Articles  >  Mobility, Prep, Recovery & Injury
PAIN: The Kind That Goes Away, and the Kind That Doesn’t
Matt Foreman
April 27 2015

When I was in my 20s, I had a lot of roommates. You remember those years, right? It’s when you’re young, going to school, living in crappy rental houses and apartments and looking for anybody you can tolerate who’ll split the bills with you.
Because these were the years when I was coming up in weightlifting, many of my roommates were lifters who were living the same life I was. Want to hear a little story about one of them? About once a month, I would wake up in the middle of the night from strange sounds in our hallway when I was living with this gal. Those sounds were her hands and knees sliding across our carpet because she was crawling to the bathroom to pee. Why was she crawling? Because her lower back was so tight from training, it was too difficult to stand up and walk when she got out of bed. It was easier to crawl, so that’s what she did.
This was a very successful lifter, by the way. I’m not going to mention her name, but it’s a big one.
Pain is something you have to live with if you’re an athlete who trains and competes in any kind of sport that involves a lot of power, force, and joint impact. Weightlifting, CrossFit, football, wrestling, and almost anything else that pushes your body to its maximum limits… it’s going to come with some hurt.
Think about what we’re trying to accomplish, seriously. If you want to transform your body from a sloppy tub of goo into a chiseled stack of muscle and sexiness, you’re not gonna get it for free. You’ll have to endure some suffering if you want the end result.
If you’re a competitive athlete, you don’t get to go from “local-level bottom feeder” to “national-level heavy hitter” without paying the price. And that price is years of hard work that makes your body ache. If you want to feel good all the time, go do something else. There are plenty of pain-free hobbies in the world. Granted, they’re going to leave you with gelatinous arms and an ass nobody wants to look at. The only pain you’ll have to deal with is the agony of knowing you’re physically unimpressive. Vaya con Dios.
So… what am I saying? That the only way to be a successful athlete is to break your body down to the point where you have to crawl to the bathroom like a wiener dog just to take a piss in the middle of the night? No, I’m not saying that. Let me explain it a little better. There are different types of pain, and different lengths that go along with them. Here they are:
Acclimation Pain
Length: Temporary
This is the pain you experience when you’re getting started in weightlifting. Overhead lifting with deep bottom positions takes some getting used to, and most peoples’ bodies start barking pretty loud in the early stages. The most painful areas of the body will be totally individual, usually depending on where you’ve got the worst flexibility. One area I’ve found to be extremely common is the shoulders. Many lifters I’ve worked with (including myself) had some serious deltoid pain in the first weeks/months of Olympic lifting. Mine actually got to the point where I could barely put a barbell over my head without trouble. But the word “acclimation” means “physiological adjustment by an organism to environmental change.” Trust me, your body will adjust if you stretch, train, and recover correctly. That deltoid pain I described? It lasted for about a month when I started weightlifting, and then it disappeared forever.
Daily Training Pain
Length: Permanent
The word “daily” tells you this one is ongoing. Your joints and muscles will be somewhat achy all the time if you decide to pursue a strength sport. The important question is just HOW achy they’ll be. And once again, it’ll be totally individual. Actually, there are two thoughts that should help you with this one:  
  1. There are millions of active weightlifters in the world. Obviously, every one of them has found a way to live with their pain level. They don’t walk through their lives in unbearable agony. It doesn’t drive them out of the sport. They don’t wake up in the morning and scream “GHAA!! HOLY $%&!” when they swing the first leg over the edge of the bed. If all these athletes have been able to keep their pain manageable and still train successfully, the odds are pretty high you’ll be able to do the same thing.
  2. Take a look around at the older non-weightlifting people you know. What do most of them have in common? They’re all living with pain! They don’t lift weights. Most of them have sedentary, non-physical lives. And they still moan and groan all the time about how bad their bodies hurt. What conclusion comes from this? Basically, you’ll hurt when you’re older whether you lift weights or not. So you might as well have some fun and grow some big muscles while you’re at it.
Not-taking-care-of-yourself Pain:
Length: As long as you want it to last
This one is your own damn fault. If you don’t stretch, don’t recover, don’t drink a lot of water, don’t sleep, eat garbage all the time and drink like Keith Richards, your body is going to make you suffer. Not much lengthy explanation is needed here.
Dealing-with-jackasses Pain:
Length: Getting worse as technology advances
I believe in being thorough, so it’s important we address the throbbing agony that comes from interacting with the mental midgets of our glorious sport. As with some of the other pains we’ve looked at, managing it will be an individual thing. Some of you might get enraged to the point of screaming F***! at the steering wheel of your car when you drive around town, or maybe launching into those rampages where you light up Facebook like a Christmas tree with your liquid hot rage. Neither of these accomplishes anything, so I recommend treating this pain in the most effective way: find a friend you can text back and forth with all day about how much you both hate the same people.
You’re not gonna feel good all the time in this business. That’s just not how it works. You simply have to look at your lifting and ask yourself, “Is it worth the pain?” Personally, I’m more than happy to suck up some discomfort if it results in a muscular physique, fulfilling accomplishments, and an exciting training experience that changes my life.
To me, those things are worth a little pain. What do you think?
Please log in to post a comment

Dane Olson
May 27 2015
Nice article, I have asking myself lately if it is worth the pain at 60 years old. So far I guess I have concluded it is as I will be working out again tonight.
Lauren Nayman
December 15 2015
In terms of pain, the most important thing a person can do is learn the difference between the kind of pain you can power through and the kind of pain that should make you stop for a little bit. If you're just kind of sore (acclimation pain), you could power through that and you'll adjust. If it's sharp shooting pain that persists, you should probably stop what you're doing and rest for a little bit. That's the most important distinction that I don't think enough people make.