The best ability in training is the availability to do it in the first place. So, train in a safe manner that allows you to continue training.
That said, it’s no coincidence that once barbell based lifting got popular again, it was quickly followed by a high demand for mobility and injury prevention modalities.
Many barbell enthusiasts like making fun of runners for often being injured, while these lifters have to do 10 different forms of self-therapy before and between workouts in order to feel semi-normal. Pot, meet kettle!
This isn’t saying the barbell is dangerous or bad, so don’t get your bench shirt in a bunch. It’s simply saying that people commonly make two mistakes when it comes to being serious about strength training:
- They mistake the fundamentals of weightlifting for the fundamentals of strength training, which leads to them to
- Fitting themselves to exercises instead of fitting exercises to them.
TRUE Injury Prevention
I developed and use the Shoulder Health 10 and Hip Health 10 programs because they’re a simple, organized and concise sequence of exercises that each involve my top 10 supplementary exercises that address the three most significant causes of preventable shoulder and hip problems:
- Decreased strength
- Increased fatigue
- Lack of mobility
And, both the SH10 and HH10 can be done anywhere in less than 15 minutes using only an NT loop Mini band.
I call moves like these “injury prevention” exercises because they’re not designed to increase muscle hypertrophy, but to train and strengthen the shoulder and hip complex in ways that may be missed by traditional compound and isolation lifts in the hopes they can make your shoulders and hips more resilient and functional. Plus, the term “injury prevention” resonates most with my clients and athletes when using exercises and protocols like the Shoulder Health 10, and Hip Health 10 to complement their strength zone training workouts.
That said, the best exercises for joint pain and injury prevention are the ones you don’t do!
You see, when I say “the missing exercises” for pain relief and injury prevention in the title of this article, I mean that literally!
True injury prevention and pain relief for those who lift starts with the exercises that are missing from your program because they don’t fit your body.
Somehow “injury prevention” and ways to feel better (i.e., pain relief) have become exclusively about doing more and more rehab type exercises as warmup or after a lifting session. In reality, true injury prevention training, and how to feel better, is about addition by subtraction. Meaning, it’s about first looking at your current program and eliminating certain lifts that your body doesn’t like, instead of being attached to certain exercises (like barbell lifts).
The Missing Assessment for Pain Relief and Injury Prevention
Many people who lift experience joint pain, prolonged soreness and have injuries that refuse to heal. They often default to looking for something wrong (i.e., dysfunctional) with their body, when the first place they should be looking is at their workouts.
That’s the missing assessment! Assessing if you love lifts that your body doesn’t. And, acknowledging that if an exercise doesn’t love you back, it’s time to break-up with it.
The way to tell if you’re doing lifts your body doesn’t like is simple.
You shouldn’t feel like you have to do endless mobility drills, soft tissue work, etc. or some type of a mini-physical therapy session before you workout just to feel semi-normal. And, following a tough workout, you may be fatigued, but your body overall should feel better at the end of your workout than before you started. That means less joint pain and not feeling like you need to stretch yourself into a near coma after lifting to find relief.
In other words, the most important assessment is assessing how you feel on a regular basis. And, instead of buying yet another book or course of 1001 mobility drills or adding to your collection of different shaped self-massage devices, you use that as a red flag to rethink your workouts that may be causing your problems.
That said, some trainers and lifters wish to find out why their body, or their client’s body, doesn’t like certain lifts. I assert that it doesn’t matter for anyone aside from powerlifters because there are no must-do exercises. Not to mention, when you start down the path of “let me find out why your body doesn’t like this lift,” you’re assuming that it’s someone’s body that is dysfunctional because it must be able to fit to some artificial, robotic gym-based exercise.
It’s important to note that I’m NOT talking about competitive powerlifters, Olympic lifters or Cross-fitters here. Those are sports where you’re forced into training a certain way, whether your body likes them or not, and come with risks competitors are willing to sacrifice their body for. Those sports aren’t about health.
What I’m talking here is about everyone else who is serious about strength training (i.e., lifting) for health and fitness purposes. In that case, there are no specific exercises you must do to get stronger and improve your health and fitness.
My Body Hates the Barbell Deadlift
It’s interesting how us trainers and coaches usually view good lifting technique as the prescription for things like back pain. However, what about the people like me who don’t suffer from back pain and have no history of back injury. Yet, certain lifts, like barbell deadlifts, with great technique bother my back. And, I’ve been like this since I was a kid. So, it’s not an age thing.
Keep in mind, I know all tricks and cues on safe technique to maximize using the hips, take the slack out of the bar, keep the bar close to me, etc., and even sumo style bugs my back both during and after my workouts. Even the trap bar, although not as bad, still makes my body feel not great.
In other words, I can do barbell and trap bar deadlifts, and go heavy if I so choose. However, if I don’t regularly incorporate deadlifts, I feel much better and move better. And, I’m highly aware of how I move and feel because I regularly exercise hard, and do both Muay Thai boxing and indoor climbing (mainly bouldering) a few times per week.
If I start using barbell deadlifts, or Trap bar deadlifts, especially anything over 300lbs, even sumo with the barbell, my body starts to tell me it doesn’t like it within a few sets. And, within a few weeks of incorporating deadlifts, my back starts to feel tight and I feel less capable and energetic when doing my other sports.
I generally feel great, have plenty of energy, move fluidly and don’t have pain. So, although I train hard and do highly demanding sports, I never feel like I have to use the massage gun or foam roll, or even do a bunch of stretching and mobility work just to feel good and ready to go. It’s only when I start incorporating barbell deadlifts, even the trap bar, when I start to feel like I need to do some of that “therapy stuff” to feel better.
Since I can do all kinds of athletic stuff like climbing and combat sports, at a high level, with no issues, I don’t buy the idea that robotic, gym-based lifts somehow tell us how the body functions better than actual athletic tasks. I DO buy that every exercise is NOT for every body because of our individual skeletal framework, body proportions and injury history.
This is what I mean when I say exercises are general but exercisers are individual. And, that good training is about fitting exercises to people instead of fitting them to exercises.
Many trainers and coaches get so attached to exercises like deadlifts, they bend over backwards to find 1000 and 1 ways to coach it because they have this view that it’s somehow a must-do lift. However, the solution is often just don’t frigging do them! There are plenty of other great ways to strengthen your posterior chain (hamstrings, glutes and back).
Here are two of my favorites to program for hip hinging.
Angled Barbell Leaning RDL
Here’s a unique single-leg Romanian deadlift variation, using a barbell in a corner, that I developed using a body lean to hit the glutes in two ways. The unique aspect of this exercise is subtle, but it makes a big difference in the glute involvement.
NT Loop Single-Leg Thigh-Resisted RDL
Having the NT Loop band wrapped high around your working thigh – your front leg – allows you to concentrate all of the band’s tension on the side you’re working. Plus, having the band placed somewhat in-line with your glutes is a lot more effective at training your glutes than when the band is placed around your waist.
Unless you’re competing in something where a lift is required, no lift is a must-do. So, for non-powerlifters, the solution is to simply NOT do lifts your body doesn’t like instead of trying to force a square peg into a round hole. You’re certainly not missing out on any magical powers it offers, as no exercise has magical powers.
That said, the closest thing to having magical powers is finding the lifts that fit your body, and doing them with quality, intensity and consistency.
How NOT to Do Joint-Friendly Strength Training
The reason why, as barbell based lifting got popular again, it was quickly followed by a high demand for mobility and injury prevention modalities is because many people are trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. This is due to falsely believing that you can’t get strong without the big lifts, which is an example of how people confuse training methods with universal training principles.
Here’s the reality: You can’t get strong without creating progressive overload! The principle of overload dictates that the training stress – based on frequency, intensity, and type of exercise as well as recovery processes – should exceed the training stress experienced during the previous workout. (1)
Sure, the big lifts are a great way to create progressive overload, but they’re not the only way. Resistance exercise is just a way to put force across joints. That’s it! When you understand this, you quickly see that no particular exercise has magical powers because barbells, dumbbells, cables, machines, and bands are all just different tools that allow us to apply force across joints.
The lesson: Forget about your emotional attachment to certain training methods or going by what some guru says. You can’t deny the principles of specificity and overload.
Additionally, as the guy who first coined the term “joint friendly strength training,” and produced the first ever course on the subject; it’s an oxymoron to call a program “joint-friendly” when it’s designed around traditional, bilateral barbell exercises.
The two main reasons for this are 1) barbell lifts are usually the first thing people have to abandon when they have normal aches and pains, because 2) you’re fitting yourself to the barbell instead of fitting the exercise/equipment to you.
Bilateral barbell lifts are the most restrictive in dictating how you move during an exercise when compared to dumbbells and cables that allow you better adjust to how your body prefers to move, which is needed when you have some normal aches and pains that don’t make you a physical therapy patient.
Making Athletes Feel Great Again
I’ve spent years getting clients and athletes stronger and fitter, while doing workouts that would bury most so-called “hardcore” lifters, without needing to do so much extra therapeutic work for them to feel good and stay injury-free because my programs are based on fitting exercises to you, not fitting you to exercises.
Strength Training should be the medicine, not what you need to take medicine because of.
Plus, my programs address and prevent the common movement deficiencies from occurring in the first place because Strength Zone Training is Better Than Stretching and Correctives.
For some practical examples of this, checkout out my Anti-Corrective Exercises for Tight Hip Flexors, and my Anti-Corrective Exercises for Improving Ankle Dorsiflexion Mobility and Stability
- Clayton, Drake, Larkin, Linkul, Martino, Nutting, Tumminello. (2015). Foundations of Fitness Programming, Why Was the FFP Developed? (pg.5). National Strength and Conditioning Association