There Will Be Pain

Written by: Kevin Cann


This is most likely the most common conversation I have with lifters.  The majority of people taking part in this sport seem to have some fears about getting injured.


Remember when you were a kid?  Chances were you had no fears at the time.  Jumping off the highest points of the playground with no regard for your body at all.  This seems to change as we age.


As our predictive processes get continually updated with information, we begin to fear getting injured because we begin to realize there is a strong chance for it.  Past experiences as well as our beliefs about pain and injury play a role here.  Kids do not have those same experiences or beliefs yet.


It seems that most lifters train and expect to be pain free forever.  Here is the ironic part.  No matter what you do, you will experience pain.  This means whether you train or not.  Why is that?  Because you are human, and you are alive.


I forget the exact stat and I don’t care enough to look it up, but the majority of people will experience a bout of back pain every 1-2 years.  Whether you lift or not.  If this bout doesn’t come on from training, it could come on from sleeping.


You could just wake up one morning and your back hurts for a few days.  Our cultural beliefs about aging fit in here as well.  Most of us can relate to our parents complaining about these bouts of pain as just getting older.


We witness this and now we have a belief about how aging is.  It sucks and it will hurt.  Then as we get older, we experience pain.  Remember that our beliefs are actually part of that physiological pain. Thanks mom and dad.


This discussion about pain is one of the more frustrating things about my job.  The crazy thing is that I am not frustrated with my lifters. I am frustrated with us as a culture. This negative view of pain causes me lots of emotional pain.


Every time a lifter feels pain, they tend to think the worst.  Lifting is one of the safest sports you can actually do, but it seems we have this viewpoint that is completely different.  You just don’t see many injuries from drug free raw lifters.


If there is pain leading to a decrease in performance, aka an injury, it usually clears up within a few days.  We adjust some positions and just continue to train in most cases.  I will go out on a limb here and say it is extremely rare for structural damage to happen as a result of properly progressed training.


I remember reading this example in a Barbell Medicine article I believe.  They talked about delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) as an injury.  DOMS has experienced pain with a decrease in performance.  This makes it an injury.


The difference here is that we expect DOMS.  We know it will clear up in a couple of days and we are good.  When we experience unexpected pain, it is completely different. There comes this panic and hyperawareness and focus on it.


This increased focus and panic can actually increase the pain that we are feeling.  If we had that same attitude about this pain as we did DOMS it would not nearly be as negative.  Remember, we are human, and we will experience pain no matter what you do.


This pain does not mean there is damage somewhere.  Again, in almost all of the cases with drug free raw lifting there is no damage. Although we will have someone experience an acute back injury lifting, get an MRI, and see some disc issues and chalk it up to lifting caused a back injury via disc herniation.


One, there is no way to know if that herniation was there before.  Chances are it was.  Herniations and other “disc issues” are just normal results of aging.  The majority of people with these issues are pain free and partaking in physical activity.


We don’t only need to expect pain; we need to stop viewing it as a negative thing.  With DOMS we might joke around about how sore we are, but we typically do not view that pain as a negative thing.


We experience any other pain, that we ourselves diagnose as something other than DOMS, and we get this extremely negative view of it.  I am not sure where this came from.  Coming from a sports background, pain was expected, and you dealt with it appropriately.  We never worried about getting hurt.  If we did get hurt, it just happened.


In the sport of powerlifting it seems the lifters are always worried about getting hurt.  This can literally increase the pain that you feel. Pain that may not decrease performance if we expected it and did not have negative views about it.


The ironic part is that if we become focused and scared of it and it decreases performance, we just injured ourselves by definition!  This does not mean that we do not listen to the pain signals we feel.


We definitely need to listen.  Oftentimes it is best to train through it and just keep an eye on it.  Other times we may need to adjust positions a bit for a few days, but we can still train.  The biggest part of injury prevention in sport is education.


You cannot decrease injury risk and increase performance at the same time.  Seeking an increase in performance means we need to be exposed to more training, which increases injury risk.  There are no magic pills, “releases”, stretches, or body rubbing that helps you increase performance and/or decrease injury risk.


We give each lifter the tools to deal with their own pain.  This is called self-efficacy.  Self-efficacy in a meta-analysis was shown to be the more beneficial tool for dealing with pain and disability.  Giving someone a foam roller or special warmups takes away that self-efficacy.


You will say it feels good when I do it.  Great. Tons of things feel good temporarily. Education and self-efficacy are tools that you can take with you for a lifetime.  This is important because you will experience pain in your life.  This is a part of living.


This has much better long-term outcomes than any bullshit “wake-up drills”, foam rolling, lacrosse ball ballet, or any of the other commercial bullshit that is pedaled to a mentally weak society that fears pain and has an extra few bucks to spend on things.

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