Will working harder get you out of pain?

A lot of times I hear ladies and gentlemen tell me how once they started noticing injuries, they started to train harder in the hopes that they could get bulldoze their way through the pain. If you’re around male athletes, you’ve probably heard countless stories of how someone’s friend had hip or knee pain, but after doing deadlifts or squats for three months, everything felt better. A lot of times, though, this is not the way the story goes. Instead, it goes something like this:

The more I try to do back exercises, the more my back hurts. Every time I lift, I seem to hurt more and more.

Sometimes doing a certain exercise like a squat or a deadlift does help. Sometimes it hits just the right muscles in just the right way to help someone get out of pain. But that does not mean that those exercises are always going to hit the right muscles for everyone. Particularly if someone’s body is deconditioned in ways that make a good, safe squat or deadlift impossible, high demand exercises like these may lead to an increased risk of injury.

When your body is deconditioned to the point where you can’t do high demand exercises, you have to be more careful about your exercise selection. If you have over-engaged quads and under-engaged posterior hip muscles (hello, glutes), think about what a squat might do for you. Are you going to gain strength where you need it? Or is it more likely you’ll just recruit the muscles that your body is used to recruiting (your quads) to accomplish your set? Working harder in the wrong exercise won’t fix the problem. If you had trouble drilling a screw into the wall, would you just try harder and hammer it in?

Hopefully not. Hopefully you’d choose the right tool for the job!

That’s why with a lot of clients, I put a lot of focus into ensuring that there is proper muscle balance between the hip flexors, extensors, and lateral stabilizers before suggesting they look at doing squats. Simple, low-key exercises like fire hydrants, myofascial release for the quads, and bridges should all be a regular part of a recreational athlete’s self-care regimen. They aren’t glamorous and exciting exercises, but they help counteract something that most of us deal with on a daily basis: entire days spent squashing the life out of our hips.


About the Author

Matt Hsu is a trainer and orthopedic massage therapist. He fought a long battle with chronic pain all over his body and won. He blends the principles he learned in his journey, empirical observations with clients, and relevant research to help others get their lives back.