Listening to Your Body and Modifying Workouts

This article was originally published on

Over the last 20 years I’ve been lucky enough to only sustain a few injuries while training, but aches and pains were far more common. I’m happy to say that for the last two years, aches and pains have been non-existent. Aches and pains are going to happen to everyone at one time or another, assuming you’ve got some time under your belt and are able to push your limits. I’ve often told people to avoid anything that causes them pain. Of course, many athletes do not heed this advice and “push through” the pain anyway. This is one of the more valuable lessons I’ve received over the years: listening to the body. Even the most well-thought-out and balanced programming will not be completely devoid of injuries or aches and pains. It’s simply impossible. However, we can make sure that we are putting ourselves in the best possible position to train safely. This means NOT training through the pain. Convincing your athletes to adopt this approach is a challenge and one that requires consistency.

Training through the pain, for the general population, makes absolutely zero sense. Doing a movement that you know your body doesn’t respond well to just for the sake of doing a movement is also nonsense. A few years ago I decided that my days of pushing through the pain were over. If I wanted to keep doing what I love for years to come I’d have to be smarter. Luckily for me, I only had to eliminate a few movements, but the benefit of taking this step was huge. As I stated before, I can’t remember the last recent time (within the last two years) I had an ache or a pain (or even worse, was injured). For me, simply eliminating kipping pull-ups, specifically butterfly C2B, Handstand Push-ups and Squat Snatches was enough to get rid of the shoulder, neck, and wrist pain I experienced. I spent years trying to figure out what was wrong and why these movements caused me pain with the help of many qualified kinesiologists, chiropractors, and physical therapists. Needless to say, the quest to figure what the issue was ate up a lot of my time and energy. The funny thing is that since I’ve removed these three movements completely from training when I do return to them (the first time in almost a year was during the most recent CF Open), they feel better than ever. My shoulders feel amazing and my wrist pain has disappeared. I do spend quite a bit of time performing special exercises to bring up where I’m weakest, so I’m sure this has helped quite a bit, but simply removing these movements has made my training much more enjoyable.

If you’re training to look better, feel better, live longer, and still hit a few PRs every now and again, this is an approach that I would recommend giving a try. If you know a particular movement causes problems, scale to a more comfortable movement. It doesn’t have to be rocket science, and your coach will certainly be able to put you in the right direction if all else fails. A movement that leaves you feeling broken should not have a place in your routine. At the end of the day, your peers will not think less of you if you have to scale a workout. This may actually open the door for more athletes to scale their workouts and listen to their bodies. This is, in fact, one of the biggest drawbacks of group programming: people feeling like they have to complete a workout as it’s written on the whiteboard. At the end of the day, think about your long-term health. Think about how you’ll be feeling if you continue performing the movements that don’t line up with your goals simply because it’s on the whiteboard. If all else fails, see a qualified physical therapist to address your issues. Things like prescription pain killers and cortisone shots will only mask the issue. A great physical therapist can identify what’s going on and help you to remedy the issue, but even still, returning to a movement that has caused you serious issues may not be worth it. At the end of the day, listen to your body, even if that means you have to completely modify a workout. It’s only a workout, and the workout’s aim should be to get you closer your goals in an effective and safe manner. If a workout or movement does not support your goals, don’t do it. It’s that simple.