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The robust benefits of strength training are too important to miss out on due to an injury or musculoskeletal pain.  At the same time, we don’t want to push through pain and in doing so, exacerbate an injury.  If you have a localized acute or chronic injury or experiencing musculoskeletal pain during a workout, consider the following four action steps for effective strength rraining when injured:

Consider reducing the weight and significantly slowing down the lifting and lowering speed.  Force = Mass x Acceleration.  If you slightly reduce the weight you are lifting (Mass) and dramatically slow the speed at which you are lifting and lowering (acceleration), the force that your joints are exposed to is significantly reduced.  In many cases, you’ll have no problem continuing to perform the exercise with this modification.

Perform the exercise through a pain-free range of motion.  If you are performing an exercise and the pain occurs in only one particular part of the range of motion, simply avoid that range of motion.  When we perform a reduced range of motion (3/4, ½, or even just ¼ of the range of motion) we still improve our strength, increase muscle tissue, and stimulate cardio-metabolic benefits.  This change to a limited range of motion may be temporary (1-4 weeks and then all symptoms subside) or it may be a permanent change.

Perform a different exercise for the same muscle group.  If a barbell bench press bothers your shoulder (it bothers mine from time to time), substitute dumbbell chest press for machine chest press, incline press, decline press, push-ups, dips, or pec fly.  Because no one exercise is magical, changing the exercise for the targeted muscle and thus slightly changing the angle of push or pull may allow you to effectively train the muscle while mitigating pain. 

Perform the exercise with the healthy limb only and receive “bi-lateral transfer.”  If your right elbow hurts when performing chest press and the previous three modifications don’t alleviate the problem, try performing the chest press with your left arm only.  You’ll still receive the benefit of “bi-lateral transfer” sometimes referred to as “cross education”; simply put, your right arm will still receive some of the strength and muscle-building benefits even though you didn’t exercise it.  This is a particularly useful strategy in the event a limb is immobilized or in a cast (Undoubtedly, bilateral transfer is one of the most fascinating elements of strength training exercise!).

If you are having musculoskeletal pain, don’t ignore or push through the pain.  On the other hand, don’t skip a workout or even skip a muscle group. Instead, consider these modifications so you can continue to train productively and safely (and of course, seek medical counsel if your injury or pain persists). 

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