7 Things to Try When an Exercise Hurts
If you’ve ever tried an exercise and it’s felt uncomfortable, or even caused you pain, you know how frustrating it can be when you’re told you HAVE to do it.
For instance, squats are a necessity in a good workout program. But that notion can turn you off to the whole idea of exercise if squats suck for you.
No matter the exercise that gives you trouble, I have 7 tips to help you avoid giving up the idea of ever working out again.
This First Thing Is Important
In case you don’t know, I’m not a doctor. In case you did know that, but think it’s possible I somehow got a medical degree overnight… I did not (and it kind of sounds like you don’t understand how higher education works).
If you experience pain during exercise, there are times when one of the following tips may fix the problem. There are other times when you have an injury, ailment, or any kind of medical condition that may be the source of your pain, and the only solution is to see a doctor.
Since I don’t know your personal situation, consider this purely informational. Only you and your doctor can decide if these strategies are right for you. I’m not advising you try any of them to address your specific issue.
What you CAN do is use this information to educate yourself in your process of moving forward with getting in shape. These are things I do with my clients, but that doesn’t mean it will be right for you.
So talk to your doctor, talk to your trainer, see what they say first.
1. Adjust Your Form
There’s no such thing as “proper” form on a universal level. Your body is different from mine, so our form may look different from exercise to exercise.
There are things you can do that just don’t make sense (e.g. you wouldn’t try to do biceps curls with your arms behind your back). But there’s always a little wiggle room on how you perform an exercise that still qualifies as “good form.”
If the way you’re attempting a certain lift doesn’t feel right to you, change it up a little bit.
Use a wider stance, try a different grip, shift the position of the weight… there are countless options, and there’s not one right way to do things.
2. Use Less Weight
This one might seem obvious, but our pride tends to get in the way. Especially if you can say, “I’ve lifted this before and didn’t have a problem.”
That doesn’t matter — your body isn’t ready for it now.
Listen to your body, not your ego.
3. Stay Further Away from Failure
You might be able to use the same weight, but for fewer reps.
If you don’t seem to have a problem with an exercise right away, but trouble crops up toward the end of your set, you might just be pushing your body past its limits.
Try ending your sets early. Don’t go to the point of complete muscle failure too often.
4. Manage the Frequency
Speaking of pushing your body past its limits, many issues arise from an accumulation of stress rather than one isolated moment.
When you work out at a high intensity too regularly and aren’t able to get adequate recovery, you open the doors to all kinds of physical problems.
You may find that working out less can improve both how you feel AND how you perform when you do exercise.
5. Slow It Down
One of the first things I tell my clients to do with a difficult exercise is go nice and slow.
You can even count the seconds. For instance, on a bench press, you could take 3-4 seconds lowering the bar to your chest, pause for a second or two, then take 3-4 seconds pushing the weight back up.
You might even want to go slower.
The exact speed might not even matter as much as just making sure you can control your body (or the weight) through the entire exercise. Doing this can also help you pinpoint what part of the movement needs the most attention.
6. Shorten Your Range of Motion
If a squat hurts your knees, it might not hurt them at all if you don’t squat as deep.
If push-ups hurt your shoulders, you might not have any problems if you don’t worry about lowering your chest all the way to the floor.
An excessively short range of motion might not get you the results you want, but if you aren’t a competitive lifter who has to follow certain rules, there’s no reason to force yourself into a range of motion that hurts.
You can always build up your strength and increase your range of motion later.
7. Use Another Variation
At the beginning I said that squats are a necessity in a good workout program.
That’s only partially true.
Doing some type of squat movement is necessary — doing a specific squat is not. The same holds true for every exercise.
There are a million different types of squats (e.g. goblet squat, back squat, bodyweight squat, split squats, etc.), just like there are a million types of upper body push exercises (e.g. barbell bench press, dumbbell bench press, overhead press, push-ups, etc.).
There are also different ways to work your core, or get in some cardio, or improve your flexibility. Your body may hate one and be fine with another.
If a certain type of exercise doesn’t work for you for any reason, you don’t HAVE to do it. Just don’t give up on it prematurely. I’d hate for you to miss out on the victory of proving to yourself that you’re capable of more than you think.