All training comes down to progression and goals. For example; “I want to squat 500lbs.” A definite goal and a way to make it happen (Squat more). That’s the easy part. You go to the gym, hit your sets as hard as you can, and you go home. Life is good. But what happens when one day you start to get a slight pinch in your left knee? You finish all your sets with some mild discomfort and when you’re done, you feel just fine. You come back the next training session and the pain is the same and you chalk it up to not warming up well enough. When you leave, the pain subsides. Then one day that same knee pain prevents you from finishing all your sets. You come back the next time to squat and stop after your first warm-up from extreme pain when squatting. What have you done? You pushed it, you were stupid and as they say, “It’s your fault.” Dan John has a great saying; “Squatting doesn’t hurt your knees, the way you squat hurts your knees.” I’m using squatting as an example because in my experience it is more uncommon to see a properly performed bodyweight squat—let alone with a load on your back— than to meet someone who has completed a marathon. Now is the moment of truth; do you push through the injury and hope it fixes itself? Or do you take some action through inaction? For a lifter, the hardest thing to do is take some weight off the bar, or in extreme cases, not train. The hardest thing is to stop your heavy training. I’m here to set you straight and tell you that you have to think big picture.
Squatting is just an exercise—a good one—but just an exercise. For this hypothetical lifter to continue squatting would be an exercise all right, in extremely poor judgment (read: stupid). First, stop doing what hurts. You may be thinking this is obvious but I am continually astounded by the amount of people who continue to do exercises that are hurting them. Sometimes the problem will sort itself out if you let the injury heal. Ice, see a doctor, find the root of the problem, just don’t aggravate it.
“But if I stop lifting, I’ll get weak.” Stop it. Just stop it. You aren’t going to lose 30lbs of muscle in 30 days when you stop lifting and I have no sympathy. Taking a month off won’t kill you and will probably make you better off in the long run—big picture remember?
I personally found myself hurting (due to movement pattern problems and muscular imbalances and inefficiencies) and realized that what I had was a 500 horsepower engine mounted on a duck shaped paddleboat. This is not a recipe for success. So I stopped doing the things that hurt; which, at the time, didn’t leave me much to go on. I was a mess. My training—yes I still trained—changed dramatically. It is a humbling and frustrating thing to go from routinely snatching and pressing a 106 lb kettlebell to doing goblet squats with a 35-pounder. Rather than feel sorry for myself, I took this opportunity to get better at the things I could do, as well as fix the immediate problems.
Do you have the mental fortitude to stop training for a while? To take a step back so that you can take a giant leap forward?