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This is Gonna Hurt: The Fallacy of Pain-Free Training


Focus on form to avoid injuries is such a well-worn piece of advice it’s practically cliché at this point. It’s as true now as it has ever been, but it is not a guarantee of safety while weight training. Not only is it foolish to think any strategy could guarantee your safety—in any endeavor—but if you pursue weight training for any kind of serious goal, be it strength or physique, you are all but guaranteed to incur injury at some point along the way.

This doesn’t mean you don’t take precautions. In fact, you should still live by the old “focus on form” maxim. Just know that it is a strategy to mitigate risk, not eliminate it.

Try this: walk around your gym and find the people who look the most impressive or can perform the most impressive feats of strength. When they have a minute in between sets ask them if they ever suffered any training-related injuries. (You might compliment them first.) Nine out of 10 times, that person will tell you about the time they slipped a disc while deadlifting too heavy, developed plantar fasciitis from running too much or too far, threw up in a garbage can during a squat session, had to be taken to an emergency room for dehydration, separated their shoulder by bench-pressing too heavy, or generally over-trained to the point where they weakened their immune system and got the flu.

Did these folks push it too far? They sure did. But there’s no universal line anyone can point to and say, “Here’s how much is too much.” Each of us as individuals must find where our own lines are, and sometimes that means you get a little banged up in the process.

Anything at all worth attaining comes with inherent associated risks that can never be eliminated. That’s as true for love as it is for wealth. It’s true for strength and fitness, too. There isn’t a novice out there reading this who should be scared of this; the editors of this magazine simply want to be honest about this fact, especially for beginners.

Too often the marketing terms aimed at beginners focus on the ease of implementing a new exercise program. The focus stays on the program’s simplicity or the relatively short amount of time it takes to complete a workout. We live in the real world, too. We know that short and simple (but effective) workouts rule the day for busy people, and that’s why we almost exclusively feature circuit training in this magazine. With that said, everyone would do well to remember that when you bother to get serious about your training, injuries will—eventually—follow. Sometimes it would just be nice if the doctor, before plunging the needle into your arm would say, “Actually, this is gonna hurt.”

It doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong. In fact, it often means you’re doing it right. When it happens, use some time off to take care of yourself, figure out why it happened and how not to have it happen again.

Then buck up and keep going.

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