A sport is like anything else—how committed you are
determines how it affects the rest of your life. The extent of your investment in it changes the way it influences your decisions, how it makes you feel, what else you do, and the way you look at just about everything you encounter.
A physical activity like a sport—let’s say weightlifting—carries with it certain risks and requires certain compromises and sacrifices. This really isn’t any different than anything else—if you’re committed to watching 10 hours of TV every day, there will be consequences in terms of your physical and mental health. If you’re committed to weightlifting, there will be consequences of varying degrees dependent on that level of commitment along with other factors like your natural durability and what I like to refer to scientifically as luck
It’s always struck me as odd how many people are so completely intolerant of discomfort in weightlifting, and evidently so baffled by its presence. There's nothing natural about a high-level competitive sport... it's very different from "exercise" or "physical activity" which are both prerequisites to health. The further toward the serious end of the spectrum you go, the further you diverge from "healthy". That's one of the compromises of sport.
To be fair, how much pain should
be tolerated really depends on who you are and what your intentions are. If you’re a 45-year-old insurance adjuster whose only goal with weightlifting is to have some fun and use it as part of a larger regimen to stay in shape and healthy, the amount of pain you’re willing to put up with should be very limited
—pain is antithetical to the goal of health and enjoyment.
On the other hand, if your goal is to be a competitive lifter at the highest level your natural ability and circumstances will allow, you’re going to have to adopt a very different perspective on pain and discomfort. Weightlifters pretty much keep ibuprofen manufacturers in business. (Understand right away I’m not saying this is a good idea—I actually think anti-inflammatories should be used as little as possible, and certainly not continuously long term.)
I’m also not telling you that you should
be in pain all the time, or that being in pain as a weightlifter is some kind of merit-badge-worthy experience. It’s not cool to be in pain, and it’s not something to brag about. My point is that weightlifting is a tough sport, and if you’re going after some big goals, and you’re putting in many years toward them, it can definitely beat you up. If you’re unwilling to accept pain and discomfort, you’re very likely to never achieve much in this sport or any other. You shouldn’t be a bonehead who just tries to die every training session and doesn't bother trying every method available to you to minimize damage, but you can’t be a diaper baby who cries and quits every time you have a boo boo.
When things start hurting, you need to address them as quickly as possible. This doesn’t mean taking 3 weeks off every time your wrist is a bit achy. It means finding active solutions to diagnose and correct the problem while continuing to train with as little modification as possible
. In particular, if you’re closing in on a major competition, usually you just have to suck it up and gut it out until you get through it. The goal is to prevent minor pain from developing into serious injury, but while continuing to train and progress. If you cease all activity every time you notice the first hint of pain, you’re going to be spinning your wheels your entire lifting career.
The goal of training is to find the absolute maximum amount of progress you can make per unit of time. In basic terms, this means doing as much work as your body and mind can handle… productively. Maybe you can force yourself to do more, but if it slows your progress instead of accelerating it
, this isn’t productive.
The same idea applies to pain—is it pain and discomfort that you can train through productively and isn’t going to create a limiting problem down the road if you do? Or is it pain that’s signaling an impending injury if you don’t back off? It’s not always easy to distinguish between the two, but you have to figure it out one way or another or you’re either going to be the lifter who never gets anywhere because you’re afraid of pain, or the lifter who never gets anywhere because you injure yourself constantly.
Commit to all of your recovery and restoration activities
consistently. Commit to warming up properly
and adequately every single time you train. Commit to ensuring you possess optimal mobility for the lifts
. Commit to performing every repetition as well as possible, and to constantly working to improve technically. Commit to getting adequate sleep and decent nutrition. Commit to necessary GPP
and pre-hab work. These are the things that will keep your pain limited as much as possible, and allow you to make progress as quickly and continuously as possible—and it will save your liver from all the ibuprofen.