Coach Caleb’s Corner
Pain is a Good Teacher
Have I ever told you about the time I had nagging shoulder pain but with the help of the Turkish Get Up, I turned it into a personal record? Well just in case you haven’t heard it, or don’t remember it, here’s the story.
Years ago when I was a wee 140lbs lifter, I was assisting at one of the SFG instructor certifications and had the opportunity to chat with the larger than life personality many of us know simply as “The Iron Tamer,” Dave Whitley of Nashville, Tennessee. I was talking about struggling with a particular lift with a particular weight, and I made the mistake of saying that I felt “the weight is just too heavy.” Backed by the surety of his unimpeachable southern drawl, the Iron Tamer simply commented, “the weight’s not too heavy, you’re just too weak.” Well that put me in my place with a solid piece of ego-crushing logic. He went on to say, “the weight isn’t ‘too anything, it doesn’t care, it’s just the weight. You’re either strong enough to lift it, or you’re not.” As harsh as this may sound, it’s the truth. This simple encounter really altered my mindset and my approach to training.
Around that same time I was suffering from some shoulder discomfort that originated from practicing martial arts. My right shoulder hurt really badly whenever I threw hook punches on that side, and also when I pressed kettlebells overhead. The trouble was that I really had a bee in my bonnet to achieve a military press with the kettlebell closest to half my bodyweight; a significant personal record for me back then. I thought of what the Iron Tamer said. Nothing was too heavy or too hard or too anything; I just wasn’t strong enough to do it… yet. With my training provoking pain, it probably meant I also wasn’t strong enough in my technique to be doing what I was doing… yet!
I consulted Mark Cheng, who is not only a doctor, but also a leader in the Functional Movement Systems and StrongFirst communities. He confirmed that the pain I was experiencing was not a major injury, and was likely due to lack of strength and improper stabilizing of my shoulder while throwing hard punches or pressing kettlebells. I wasn’t using my shoulder properly and needed to improve my thoracic spine mobility, stability of the scapulae, and mobility and stability of the glenohumeral joint. What exercise could do that, and also get me used to putting some heavy weight overhead? You guessed it; the Turkish Get Up!
The good ‘ole “TGU” provided a perfect natural progression to improve and strengthen exactly what I needed according to the development of human motor function. It was self-limiting, in that I was restricted by the loads that allowed me to perform get-ups with excellent, pain-free technique. Mind you, I did have to put my ego in check and begin with much lighter loads than I had been using for a while. Instead of being immobilized by the pain, I was quickly taking weight overhead through a harmless range of motion which was correcting the source of my original problem!
After about six weeks of focused Turkish Get Up practice, my shoulder was feeling good again and I attempted the half-bodyweight press. Since I had been using that sized kettlebell for many Get Ups by then, I was quite used to stabilizing it overhead. Not only did I press it without pain, I did so without much difficulty!
Pain is actually a good teacher, but we have to be good students. Gray Cook likes to say, “pain is a stop signal,” and it is! Pain during training that is unrelated to a direct injury is often an indication that our technique or movement is flawed in some way, and we may need to adjust our training to work on some exercises of a more corrective nature. So the next time you might consider being sidelined by some minor injury, listen to what your body is telling you, set your ego aside and don’t be afraid to regress to progress… you may just set a new personal record!
Oh, and when in doubt, try the Turkish Get Up; it will probably do the trick!