Harvesting Wisdom from Pain (pt.2)

Readers, I’m no stranger to injury. Most of what I know about training has been self-taught, especially during my first few years. That means a whole lot of trial and error, and sometimes those errors have been expensive for my body. The silver lining is that I have a wealth of personal experience to inform my training and clinical practice, but it can be hard to appreciate the benefits of our personal struggles when we are in the thick of them.

My current project is some right sided hip and lower back pain that caught fire about a year ago and hasn’t stopped smoldering, in spite of my strongest efforts. I’ll spare you the details and frustrated tears, but I’m almost certain it came about from overuse (my favourite type of injury, if my track record is any indication).

This has been the longest running issue I’ve had so far, second only to a meniscus tear in Fall of 2011, and the psychological struggle is real. It’s the kind of injury where I can pretty much do whatever I want without pain (save for a few key movements that really wind up the affected tissues), but then I pay for it the next morning. The response to certain activities isn’t even always the same, and it makes it difficult to decide what’s good for it and what should be avoided. At this point, I’m finally ready to start coughing up some dough for professional help, but I’m pretty bummed that I couldn’t solve it on my own.

Such is life.

But injuries are a reality that we have to deal with in training. Of course, we want to take all prudent measures to avoid them, but sometimes they crop up nonetheless. For that reason, it’s important to shift our mindsets away from catastrophizing the issue and recognize the unfortunate event for what it really is.

A learning opportunity.

In fact, my strongest revelations about my training and most important paradigm shifts have come from my injuries, time and time again. I sure as hell don’t deliberately invite them, and I struggle each and every time to stay positive about the experience, but without fail I learn something extremely important that better informs my training and my work with others.

For instance, one of the major lessons I have learned through this injury has been how to approach my training intensity and volume more sensibly. This has been a huge hurdle for me ever since I started training, as I came into it with a “DO MORE WORK HARDER!” kind of mindset. (I’m sure many can relate.) Over the last year I’ve learned how to pace my training better throughout the week, how to approach each day’s training with respect towards my recovery level, and how to set more reasonable expectations for myself based on what is actually going on in my life.

Failing to balance training and recovery has been the greatest restraint on my progress, and it has taken me 14 years of training to absorb learn this lesson. (I suspect starting out with formal coaching in strength training would have saved me a ton of time and effort, but sometimes the best paths don’t lead from our starting point and must be discovered later on.)

The real kicker is that I still have pain, so obviously there is at least one more important lesson buried in this injury that I have yet to learn. I suspect it’s one that will be particularly useful in my physiotherapy practice, but I’m still extremely impatient to learn it and be done with the whole thing. (I miss deadlifts!)

I think it’s really important to view rehabilitation and training as parts of the same continuum. When you have an injury, it’s absolutely critical that you don’t let it stop you from training. You just have to adapt and scale your training around the injury so that you can continue to make progress in the things you CAN work on, while harvesting the injury for all the new wisdom it’s trying to offer you!


Track recovery metrics and behaviours just as seriously as you would your training!

Injuries suck, but seeing them as an opportunity and treating your rehabilitation as TRAINING can really help pull you out of that dark place. It’s just repurposing all the drive and determination you were already directing towards one goal into a new (if unexpected) goal – your recovery.

For further reading, this old post from the writings of the great Jujimufu have really helped me keep my head in the game during the last few months.

(And I know I wrote a post quite a bit like this in May, but I’m not really that worried about it. It’s still on my mind big time.)

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The Blog of Author Tim Ferriss

Tim Ferriss's 4-Hour Workweek and Lifestyle Design Blog. Tim is an author of 5 #1 NYT/WSJ bestsellers, investor (FB, Uber, Twitter, 50+ more), and host of The Tim Ferriss Show podcast (400M+ downloads)

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