The Golden Mean

Dealing with the reality of injury when you want to be active.

You have goals and aspirations.

You have the motivation and resources to achieve big things.

It’s just… your body doesn’t share your enthusiasm.

No, it’s not fair.

Over time, the wear and tear of life takes its cumulative toll.

All the workouts, practices, runs, and long days at a desk are rearing their collective ugly heads, and it’s time to pay the activity piper.

It sucks, and what’s more, you get conflicting messages on how to manage this situation.

“Don’t do anything and you’ll be safe. You’ll have a pain free, ridiculously unfulfilling life.”


“Disregard what your body says and attack with barbells until you puke or break.”

To me, neither one of these is an option. The answer lies somewhere in between these obvious extremes.

Getting stronger and respecting the “no no” exercises will help you manage injury.

I don’t care how “good” I feel if my next 40 years of life consists of cautiously navigating the world, constantly worried about what may overload my body, missing out on the very things that make me feel alive. I would rather hurt.

On the other hand, completely ignoring physical realities and injuries that are a fact of life, and having no caution or thought about what stress you are putting on your body is a recipe for a bad future. You will hurt. A lot. For a long time.

I can speak on this issue through personal experience. I have a disc injury in my back.

Besides for all the other slow wear and tear my body is dealing with, the disc is my claim to pain.

To be honest, most people do have disc injuries, they probably just don’t know it…yet.

Having a bulging disc or a herniation is so common an injury that it almost feels like its in style to have one these days. The en vogue physical ailment of the time, but I’m getting off topic.

Dealing with a disc that is painful will force a person to change things a bit, but it shouldn’t sideline a person altogether. And this goes for the vast majority of overuse or common activity injuries.

Most injuries will have their own “no-no” lists. This is a list of physical activity or exercise that will increase pain or further injury. The physical reality of the injury will prevent a person from performing these activities without pain. It doesn’t matter how bad you want it, you’re arguing with a reality that doesn’t care.

This fact shouldn’t keep someone from enjoying being physical, though.

As I tell my clients, if you’re willing to compromise, there is always a way.

I’ve witnessed people who were/are dealing with pain do some pretty incredible things. Its all about understanding what you’re dealing with, and a willingness to compromise.

I cannot perform heavy deadlifts and then go running. But I can deadlift on Monday afternoon and then run on Tuesday night. A client of mine can’t have a long car ride followed by squats at the gym, but if he puts a day between his business trip and his squatting workout, things work out a lot better. Those with hip or back injuries probably should never do leg lifting exercises or leg press on a machine, but they can work their core with planks and perform goblet squats with success. Ass to floor squats will no longer be a pain-free reality for some, but modified range of motion box squats can be an excellent substitute.

These are just a few examples of “living in the middle” when dealing with injury or pain. Everyone is different and every injury presents itself differently, so the compromises will be different from person to person.

The point is, given the reality of injury, you should not disregard nor lie down to your situation. Given some modifications you’ll be surprised at what you can still do. I’ve seen this happen literally hundreds of times.

PS Note:

Modification isn’t simply doing less. Depending on the nature of your pain or injury, there is a specific set of exercises and movements to avoid, and a specific set of exercises to focus on. In addition to exercise therapy, soft tissue work from a qualified practitioner will hasten your recovery and give you a better shot at managing your injury. I recommend Dr. Matthew Lytle from Precision Health Group.

For more information, or for help with your specific situation, contact me at

Matt Pirtle MA CSCS