Occasional pain or small muscle tweaks come with the territory of lifting regularly. (Just as they do as a result of being a full-time couch potato!). I’ve coached many clients through working around pain/small tweaks, as well as completed my own training through times of pain. Two important takeaways: there are always some exercises that can be performed to continue moving pain free. The time off from typical training allows an opportunity to focus on weak areas that might currently be neglected. This article will describe a knee tweak I personally experienced, the process to return to regular training, and some ideas for exercises to work around knee pain.
The following is how I handled training around what I believed to be a very small knee ligament sprain: I stopped squatting the day I felt and heard a “pop”. (I should have) iced that day—I did the few days following. For the next several workouts, I did not do full squats, I only did movements that did not hurt. I felt out what bodyweight and lightly loaded squats felt like as my knee hurt less and less.
My knee continued to hurt some in any full squat position, so I eliminated full squatting and snatches/cleans for two weeks. I tried loaded squats again and kept very controlled with my tempo, ensuring as “perfect” of form as possible. I worked up with weight very slowly the first day back at squatting and felt pain in my knee at 65kg. I stopped squatting that day but gained information that I could load to abut 60kg with no pain. I continued to rest that movement/train around the pain but only squatted up to 60kg the next time I tried full squats. Eventually through these gentle retesting methods I returned to full squats, snatches, and cleans with no pain.
Injuries and pain are individual. Choose exercises that can be completed with no pain and slowly try to push the threshold for the movements that can be included with little to no pain. Some exercises for legs to work around knee pain could include deadlifts, snatch/clean pulls, sled pushes, sled drags, reverse sled drags, step ups, lunges, rdl’s, split squats, Spanish squats, or box squats at several different heights. This video is an example of some box squats I completed while I was training around my knee pain.
Mentally, it is important to try to redirect thoughts away from, “I am not able to do what I want to do in training” to, “I can use this time to focus on my weaknesses”. For example, the box squats and single leg work I could do pain-free strengthened my legs in different ways than full depth back squats. Therefore, I came back to find I didn’t lose any squat strength and felt more balanced and stable than I did prior to injuring my knee. At times, working around pain may seem tedious, but it can be a huge opportunity to improve, rather than a time to let progress decline.
All in all, BE CAUTIOUS AND SMART. Especially at the point of feeling good again, gently test things out to see how the body responds. Newly healed structures are fragile. If you don’t know what your injury is, can’t tell how serious it is, or don’t know exercises to strengthen it without hurting yourself, seek help from a qualified PT. If you have pain that does not subside with rest or is persistent over several weeks, see a PT, doctor, or chiropractor. You can train around pain and eventually be stronger than you were when you get back but you have to be PATIENT. A few weeks off your normal routine will set you back much less than putting yourself out for months because you didn’t listen to your body.
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor or physical therapist. As stated above, if you are unable to complete exercises on your own without aggravating your symptoms, seek help from a physical therapist, chiropractor, personal trainer, or doctor.
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