was complaining about pain before he continued the same thing and ended up injured.  Now I am not stating that this is scientific evidence, but only what I have witnessed myself.

Now lets get down to specifics. When I am talking about pain, I am not discussing DOMS, the soreness felt after training. I am also not talking about the soreness felt after performing many reps until exhaustion. I am talking about the pains you feel such as sharp pains, dull steady pains, etc, without any known cause. Usually the pain is felt when performing a certain exercise, or it could be felt before you even enter the gym. These pains are usually fairly obvious. There are many reasons you feel these pains, it could be an over use injury, or something you did outside of the gym, etc. Maybe you slept in a position that that put your body in a bad position, or maybe you were sitting all day in a position that made your back tight, etc. More often it is a result of something that was done outside the gym. Then you will come into the gym with a pain and hurt yourself further and blame it on the exercise or weight lifting. When you feel these types of pains, the body is trying to tell you something is wrong. As you can see it can get very complicated, but I will try to keep it simple. The fact is if you ignore the signal, you will end up hurt, either now or later. You can either take it easy when you feel these pains and train again tomorrow, or you can end up hurt and not able to train again for months. The decision is yours.

What should you do when you feel one of these "pains"? Sometimes a simple warm-up will make the pain go away. If I have a slight pain I will usually try warming the area up. If the pain goes away, I will go extremely easy on the area I am working that day. I will do this every workout until the pain is completely gone. If the pain is intense before and during the warm up, I will skip that exercise and train around the pain. What I mean by training around it, is that I will perform exercises I can do without ANY pain.

This is how you should treat all of your pains, take them seriously and make sure you don't hurt yourself further.  There is nothing worse then getting hurt because you decided to ignore a warning signal. Instead of only missing one workout, you may end up missing months of training.