We're all guilty of it, all gym goers: the 'Meathead Moment'. That moment you decide you're going to do (try) something awesome (crazy), just because (you think) you can. It might be a new movement, or one you were able to do years ago. It might be a crazy back squat PR, it might even be a super intense conditioning workout you saw on TV or read about in men's health. Whatever it is, there are a few things you should consider before you jump in with both feet...
1. Does it hurt?
I'm not talking about your ego here, or about DOMS. I'm thinking more along the lines of pinching, pulling, zapping, popping, or tearing pain. Real discomfort (not feelings of effort), either during or following your movement attempts. In the CrossFit world, where I live, its not uncommon for an athlete to tell me that their shoulders hurt, but that they'd like to try the Handstand Push Ups/Kipping Pull Ups/Muscle Ups in the WOD anyways, as if working through the pain helps earn them status, or even moves them closer to their movement goal. I'm not sure where this line of thinking originated, but I wish it would go away already! My thoughts are this: if a movement pattern hurts, its probably not a great idea to keep repeating it exactly the same way with the hope that the pain will just go away (whats the definition of insanity again?). STOP. Take a step back, analyze the movement, and figure out what you're missing - e.g. strength, stability, mobility, an intact joint capsule.. Whatever it is, in the short-term, its time to stop and work regressions, or get that nagging injury properly treated so you're in a better position to complete the movement safely and efficiently. From what I've heard, your first muscle up certainly isn't worth a rotator cuff tear, or the the months of rehab work that go along with it.
2. Is it conducive to your goals/training program (..by the way, do you have goals and a training program?)
If you're currently following a training program, chances are it was designed by yourself or trainer with certain goals in mind. I think it follows logically, that if you've set certain goals and have been putting work into achieving them, they're probably pretty important to you. So it always baffles me, when an individual with clearly defined goals and methods to achieve them attempts to do something at the gym that is completely incongruent with their program, or even worse, something that is detrimental to their health and progress. I get that it can be cool to post a video on Instagram of yourself doing something physically challenging, but is it really worth it if it compromises all of your hard work? Before trying something crazy at the gym, its certainly worth it to go through a risk:benefit analysis rather than jumping right in! If the chances of injury outweigh the benefits of the movement, you should probably skip it for now!
If you don't yet have specific goals for your health, fitness, and training, it might be worth it to take some time to sit down and carve them out, for the benefit of your own progress, sanity and accountability (more on this in an upcoming post). If you're in a position where you're working with a trainer, or following general programming at a gym, I implore you to ALWAYS ASK WHY you're doing a specific movement or workout! I have seen way too many people practicing handstands (with poor technique) or running miles on miles when they really just want to get strong. If there is something that seems unsafe, incongruent with your goals, or just ridiculous in your program, please don't just do it because someone told you to! There is no point wasting your time and effort or risking your health on movements or workouts that will not aid your progress!
3. Did you earn it?
Our bodies are really great at getting us from point A to point B! In the grand scheme of things, movement goes a little something like this: we tell our body what we want it to do and our body finds the path of least resistance to get us there; this is especially true in the case of an unfamiliar or awkward task. We're all really good at 'cheating' movements, and very often, we don't even realize we're doing it; if we hit the given start and end positions, we assume we did everything in the middle right! Often this is not the case! With sound coaching/training, technique work, and lots of 'perfect practice', we can teach our nervous system, muscles and joints the most safe, efficient, and ideal way to perform a given movement and give our tissues time to adapt...but that takes time and effort! I have seen numerous examples of people who did not 'earn their movement' over the last year, and I'm sad to say that most of them involve injury. A really common example occurs when people rush into lifting heavy, without taking time to build up tissue resilience and a proper movement pattern. Evolutionarily, our bodies are designed to help us avoid getting stuck under heavy objects, and as humans, we build 'neural' strength much faster than our joints and muscles adapt to new movements or weights, putting some of us in a very precarious position. As a result, some people up their weights too quickly and end up with strains, sprains, and in some cases, even disc injuries...and these injuries are certainly NOT the most catastrophic events that can possibly occur in these situations. Another common example are shoulder injuries that occur when individuals that do not have the raw strength to complete strict pull-ups or dips are taught to kip in order to enable them to do more work in a given period of time. This enables the individual to put a tonne of force through their shoulders at a very high speed, and often in an uncontrolled manner, teeing them up for injury! In either case, the time (and money) the athlete ends up investing in rehab far outweigh the time and effort it would have taken to learn the movement properly. So next time you step up to a barbell, pull-up bar, or even a set of rings, ask yourself, 'Did I really earn this?'
So why am I saying all of this?
What makes this information so important that I felt the need to write about it? There are two answers to this question!
Having dealt with several injuries myself, I know how horrible it is having to take time off of training, especially when you're close to reaching your goals! Mentally and physically, it hard both to be out of the training world, and to work back in when you're given the green light! This is particularly true for trainers whose livelihood depend on being able to move properly! Think of each movement you perfect and all of your cumulative training experience as an investment; don't put all your pennies in one basket!
Motor Patterning and Permanent Damage!
Before you even start to try a new movement, know that our bodies are really great at learning and "remembering" movement patterns, the exact way we perform them. Repetition only strengthens this memory, and it only takes a few reps with a compensation or lack of activation in a given position to send us down a path to inefficient movement and potential injury! Moreover, soft tissue injury (sprains and strains) takes quite some time to heal, and in many cases, never returns to its pre-injury condition! With a shoulder injury like I mentioned above, your overhead mobility and strength could be limited permanently!
Take your time, work your drills, and keep your inner meathead satisfied with marvel movies!