Training for the Long Run: Too Legit to Quit!

Posted: December 13, 2014 by TRU in Random, Rehab
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Hammer Time

It isn’t easy to hang up the gloves when you still have a fighting chance. This week I’ve decided to discuss a common practice and necessary evil in the orthopedic world: when a doctor/physical therapist tells you to quit doing an activity or sport you love. If you’re someone who thrives off being physically fit what do you do when you find yourself on the receiving end of such a conversation? Will you understand your clinicians reasoning? Will efforts be made by the clinician to find a compromise? And will you be confident that your best interests(psychological as well as physical) were considered as part of the decision?

…most importantly, just how necessary is this necessary evil in the first place?

The Squat Scenario


The legendary Frank Zane, a mathematician every bit as logical as we was aesthetic.

You: love weight lifting but get a fleeting sharp pain in your low back during squats

Clinician: stop squatting*

Thought: how critical is that you quit squatting and what exactly is the clinician’s reasoning?

A Game of Logic

A logical solution could be to stop squatting. And who knows, that just might do the trick…but what if it doesn’t? Furthermore, are your quadriceps destined for a future of squatless workouts forever? Let’s play a game of logic before I get to the answer.



So your back hurts when you squat?? Sounds like you’d better stop squatting.

I realize you probably don’t care much about logic. All you know is that it hurts when you squat. So the assumption is that it’s the squat that must be doing the hurting. When you stop squatting and you no longer experience that familiar pain it confirms the assumption that squats hurt your back and you live happily ever after so long as you don’t squat again…if you lived in a test tube. Sure this may work for some people, but it fails to address a few important considerations about YOU (the patient):

Is squatting itself injurious or is the way YOU squat injurious?
  • is your technique spot on or does it resemble an elderly man getting off the commode at 4AM?
  • How can anyone know the answer if they didn’t watch you squat?
  • If the person watching you doesn’t squat regularly themselves, how confident are you that they even know what a proper squat should look like?

Is something about YOU making you a bad candidate for regular barbell squatting?

  • insufficient strength, decreased mobility, etc.
  • poor knowledge of progression, training intensity, frequency, etc.

How easy/difficult is it for YOU to quit squatting?

  • are squats something you really enjoy and believe will help you accomplish an important goal or are squats something you recently started and could care less about?
    • was this a consideration when you were told to quit squatting?


Advice to quit squatting altogether without considering the points above is rather artless and oversimplified. Don’t get me wrong, in some cases quitting the aggravating activity is needed. However, let’s say you’ve been hurting your low back during squats primarily because you have poor technique. The best solution in this case may not be to quit squatting, but working on your technique and squatting more*. In other words, by perfecting your squat technique you will no longer be stressing the structures that are causing pain when you squat, making the squat both the culprit and the cure. How’s that for a novel idea?

*Just to be clear, I am not suggesting squatting more and pushing through pain. What I am suggesting is modifying the squat so that it is pain free as you work on improving your technique.


Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results –Einstein

Now before anyone mistakes me to mean things I do not, please understand that my squat example above was only one in an infinite see of orthopedic conditions. I am not suggesting painful activities should never be stopped and can always be worked around. In some cases, stopping an activity is essential; it all depends on the issue and the individual. The point I am trying to make is only that stopping an aggravating/painful activity just because it is an aggravating/painful activity is incomplete, and can be an over utilized recommendation from those clinicians who are not willing or do not know how to dig deeper.

To summarize, there are times when an activity does not need to be terminated altogether, but can be modified in a way that allows you to continue without pain, further tissue damage, etc. This is especially important when it involves an activity you love. Clearly the last thing an ambitious bodybuilder wants to hear is that he/she must table their favorite exercise(s). Besides this, when a clinician’s reasoning is not understood by his/her patient (or themselves for that matter) it is less likely to be followed, potentially resulting in further injury and long term failure.

A great clinician should consider you as well as your injury

Two Cents for the Uninjured

To briefly comment on persons who are not injured, blanket statements(to avoid an exercise) are often exactly that. While I agree that certain exercises do not belong in the average joe/jane’s training tool chest on a regular basis, I generally do not subscribe to the fantasy that there are dangerous exercises that guarantee injury as many pop-fitness sources may have you believe. Moreover, the exercises that commonly get branded as being most dangerous tend to be some of the most potent muscle builders available e.g. squats and deadlifts. If you asked me, the weakness and adverse postural adaptations that result from years at a desk job are more dangerous than squats, but that article is going to be a harder sell.

Arnold Squat

Nearly every great physique of the golden era was built with a regular dose of squats, deadlifts, presses, and rows.

…and nearly every unremarkable physique of our modern era was built by an irregular dose of the latest fitness trend.

Another danger with the above is when you innocently believe the present day fitness garbage claiming exercises like squats are going to destroy everything from your knees to your marriage. This only adds to the confusion and may result in you avoiding effective exercises (squats, deadlifts, etc.), and substituting ineffective ones (insert the latest fitness variety) in their place due to a false sense of safety, when in reality you’re only securing yourself a future of lackluster results. Ultimately, the outcome is you giving up on exercise since you never really saw the results you had hoped for. Fast forward 10 years and you can safely say you didn’t hurt your back while barbell squatting (since you stopped doing them). No, you hurt your back while brushing your teeth. Now how’s that for logic?

Happy Training…for the long run,


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