Know Pain, No Gain

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Pain is temporary, or so goes the old adage; but what about when it’s not? We all have something that hurts. It’s inevitable in this game. We must push our physical limits in order to exceed them. This means we have to learn to push through the pain. “No pain, no gain,” right? However, we also have to know our limits and learn when to shut it down. If you have lingering pains that you do not take the time to properly address now, it will hinder your progress in the future. In other words, “Know pain, no gain.”

Everyone knows someone with a nagging injury. Perhaps you have one. I have dealt with this many times before, to the point where there was a time when I considered myself healthy if only one thing was hurting at a time! Not smart. Continuous micro-trauma to an area, like training through persistent pain, can lead to a much bigger problem. The issues may seem minor because you can still train through them, but if they are persistent or recurring then they should be addressed before they become seriously painful.

When given advice to take it easy and fix the problem, the most common response is, “I have X-Y-Z coming up in just a few weeks. I have to keep pushing.” I am guilty of this mentality myself, but it’s ignorant! Let’s put this in perspective: If you were driving your car and the check engine or check transmission warning popped up, how long would you keep driving? Would it make sense to keep driving and hope that the problem miraculously fixes itself? Certainly not. The smart thing to do is take the time to get it checked. You might even get a tune-up done while it’s in the shop! If you don’t, you are likely to end up stranded on the side of the road wishing you had taken care of the problem when it was still small. If that’s how you take care of a car –something that you only own for a few years- doesn’t it make sense to take the same –or better- care of the body that you will have your entire life?

Taking time to address injuries is no fun; I’ll give you that. Some of your goals may have to be put on hold for a while. However, I contend that it’s much better to take a few weeks to address a minor pain now than a few months to address a major pain later. If you are smart about it, you can probably train around the pain without having to take a total break.

Addressing injuries can take a lot of extra time. It’s a boring process, and it most likely means avoiding the big, fun movements that probably aggravated the injury in the first place, but it sure beats doing nothing. I’ve been forced to do nothing for many months, and let me take this opportunity to say that even if you have to do nothing for a while, you didn’t get that big and strong overnight, and you are not going to lose your hard-earned strength and/or muscle that quickly, either.

I have had the unfortunate experience of dealing with many injuries in the last few years. Some were major, most minor. My experience in dealing with injuries and nagging pains has led me to a unique approach to addressing them. My approach? You know that big, compound, main movement that always seems to irritate the sore spot? Instead of half-assing through that movement or a similar movement that hurts a bit less, I spend that time (20 minutes or so) addressing the issue and then I move on to complete the workout without aggravating the injured area. I am no doctor (obviously, you may want to consult your doctor before applying these ideas), but most minor pains can be addressed and alleviated by a sound routine consisting of stretching, soft tissue work, and synergist/antagonist training. The problem is that those things take extra time -extra time that most of us don’t have- so we are forced to either skip the pre/rehab or skip training altogether. When faced with that choice, most of us choose to forgo the boring pre/rehab work because training –even in pain- is more fun. This will eventually catch up to you if you continue to neglect the pain. My approach is to use my precious little time in the gym to do something to fix the pain instead of doing something to aggravate it. It’s boring, but it must be done.

The fear that athletes who lift weights will eventually become “muscle-bound” is not unfounded. I’ll spare you the details, but lifting weights tears down muscle fibers so that they can be repaired stronger than they were before. The muscle fibers get thick and tight and eventually begin to lose their elasticity. When they lose elasticity, they tear, much like a worn-out rubber band. Weight training can also cause muscle imbalances that can lead to joint pain. Sore, stiff muscles and sore, stiff joints… oh, what a joyous life we lead. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

They key is to keep the muscles pliable, mobile, and balanced through a combination of stretching, soft tissue work, and synergist/antagonist training. There is no way this article can outline a routine specific to your needs, but you are all smart, knowledge-thirsty, and resourceful people, so do some further research regarding your specific pains to figure out what you need, or do the unthinkable and go see a specialist. I will touch on some foundations that will provide you with direction for further inquiry.


  • A solid stretching routine includes both passive and active stretching.
  • Passive stretching is holding the stretch for anywhere from 20 seconds to 2 minutes.
  • Passive stretching is best utilized after the muscles have been adequately warmed up.
  • Holding passive stretches for longer periods promotes more tendon and ligament flexibility.
  • Do not underestimate the power of yoga. There are many types for different purposes.
  • Active stretching not only stretches the muscles and tissues, but also prepares the muscles for the action by activating them and warming them up.
  • Active stretching for a muscle can be performed by flexing its antagonist (opposing muscle). Example: stretch the biceps by flexing the triceps, or stretch the hamstrings by flexing the quads. This has the added benefit of strengthening opposing muscles.
  • Contract/release stretching is one of the most beneficial methods of active stretching.
  • Use elastic bands to provide constant tension and hold stretches you could not otherwise achieve.
  • For specific stretches to address your problem areas, muscles, or even specific lifts, do a search on
  • Ease into stretching as it can make you much more sore than training.

Soft-tissue work

  • Soft-tissue work is essentially massaging the muscles to break up adhesions.
  • See a massage therapist regularly if you can afford it.
  • Manual self-massage techniques should be used frequently but in moderation (5-10 minutes per area initially).
  • If you are not familiar with these self-massage tools and how to use them, you should be.
    • Foam roller (PVC pipe for advanced lifters with pliable muscles)
    • Lacrosse ball for specific target points
    • Peanut (two lacrosse balls taped together to address spinal erectors
    • The Stick or a rolling pin
    • Golf ball for the feet

Synergist and Antagonist Training

  • Synergist muscles are secondary muscles that aid the primary working muscle. As such, they tend to be the muscles that fail first because they are smaller and weaker than the primary muscle.
  • Training synergist muscles helps develop stability in the injured area.
  • Antagonist muscles are the muscles that do the opposite of the primary working muscle.
  • Training opposing muscles helps prevent and rehabilitate injuries because it allows the muscles to work together more efficiently, rather than one over-powering each other.
  • The general rule is to do 3x as much work for the opposing muscle of an injured area.

We all lead busy lives. Not many of us have time to add an intensive recovery program of stretching and self-massage to our already busy schedule. Something has to give. If you don’t have time to add these pre/rehab protocols, you will have to take something out. It might as well be the thing that is keeping your injury aggravated, right? The reasoning behind my approach is to stop doing what hurts and replace it with something that will fix the pain instead. To recap:

1)    Remove heavy loads to the injured area.

2)    Perform soft tissue/fascia work to release adhesions in the injured area and surrounding muscles.

3)    Train synergists to develop stability in the injured area.

4)    Train antagonist muscles to develop balance between opposing muscles.

5)    Don’t do anything to aggravate the pain.

Hopefully, implementing this approach will clear up your pain and get you gaining again. As with anything, it will take time, patience, and persistence, but the reward of pain-free lifting is well worth it.

Sam Byrd is undoubtedly one of the premier squatters of all-time. With a 783@220 (raw w/o wraps), 1050@198 (multiply), 1100@220 (multiply) and 1108@242 (multiply), all WORLD RECORDS, to his credit, Sam is a true legend of the sport. Sam’s bodybuilder physique combined with his record breaking strength makes him the consummate powerbuilder. In addition to his record breaking, this Marine is now a lawyer, practicing out of Chattanooga, TN.

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