Training in the presence of injury is a great idea most of the time, but it is not business as usual. There is an injury, which means exercise form and how an exercise feels are very important. Arguably they always are, but they are especially important if you have an injury. 

I was reminded of this recently with a client who had a shoulder injury. Things seemed to be going well, but it turns out she was having pain in her shoulder after sessions. I only realized this after her chiropractor sent me a note to this effect. Next time I saw the client, I mentioned she should tell me if she’s working through pain. She said she had. I paused as I realized she was right. Some of the comments she had made played back in my mind. They were not direct, but I should have recognized that she was saying something wasn’t right.  

I felt terribly for my mistake. I had been excited by how well she seemed to be doing that I progressed her to the next level. This would have been a good thing if she was ready for it. I thought she was ready because her form was good, but she wasn’t ready. The new stuff I was asking of her was too much, resulting in a setback. Thankfully it was not a big setback, and thankfully her chiropractor helped get me back on track so I could better help my client.

The big mistake I made was concluding she was ready for more without asking how her shoulder was feeling during and after the workouts. I think I made that mistake because I somehow got into my head that this was a race; that I had to help her get back to more advanced training quickly. I wonder how long it would have taken me to realize my mistake if her chiropractor hadn’t pointed it out. Maybe I would have figured it out eventually, but maybe it would have become much worse in the process. Or maybe she would have stopped training with us because who wants to pay to have their injury get worse from training?

In this case, once I realized my mistake, I immediately took the harder exercises out of her program. After a week, I added some of the harder stuff in, but this time much more gradually. I also didn’t forget to ask how everything felt this time.

Why am I sharing this? Because I’m usually very good at training in the presence of injury, so if I’m making this mistake, some of you probably are. It’s important not to ignore signs your body (or your client) is giving you because you’re enthusiastic about your progress.

An add-on note is that progress is not always linear. Sometimes you’ll progress and check-in appropriately and all will be well for a period, and then you’ll progress again and something will feel off. Don’t dismiss this! But also, don’t be discouraged by it. Be smart about it instead. Identify which exercise is causing problems (you can usually tell by paying attention to how it feels while you do it), and then either regress that (reduce the weight, or the reps, or the range of motion, or change the pace) or switch to a different exercise.

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