It Begins with One Step

My elbow hurts. Sometimes just picking up a coffee causes me to immediately rethink how I can use my left instead of my right hand, just to avoid the pain. Alright, that may be a bit of an exaggeration but the likelihood of tendonitis is very real and it’s a nuisance every single time I walk into Train For Life. For the past couple of weeks, I have been battling the inner voices that tell me to work through the pain and the others that are telling me to take some time off. Fortunately, this week is recovery week. I went to class Tuesday night with the idea in my head that this reprieve would give me everything I need to resume killing myself by next week. And that’s where it hit me: I didn’t get to this point overnight and this will not heal overnight!

Let me back up a step and explain how I got to this point. Right before the holidays, I became intrigued with a guy named Frank Medrano. If you’re not familiar with him, check out the amazing strength and body control here:

Whether you watch the clip or not, this guy is in awesome shape and he is a beast on a chin-up bar. I decided I needed to do a million chin-ups and pull-ups to even get to being able to do my first muscle up. And I did a million chin-ups and pull-ups, sometimes using the weight belt to add to my insanity. Well, not a million but pretty close. Then I discovered that not only could I do a muscle up, but I could do multiple after only 3 weeks! Great news, right? Not really. I have some shoulder mobility issues and the way my desk was set up at my “other” job for the past six months or so, my right shoulder slowly began to shift forward. Now this may not seem like a huge deal, but as that happened, I continued to do weighted chin-ups along with other exercises as heavy as possible. When combined with mobility issues, it started to put more and more stress on, you guessed it: my right elbow!

First, let me say that I will be going to a massage therapist to properly treat the injury. Many times, the pain we feel in one area may be the direct result of the lack of mobility or stability in another joint. We should always remember the difference between pain and discomfort. Pain is the point when your movement is actually limited by the nervous system’s reaction to injury. This reaction is often sudden and powerful. If you pick up a weight or begin an exercise and feel that jolt through a joint or radiating down a limb, that’s pain and you should stop whatever it is that you are doing immediately. One of the biggest reasons we utilize regressions and progressions to every single type of movement at TFL is to help minimize the incidence injury while offering the most productive movement for each individual. Sometimes, hopefully not too often, a less complex version of the exercise may not be enough to stop pain. In those instances where the pain isn’t reduced by modifying the range of motion, STOP!


I’m not yelling at you, I’m actually telling myself because that’s how this pain has affected me. Many of us think that “playing through the pain” and resisting the urge to listen to our own bodies is better than quitting. But just the opposite of quitting is happening when we don’t take the time to deal with an injury. If pain becomes so severe that we can’t exercise, then we just put ourselves in a position where we no longer have a choice to quit or keep going. There’s no better way to defeat the purpose of going to TFL than hurting ourselves so badly that we can’t go to TFL.

When Drew posted on Facebook about recovery week and the value of making sure that remains part of our regular routine, I expected a full house at every class. I shouldn’t be surprised when I walk in and that’s not the case but I challenge every member at TFL to look at how mobility, flexibility and stability impact your workouts. Recovery week is the opportunity EVERY SINGLE MONTH to work on those areas that need attention, whether you see it or not. It may not be the same level of intensity as the normal workouts but recovery week is by no means easy. More importantly, improved mobility and flexibility allows the muscles to operate how they’re intended and your regular workouts will get better if you consistently focus on this.

Now back to the difference between pain and discomfort. When a muscle becomes fatigued and starts to “burn,” that is usually where we begin to experience discomfort. Our bodies get tired under the strenuous conditions of exercise and this is not a bad thing. Discomfort is normal. That is the point where we often must push ourselves mentally to overcome the physical exhaustion and finish a workout with the best form possible. Listen to your body and understand the difference between pain and discomfort. Grab a lower weight, regress an exercise, take a break, but try to will yourself to FINISH STRONG and break through! These breakthrough moments are powerful but also fleeting. Most of us have overcome significant challenges to get on the path to wellness and we are all at various points along that journey. Whether it was signing up at TFL or completing the 21-Day Sugar Detox or being recognized for your performance during one of the many challenges over the past couple years, there is ALWAYS a first step and it’s often the most difficult. The key to remember: it is ONLY ONE STEP.  There are going to be more challenges and more steps, so let’s give ourselves the best opportunity to move towards bigger and better goals, to always strive for improvement.


- Joe Willis