I remember someone saying something to me when I first started serious resistance training and it sticks with me to this day. At that time I had a lot of issues, my knees popped like fireworks every time I did anything. I couldn’t do many pull-ups because the tendons in my forearms didn’t work well. Of course my lower back was always strained and I had (and still have) chronic shoulder issues. I whined about this stuff all of the time because I thought that was part of what I was paying for, I paid them money, they in return needed to listen to my belly aching. Lucky for me I had someone look me dead in the eye and tell me something I will never forget and is one of the hallmarks of my training to this day.
“Maybe you’re just weak?”
I learned early on that the first person to throw a punch in a fight is typically the victorious person. In this instance however the person staring me in the eye was highly trained in hand to hand combat. So that option wasn’t on the table. So the only other option I had was to consider the question.
I remember this well because when I first showed up in the gym I could do pull-ups but only a few reps at a time and I certainly could not get any serious sets going. I had what is referred to as golfers elbow, the solution was to make the tendons around the elbow stronger so I bought a hand gripper and went to work. It took a while as I recall, when I first started off doing pull ups I graduated from a black band to a green band to a blue band. The bands didn’t make much of a difference for me because I wasn’t weak overall, I was just weak in certain spots. I am sure by extreme standards I was indeed weak but looking around my daughters music recital I was definitely above average in that group. I can now do weighted sets up to 60 pounds. Pull-ups are one of those exercises that just benefit you so much, I am really glad I addressed that weakness. I am much stronger overall as a result.
What about knee pain though?
When I would sit down in a chair the gases around the joints in my knee would pop so loudly everyone in the room would hit the floor to avoid the gunfire. I am joking a bit but not all that much. The depth of my squat was compromised as result and early on I iced my knees a lot (I wouldn’t do that any longer defaulting to compression but that’s another point for another day). If I hold my hand to the side of my knee I can still feel popping but I can no longer hear the popping. As muscles get stronger your joints, tendons and bones get stronger as well. This is one of the reasons why doctors recommend resistance training for women (and men but women seem real dialed into this one), the strain makes bones stronger which makes you less susceptible to osteoporosis down the line.
I think you get the point, if you have pain it’s typically a sign of weakness in that area or around that area and if you work to address the weakness that is a better approach than treating the pain.
Don’t misunderstand me
One meme I hate goes something like this, whenever someone mentions anything there is always some genius that says “just lift heavy shit bro”. I hate that because it misses the point of how you address weakness in your body. If I had just “lifted heavy shit” to address my weaknesses early on I would have gotten hurt. The same can be said however when you are lifting heavy, I squat over 300 and deadlift over 400 and sometimes parts of me get sore as a result, often it’s a result of just working a muscle a little too hard but occasionally it points out weak points in my lifts that I can work to make stronger.
Am I suggesting that there is no room for pain medication or surgery in extreme cases, I am not. What I am saying though is that if you need those extreme measures it is likely due to the fact that you didn’t address weakness in a smart manner all along.