Is Your Check Engine Light On?

We all have to deal with some physical pain at some point in our lives.  However, in an ideal world that pain should not come from or be a part of your training.  Most coaches would agree that near the top of their priority list is “First, do no harm”.  The idea of each training session should more often be about success and “getting better” rather beating someone, or yourself, into the ground and staggering out of the gym.

Pain is not weakness leaving the body but rather an indicator that something is wrong.  Just like the check engine light in car can tip you off to a multitude of problems within your car including but not limited to the intake manifold, air fuel ratio, or evaporative system leaks.  If you are like me, when that light comes on your first instinct is to hope that it goes away on its own.  You know, it like, just fixes itself.

Just like the check engine light can mean an incredible number of things, musculoskeletal pain is not easy to figure out quickly.  There are many reasons for pain.  Some people have suffered a traumatic injury such as a car accident (yup, more car references) and others have endured what can be considered hundreds of small accidents through years of playing football.  What I’m talking about here refers to pain that seems to come from no specific event such as an accident but develops slowly over time or suddenly after waking one morning and getting out of bed.  How to address such issues is constantly debated at length but I think there are two important things to remember in dealing with it:

1.  Pain is often times referred from somewhere else.  Your back hurts because you have extremely poor hip mobility and no glute function, not because you have a “bad back”.  A common analogy is patching your living room ceiling where the water comes through while the real problem needs to be addressed somewhere else on the roof.  Not only that, but some schools of thought argue that as high as 80% of pain originates in the gastrointestinal tract—most often referring pain elsewhere.  Oddly enough we have a member of Ambition Athletics who over the past few months has doing an excessive amount of driving for his work (aka not moving) and was experiencing some serious pain in his knees.  Coming into the gym and being active as well as some corrective exercise was helpful but wasn’t getting him back to normal.  It wasn’t until he gave in and heeded the advice to cut out all artificial sweeteners in his diet that his pain away entirely within two days.  Needless to say he was blown away.

2.  Training through pain is a bad idea.  Not only are you setting yourself to potentially make things worse but the effects of adding load (weight) to a painful movement on the brain and nervous system is just as harmful.  In fact, chronic pain is one of the leading causes of depression.

Now I do think there is a place for some physical challenge and mental toughness especially in team training.  Sometimes conditioning needs to be tough and athletes need to learn to push the mental anguish.  However, as I’ve stated, that’s different than the pain I’m talking about.  I guess it’s all in how you define it.

– Mike Baltren

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