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“Swap it, don’t stop it!” - A layman’s guide to training around pain

With Osteopath, Dan Corcoran.

So, you have successfully returned to training after some time off and you have started to develop some niggles… it's all doom and gloom.

Before you throw in the towel and stop training all together, try to change a few of the things which impact your training – in the biz call these the “Acute Variables of Training”.

The first thing you should address is the how much training you are doing overall during the week – this is your absolute load. A good rule for this is to back off 10-15% and continue training and assess your symptoms during the following week – if they improve, maintain your load and begin slowly rebuilding.

If this load drop fails, the next thing I tend to look at is your intensity – how hard your efforts are during training. Needless to say, if you’re training 9/10 efforts week after week – you’re going to begin to develop some aches and pains from overdoing it. What this looks like on top of an absolute load reduction might be moving from 9/10 efforts, to 7/10 efforts, to maintain your fitness at some level and continue training – again, allowing symptoms to calm down and slowly rebuild.

So, let’s say you have reduced absolute load and intensity and you’re still getting similar symptoms – now it's time we looked at some more nuanced variables of training.

If we take pain during squatting for example, and you are still experiencing high levels of pain during or after the movement we can modulate tempo – slowing the movement down. This might look like a 3-5 second down phase (eccentric).

Let's say tempo doesn’t change your symptoms – using the squat for example we can shorten the range of motion to change your symptoms. Perhaps your knee gets annoyed if you squat just below parallel, that’s OK, lets squat just above parallel and see if that changes your pain!

If you’re finding that squatting every day is aggravating – let's change the frequency! Instead of squatting everyday we’re going to squat every second day, or third day and see how things go – if your response is an improvement in pain, GREAT! Let's start there and build slowly!

If we’ve done all of the above and your pain is still not tolerable, it's time we look at substituting the exercise for a brief time. What this might look like is instead of squatting, we will box squat, or leg press or single leg squat. If you’re running, it might be cycling instead or walking.

Again – these changes aren’t forever, they’re meant to give things enough time to calm down, so we can begin to build again.

When thinking about returning to exercise, I like this small summary from Barbell Medicine:

(Via Barbell Medicine)

If you would like more information, or to book and appointment with our Osteopath/Strength and Conditioning Coach, Dan, head online or give the clinic a call.


Retrain Health is based in the Northern Rivers, NSW. From our Byron Bay and Ballina clinics, our team provides a range of quality healthcare services and products.

Retrain Health offers osteopathy, remedial massage and strength and conditioning sessions with qualified practitioners.

If you are interested in finding out more information or would like to book an appointment, please contact the clinic by phone (02) 6680 7447, send us an email or click here to book an appointment online.

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