4 Keys to Move Pain Free
One of the biggest setbacks to staying active is pain, and conversely, one of the biggest causes of pain is inactivity. If you’ve ever endured some form of chronic pain, you know that it can turn movement into a grinding battle. Whether it’s back, neck, shoulder, hip, knee, elbow, foot or something else, pain can be the counterweight that your fight with inactivity doesn’t need. When you experience pain during exercise that already enticing couch starts to look even more inviting. Pain can range anywhere from a nuisance to downright debilitating, but there are ways that you can bulletproof your body and make yourself more injury resistant.
Prioritize glute, upper back, and rear shoulder strength
Hip and shoulder issues are two of the most common reported injuries because these joints are the most mobile in your body, which also means the most unstable. There aren't many movements that don't involve the hips or the shoulders, so pain in either can quickly sideline you. By strengthening the muscles that stabilize these joints you can dramatically reduce your risk for injury and also improve your posture and movement quality. Excessive sitting is an absolute killer for these muscle groups, as you can tell from your awesome posture, so if you spend most of your day sitting at a desk, then pay extra attention. Here are a few of my favorites exercises for strengthening and stabilizing your hips and shoulders:
Lateral band walk
Rear shoulder/upper back
Prioritize movements not muscles
Body part splits, where you lift a specific muscle group during a workout, have grown in popularity through fitness magazines and media. Bodybuilders are jacked, they must be doing something right, right? Body part splits are ineffective for you to add lean muscle mass because you’re most likely not on steroids. That means your protein synthesis isn't high enough to only train each muscle group only once a week. More importantly though, is the damage these types of programs can do to your body. When you focus on muscles and not movements you end up over-training specific movement patterns and under-training others. For example you train chest on Monday and arms on Tuesday. While you have trained a few different muscle groups, nearly all of your exercises fall into a push movement pattern, exacerbating your hunched posture and shoulder pain. Instead, focus on training the six foundational human movement patterns in every workout; push, pull, squat, hinge, lunge, and carry. If you train each of these movement patterns you will not only add lean muscle mass, but also add functional strength that translates into everyday movements outside of the gym.
Avoid inactivity (resting is not recovering)
People attribute small aches and pains to “getting old” but really, it’s a result of becoming increasingly inactive. Inactivity leads to postural issues, muscle imbalances, tissue degeneration, and muscle weakness. All things that can cause pain on their own, but also make you more susceptible to injury. If you do get injured or experience pain during movement, then not moving probably seems like a good way for your body to recover. Unfortunately, this is not the case, especially in situations where you have pain in joints, tendons, or ligaments, as these are areas where blood flow is limited. Restricted blood flow means restricted access to your body’s healing mechanisms, which means a slower healing process. Your goal when injured should be to increase blood flow to the injured area, placing the body into an optimal recovery setting. While you cannot “speed up” recovery, your body is great at healing, and you can allow for optimal recovery to occur. Spend time with compression and heat over the injured area, and perform low level, low impact movement. It also means that if you injured your pinky toe, there are still probably movements that you can do pain free, and it shouldn’t keep you from being active.
Spend time on mobilization work
Spending an hour flopping around on a foam roller and doing mobilization drills for every joint in your body is an ineffective way to warm-up for a workout, but that doesn’t mean that with some targeted efforts, you can’t make improvements in a short amount of time. If you know the cause of your disfunction or pain, or it has been assessed by a professional, you can spend time with that specific area prior to a workout doing soft tissue work and mobilizations exercises. If you struggle with ankle mobility, then spend some time doing some soft tissue work on your calves and exercises for your ankles before your workout. But don’t spend 20 minutes foam rolling your whole body without any direction. In a world already short on time, that’s a big waste of it. A better time for a whole-body rollout is in the pre-bed window. Studies have shown that foam rolling does help in the alleviation of pain, especially muscular pain and delayed onset muscle soreness, localizing blood flow to tissues being targeted and providing a “feel good” effect. That means it helps with recovery and pain reduction, as well as priming you for a full night’s sleep, win-win. Prioritize larger muscle groups like the quads, hamstrings, glutes, pecs, and lats and combine that with mobility drills and stretching to create the ultimate pre-bed routine.
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