It’s been standard protocol for such a long time now that we don’t even question it, in fact, we just accept the injury consequences of it as normal, but the reality is that the normal processes of the fitness industry are actually CREATING injury.
And here’s how:
The conventional wisdom that we’ve accepted and followed for many decades is actually built on TWO fundamental lies.
The first is that there is a “correct” way to move, and the second is that pain is the first sign of injury.
The “correct” way to move
This is a misconception that has been injuring athletes for many years now. The fact is, there’s no such thing as the “correct” way.
I agree, that there are some ways of moving that are more efficient than others but calling them “correct” is misleading.
It infers that how you are currently moving is “incorrect” and that somehow, your body is moving “badly” on purpose. Which simply isn’t true.
Bodies are pre-programmed by nature to find the easiest way to do anything. The way that uses the least energy. It’s a law of nature, covering all living beings, that the scientists call “the conservation of energy” and it’s how some species survive while others don’t.
This law of nature means that bodies will always find the BEST way to move, given the restrictions they’re dealing with.
It might not LOOK pretty, but it’s the most efficient way for that person to move, given the circumstances.
“Teaching” the body to move differently, by conscious thought, simply means the body is no longer allowed to do what is most efficient, it is forced to use more effort to move in a way might look better, but which is, overall much less efficient.
Movement that requires extra effort, repeated over a period of time results in increased fatigue, which is much more likely to cause injury than the original, more efficient but less pretty way.
If we want to move in a way that looks better AND is more efficient, we have to remove the restrictions that are causing the anomalies in the first place.
If the body is not restricted, it will have the freedom to move in any direction we like, without compensations, providing us with increased endurance, speed, power and any other measure of fitness you care to choose.
The First Sign of Injury
If we wait for pain to be the first sign of injury, it will lead us down a path of management that doesn’t deal with the cause of the issue at all, then athletes get stuck in the perpetual injury cycle, with one symptom being removed only for different one to pop up a few months or weeks later.
Here’s how conventional wisdom leads us away from the cause of the problem:
Confusing the trigger movement for the cause
Waiting for pain to be the first sign of injury, leads us logically to investigate what we were doing at the time of the pain, which leads us to blame that movement for the pain. Then, much of the time, we’ll be more cautious of, or even avoid, that movement completely.
If we had bent over to pick a pen up off the floor (trigger movement) and put our backs out, then we would be more cautious of bending forward in future – when the real reason for the pain was more likely to be the tightness in the hip flexors.
Following the trigger movement mentality, is leading us further away from the real cause and less likely to deal with it properly, which makes the problem much more likely to return at a later date.
Treating the symptoms
It’s our human instinct to protect something that hurts. If we strain our backs for example, we’ll put our hands on it in an attempt to soothe it or protect it when we move in a way that’s likely to cause more pain.
Contact with the affected area does seem soothing, so it makes sense to try to ease the pain by dealing with it directly. Unfortunately, this distracts us from the real cause of the issue, since the symptom is just an indicator of a problem elsewhere.
Back pain for example is usually a symptom of excessive hip flexor and adductor tightness. By removing the cause, the symptom has no reason to be there, but easing the symptom does not remove the cause, hence making the symptom much more likely to return.
Treating pain with pain
If the symptom is our focus, then it is commonly thought that increasing pain around the area will trigger the body’s natural healing response, which in turn make the symptom settle down.
Which it might – for a little while.
But it goes against every instinct we have to inflict pain on ourselves (like using a foam roller), or to have someone else do it. This means that much of our effort is spent fighting our own instincts, rather than contributing to progress.
With painful methods, our bodies tense up to protect us from the pain, when the most amount of progress is made by helping the body to relax.
Strengthen the weak
This error doesn’t necessarily come about from waiting for the pain, but rather from misdiagnosing the imbalances across an affected joint as a strength imbalance. This leads to attempts to strengthen muscles that aren’t actually weak, they’re just pulled into a position that makes them less able to function in the way that we would test them.
So then, conventional wisdom dives in to try to strengthen them, which only serves to tire them out further, which leads to more pain.
(If you measure the intelligence of a fish by its ability to climb a tree…)
Taking you back to your “pre-pain” state
By mistaking pain as the first sign of injury, it is logical that once your pain is gone, you are no longer injured.
But all you managed to do is remove your symptom.
Pain is NOT the first sign of injury, muscle tightness is. Muscle tightness causes injury by altering joint positions, movement patterns and range of movement. It isn’t usually painful, and it can’t be detected on a scan, so it is often overlooked.
If you focus on dealing with the tightness BEFORE it becomes pain, you’re much less likely to ever reach pain, you won’t end up chasing the symptoms and you’ll finally break free of the injury cycle.
These two lies have become the bedrock of the fitness industry, but it’s time to stop.
Injuries are not inevitable in sport and nor should they be, we just need to change our approach to stop them happening so frequently.
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