The Real Reason You’re Getting Hurt

I’m going to remove the mystery for you right from the jump.

You didn’t “sleep wrong”.

To think that you tore your rotator cuff by remaining basically motionless for 7 hours is less likely than Netflix green lighting a remake of The Godfather starring Justin Bieber as Don Corleone.

Even if you did sleep in an odd position, the soreness should wear off in a matter of hours, not weeks.

In reality, the reason (or reasons) you got hurt from working out typically comes down to one of three possibilities. And the rank of these probabilities might surprise you.

So let’s jump right in and take a cold, hard look at why you are likely hurt, beat up or injured (and there is a difference between these three) from training.

You Are A Victim Of Faulty Programming

If you were a Vegas bookie in charge of handicapping what factor is most likely to lead avid gym-goers to injury, a crappy program should be the overwhelming favorite.

Poor choices in total volume, exercise selection, exercise order and the host of other factors that should be considered when designing a training program are number one when it comes to putting you on the path to Painsville.

In fact, every other factor on this short list (and likely five or six more) could really be included under the umbrella of poor programming.

There are no inherently dangerous exercises – but if you do not program these exercises with an appropriate amount of volume, movement regressions when needed, a consideration for exercise order and workout structure and a birds-eye view of how all the puzzle pieces of separate workouts come together, then your fate is imminent. You are either going to suffer the pains of overuse or, just as likely, undershoot your capabilities by so much that you won’t make any progress.

I’ve mentioned this before but having a good programmer is as valuable as having a great tax accountant. The accountant knows the tax laws and the codes and applies them to your specific situation utilizing his expertise in order to, at best, get you a great return or, at least, keep you out of jail. You could certainly do your own taxes. That’s every citizen’s right. But people who are smart with their money never do.

Same goes for your training program. Put it in the hands of an expert and you’ll ideally get a great result for your efforts and keep yourself off the sidelines.

You Are Loading Improperly

This is the first cousin of faulty programming. Because a good program will either give you very specific loading parameters (such as 80% of one rep max, or a “7 out of 10” effort, or “make sure you leave two reps in reserve”) or, better yet, will be executed under the supervision of a coach who can make proper loading determinations based on the speed at which the bar is moving, your range of motion, how the set looked based on her experience watching you perform previously or several other determinations.

Performing five sets of five reps is typically a sound and standard program that many, many people have success with at all experience levels. But performing 5×5 at 93% isn’t typically going to work. Nor will doing 5×5 cleans, squats, deadlifts and bench all in the same day. And if you don’t know why these are bad ideas you certainly shouldn’t be programming for yourself.

Proper loading is a combination of understanding what type of stimulus you are trying to drive, the capability, experience, size, age and training age of the trainee and being able to eyeball (if you are a coach) or feel (if you are an athlete) how far you are deviating from your typical technique.

Your Technique Is Poor

This is the factor that most people would put on the top of the list but, truthfully, if you’ve nailed down the first two items on this list, the likelihood that poor technique is causing injury is fairly low.

Because even if you don’t have great mobility or motor control, if the load used is reasonable and proper regressions are put into place (limiting range of motion or choosing a variation of the exercise that can be performed with proper mechanics) you should be able to continue to train safely while improving your fitness and your movement capabilities.

Where you run into trouble with poor movement quality is when you do it with too much volume (see item #1 on this list), when you are fatigued (see item #1 on this list) or perform it with too much load (see item #2 on this list). In the absence of those choices, the worst outcomes from poor movement will be a reinforcement of that movement (which you do not want if you want to actually perform the exercise well) and a lack of desired outcomes from that movement (training your back rather than your legs in the squat, for example). But what it shouldn’t do is put you in the hospital.

About 600 words ago at the beginning of this post I referenced that there is a difference between being beat up, hurt and injured from training. And this differentiation is worth further discussion.

Because it should not be your aim to never feel any after effects from the training process. Talk to the professional football player, prize fighter or person who just ran their first marathon. Come Monday morning none of these people would describe how they are feeling as “good”.

Soreness, aches and pains are normal outcomes of the training process. No, they shouldn’t negatively impact your life or inhibit you from being able to continue training. But it is important to distinguish those feelings from injury. Injuries are the result of an acute event or chronic misuse of specific tissues or joints in the body that will knock you out of training. They are real and require professional (usually medical) intervention.

But don’t confuse feelings of pain with injury. They are not always the same. Much of the time they are not.

If you wait until you feel great to train, you’ll likely train three times per year. If you are following a good program, loading appropriately and are either under the watchful eye of a good coach or have a good sense of your own movement capability, you are likely good to train even if you feel a little banged up.

Most of the time, movement will help.

And make sure your rest and recovery is on point.

Hopefully you can now get some sleep without fear of blowing out your shoulder in the process.