Should there be weight classes in running? Four arguments against it

I'm no lightweight runner, that's for sure. But I'm not going to seek special treatment because of it.

I’m no lightweight runner, that’s for sure. But I’m not going to seek special treatment because of it.

An interesting discussion popped up on the Trail and Ultra Running Facebook page, attached to a link that asked the question: Should marathons be divided into weight classes?

The reasoning was that many other sports have weight classes. So why not long-distance running? The writer used the analogy of boxing, and plenty of people who commented on the link also mentioned sports like mixed-martial arts, competitive weightlifting, wrestling, and so forth. Arguments for more weight classes seemed to go like this: Smaller, thinner people have a physical advantage over larger people in marathons. So why not split ‘em up?

It should be noted that some races offer “Clydesdale” and “Athena” classes for men and women who toe the line with more size than the smaller competitors. I fit nicely within the Clydesdale ranks, and my times show it. I’m mid-pack at best when I’m trim and in good shape. There’s no way I can compete with the front-pack runners who rarely weigh more than 135 pounds.

I fault the article for saying running and boxing are both “combative sports” (they’re not). But the general question is a decent one to ponder.

You’d think that someone like me, who usually enters races at 184-190 pounds, would embrace more weight divisions in endurance events. But I don’t. My thoughts:

Combat sports and weight lifting use different methods of athleticism to succeed than running. You might be thinking, “duh!”, but this needs to be explained. Boxing, wrestling, MMA and powerlifting use force and power against either an opponent (another fighter) or an object (a barbell). It takes mass to move mass, so naturally larger lifters can lift more weight, and when pitting two, equally skilled combatants against each other, the larger one has an advantage in terms of how much potential force can be behind a punch, kick or throw. With running, your energy is applied to moving only yourself against the friction of the road, an incline, or the wind. How well you do this is affected by your weight, but is more affected by your conditioning, and your build relative to your stature. If the latter two are adapted correctly for the sport, weight becomes a nonissue as it will automatically conform to the demands of high-level competition.

Weight-classed sports are designed in a way to accommodate a person’s genetics in terms of size. This matters less in running, because “size” is more under the athlete’s control. It would make no sense to put a 160-pound boxer in the ring with a dude who weighs 220. Similarly, you’d never expect a 120-pound powerlifter to lift as much as someone who weighs 250. These people’s sizes are often a component of their genetics. This happens with runners, too, but here’s the thing: If a runner wants to have a build that is conducive to running fast, a lot of that is under his or her control. Diet and training can make someone fast and efficient regardless of being 5-foot-4 or 6-foot-2. There are genetic and hormonal factors that can come into play for some people, but for most runners, your size relative to your sport are determined by you.

Distance running is already split up into numerous classes. Endurance sports don’t need to have a bunch of weight divisions because the fields are already broken up into age groups and gender. Go to any big-city marathon, and you have somewhere around 8 or more age groups per gender. Age makes some sense, as that is a major factor that the runner can’t change. Splitting up into even more categories seems to dilute what it means to be a “winner” and lessen the significance of podium finishes. If we do this, what’s next? Height classes to help shorter runners? We could keep going down this rabbit hole until we get a few dozen podium photo ops per race.

Running is already one of those sports that rewards far more than just winning. Many races give out medals just for crossing a finish line. I have no problem with that (I treasure my mid-pack finisher medals), but if we’re going to make the podium more accessible by adding new classifications, we’re watering down the significance of what it takes to win. Though I compare my times to friends, I mostly compete against myself. I realize that if I want to have a chance at winning, I’d need to drastically change my training, diet and lifestyle. I’d need to be about 60 pounds lighter to be fast enough to challenge high-performing runners. But I like barbecue and tacos, and I don’t want to lose so much muscle that my strength goes away. With that in mind, I know I’ll never be a podium finisher. And I’m OK with that. Along the same line, I do not and will never expect any race director and athletic organization to write up new rules to make it to where someone like me, who won’t commit to elite-level training, reaps the rewards of an elite-level finish by stepping on a platform and holding a trophy that looks and feels like that of someone who is actually elite.

So those are my thoughts. How about you? Yay or nay on weight classes? Holler in the comments.

Bob Doucette

Four ideas on dealing with injuries during training

My friends. But they don't care if I'm injured.

My friends. But they don’t care if I’m injured.

Tell me you’ve heard this one before…

You’re training hard, working toward a specific goal. Things are going great, progressing nicely, and then it hits: An injury.

Now what?

I’ve faced this a bunch over the years. A cranky back, tweaked neck, wonky shoulders and sprained ankles. Last spring it was a tweaked hamstring, and there have been elbow, wrist and foot problems, to boot.

Last week, it was something else.

I’ve been working hard on building strength for the past couple of months, dialing back my running and pushing hard in the weight room. I still run, but less frequently and shorter distances. The bike has taken over some workouts where running used to be.

But a little over a week ago, I was doing a deadlift workout and tweaked my right trapezius muscle. The trapezius is a long back muscle that starts at the top of your neck, widens and thickens on your upper back, and runs down the side of your spine.

The trapezius. Mine was angry.

The trapezius. Mine was angry.

It is a crucial muscle in any lift where a hip-hinge movement is involved, and if it’s freaking out, you’ll know it every time you get out of bed, turn your head or try to pick something up.

I did a lot of rehab exercises to try to work out the kinks, but by late last week, it was still angry. The workout I had planned included Romanian deadlifts – a great hamstring and glute move that also works the back, and therefore, the trapezius. Additionally, I’d also be lifting a barbell off the floor to the front squat position for another exercise. Same deal, and my back was saying no.

The rest of my body was fine. But one ticked-off muscle can throw you for a loop.

I ended up doing two things. First, I modified that day’s workout to a lighter-weight circuit that included back squats, calf raises and reverse lunges. Six rounds of that, with minimal stress on the traps. Second, I skipped the next day’s shoulder workout entirely and just ran trails.

By Saturday, I was good to go for another deadlift workout (which also included farmer’s walks, cable pulls and pull-ups, all of which recruit the trapezius). I slayed that workout.

There are some important lessons here, and to be frank, sometimes you have to learn this the hard way, like me. Whether you’re training to get strong, for a long-distance race, or preparing for a major physical challenge (say, climbing a mountain), injuries are going to happen.

How do you handle them? Here are some ideas:

Sometimes you have to suck it up and train through it, but work around the problem. Not every injury requires you to shut it down and wait it out. Think it through and find ways to keep up your training without aggravating the problem. What I described above is a good example. Another: runners facing roadblocks can hop on a bike or swim for their conditioning needs until their bodies are well enough to hit the road.

Many injuries are caused by overuse and imbalances. These in turn put undue stress on others parts of your body, leading to injury. Diagnose that, and find ways to train those weak areas so other parts of your body aren’t overcompensating for the weakness and leaving you sidelined. For runners, “dead-butt syndrome” is a perfect example (lack of glute strength). Many lifters suffer from shoulder impingements (poor postural alignment, or underdeveloped back musculature are common there). The fixes are simple, but they will take time. Commit to it.

Your “form” in your training sucks. Fix it. So many runners I know pound their knees into oblivion by hard heel-striking. Others bounce too much, putting a ton of stress on the Achilles tendons. In strength training, poor form – especially on compound exercises, Olympic lifts and explosive movements – lead to potentially serious problems (and don’t get me started on doing these lifts in a fatigued state). My ongoing back issues can be traced back to piss-poor squat form over a decade ago that left me injured. I’ve had to work on that diligently to keep myself from getting hurt again. Proper form in any athletic pursuit mitigates injury. It’s usually pride that keeps people from fixing the problem, and ultimately leads the prideful to the sidelines, bemoaning a fate that could have been avoided.

Sometimes, you really do need to stop and heal. Injuries happen. If you rip your knee up, wrench your shoulder, suffer a stress fracture or hurt your back, there may not be enough chiro work, at-home rehab, Ibuprofen, inner toughness or other tricks to keep you moving forward. When that happens, you need rest, time to heal, and a plan for rehab and recovery. Whether it’s something as relatively minor as an ankle sprain before a big race or something major like a blown disk or ligament/muscle tear, there are definitely times when you need to swallow your pride, shut it down and get well.

If you're like me, you don't want to stop. But we have to be smart about it.

If you’re like me, you don’t want to stop. But we have to be smart about it.

I was fortunate that I knew what I could and couldn’t do in terms of what was a minor physical setback, but one that was big enough to potentially derail my training. I could do my squats; but the overhead presses the next day? Nope. And it all worked out in the end.

Bob Doucette

Moving beyond New Year’s resolutions


It’s that time of year.

You’re going to see two types of people in the gym and on the trails: The New Year’s resolutioner and the people who have moved past resolutions. There is nothing right or wrong about being either. But there is merit to moving from the former to the latter.

You’ve got two kinds of resolutioners. The first type are the people who are getting in shape for the first time in their lives. This is a good place to be, because this person is a blank slate, ready to learn, and ready to improve his or her health. The second type includes those who have made more than one resolution to get fit, but come December find themselves where they were a year ago. The silver lining is you can look back on mistakes and learn from them, but it also means there is the possibility of learning and entrenching bad habits.

The folks who have moved past resolutions have a few common traits. They’re consistent. They’re patient. And they’re willing to learn new ways of doing things to achieve their goals. The new year presents new challenges instead of starting over. Most importantly, their health has become a priority in their lives. They make time to do the things needed to be healthy, fit and strong. Their achievements are built over years of putting in the work.

If you’re part of the resolutioner crowd, there are some simple things you can do to evolve past that. Here are a few:

Understand that becoming fit is a long-term process. You’re not going to magically sport a six-pack after a month of hitting the gym. Or two months. And there are no pills, devices or other shortcuts that actually work. Getting in shape, becoming strong, getting lean — all these outcomes take time and discipline. Be prepared to spend a good number of months putting in the work, and don’t get let down if you’re not seeing results after a few weeks. Keep at it. With that in mind…

Go into your fitness journey with a plan. Some exercise is better than none, but playing around with the weights and slogging away aimlessly on an elliptical won’t get you very far. Do you want to run a 5K? Find a training plan for it and stick to it. Are you seeking to get stronger? Talk to a trainer, do some internet research or consult with people in the know and learn how to do this. Create a training schedule, follow it and track your progress. Failing to plan is planning to fail. Figure out what you want, find a plan to achieve it, and then execute. It’s that simple.

Leave the phone in your locker. I cannot begin to tell you how many people I see wasting time farting around on their phones texting, updating social media or otherwise staring at their device and not training. You say you use it for music? Fine. If you’re disciplined enough to press play, slip on the earbuds and not do anything else with your phone until your workout is done, go for it. Otherwise, don’t bring it with you. It’s a distraction that prevents you from getting the work done.

Pay attention to what you put in your body. What you eat matters. What you drink matters. Eat real food, and not the fried, sugared or overly processed variety. Sugary drinks and alcohol pile on tons of mostly useless calories that get stored as fat and play havoc with your metabolism. Eat clean, get the right amount of protein and watch those liquid calories closely. An occasional beer or two on the weekends is not a problem, but much more than that and you’re probably going to undermine your efforts.

Set a tangible goal. Amazing things happen when you say, “I’m going to do this,” and then commit to it. When I ran a marathon, I told people beforehand I was going to do it. The result was transformative, and I learned a lot. My nephew Jordan chose a Spartan race as his goal, and now having done a couple of them, he’s in the best shape of his life. People I know have competed in bodybuilding, power lifting, mixed martial arts and more, while others have run ultramarathons, climbed big mountains or completed ambitious through-hikes. Their fitness was honed in on a goal, giving their efforts purpose. You don’t even have to be that dramatic. Maybe it’s competing in (or finishing) a shorter race, or perhaps being able to deadlift twice your body weight. Whatever it is, having a target helps measure progress during the process and success when it’s done.

When January 1 rolls around, where are you going to be? Are you ready to evolve? Get your mind right first, make a plan and make your health part of your daily lifestyle.

Bob Doucette

Training log: What to do when you have a bad day

A wonderful scene from a long run past. If only it was that still and pleasant last weekend.

A wonderful scene from a long run past. If only it was that still and pleasant last weekend.

Here in the heart of fall race season, things have been going pretty good. Once I got back from my last trip to Colorado, I planned out a training schedule and ramped up the miles leading to the Route 66 half marathon on November. In the weeks since, each long run has been an improvement over the last, and it seems I’m ahead of where I was at this time last year. I went into this weekend thinking a PR was within reach.

So on Saturday, I headed out for a 10-miler, as per the schedule. It was over 80 degrees with a stiff south wind, which meant that  I’d spend the first half of the workout going straight into it.

No prob, I thought. I’ll have a tailwind on the way back and all will be well.

Not so fast. Those first five miles went fine, but as I turned around to finish up, a solid training run turned into a miserable slog. I returned home wrecked and a bit discouraged.

The weekend also had a good number of friends racing various ultramarathons, complete with medals, buckles and trophies from 50K, 50 mile, 100K and even 100-mile finishes. One woman I know completed her fourth hundo in four weeks while another did back-to-back marathons over the weekend, completing both at 3:35 or faster.

And there I was reeling a little from just 10.

I’m sure many of you have had some crappy runs, and felt bad after comparing yourself to others. I was feeling that a bit. But here’s the thing. Everyone has an off day. But instead of questioning yourself, you should be asking the right questions. Or perhaps looking at it differently. Some thoughts:

Sometimes you have an off day. Bad sleep, a slip in your diet, a hard week of training, life stress, or a combination of any/all of these things can sap your strength. Fix what you can fix, but understand that physical performance is affected by a lot of variables, and sometimes you just aren’t at your best.

Comparisons are only useful in competitive settings. If you are the type of runner or athlete who competes for podium finishes and trophies, yeah, comparisons are part of the deal. But if you’re like 99.9 percent of the runners out there and you’re testing yourself against yourself, it’s not very useful. I know I’m not a sub-20 minute 5K runner, or the type of person who will run 100-mile ultras. I’m not that kind of a runner. Why would I compare myself to those who are? If these people inspire you to push yourself, that’s healthy. But if you’re comparing yourself to them and measuring your worth by how far you lag behind them, you’re shooting yourself in the foot. Celebrate others’ successes, but keep your eyes on the prize — your goals, and yours only.

Analyze what went right and wrong, but not too much. Weather conditions can be a big factor on how well you train. A warm, windy day doesn’t make for great conditions for high performance over longer distances. Same deal for times when it’s really humid, or too cold. For example, a friend of mine ran the OKC Memorial Marathon a few years back, hoping to improve on his typical four-hour finish times. But during the last half of the race, the winds kicked up considerably (15-20 mph steady, with 30 mph gusts) and temperatures soared into the mid-80s. He ended up finishing in six hours. He’s not a six-hour marathoner by any means. But the sun and the winds made sure he was on that day. So you can see where analyzing the conditions, or your prep, or whatever, can give insight on what went right and wrong. But don’t go too deep into the weeds, as that might force you into changing what you do too much, and then sabotage you going forward. Paralysis by analysis is real. Take a look, adjust where you can, but stay the course.

Speaking of that, remember to trust the process. If you’re on a training schedule, or under the direction of a good coach, the best thing you can do is shrug off a bad day, look ahead to what’s next, and do it. Day after day after day. I remember reading a piece on the T-Nation website (it’s geared toward strength training) that said that every awesome performance is built on the foundation of dozens, or hundreds, of very average days. The lesson: Consistency matters. Don’t get so down that you end up slacking off, as that is usually the first step toward quitting. Keep grinding, keep going, trust the process, and when the big day arrives, do your best. Your best will be built upon all those good — and bad — training days.

Keep at it, folks. Don’t let a bad day get ya down.

Bob Doucette


Five fitness trends that need to go away

Do you even breathe, bro?

Do you even breathe, bro?

Consider this my periodic grumpy post. The “get off my lawn” eruption that has to happen to relieve pressure in my skull before it pops like a shaken soda can.

I follow fitness trends quite a bit, mostly because this is not only a subject that interests me, but one I believe is vital. I want to be climbing mountains, running trails and pumping iron well into old age. That’s not a pride thing; I just don’t want to be infirm and immobile in my later years, so I plan to do everything I can to prevent that.

I follow the trends to see what might help me achieve that long-term goal. Some things are worthwhile. Others make me cringe. I want to address the latter. So here goes…

It’s time to retire the Bosu ball.

Ankle/knee injury in 3...2...1...(Sean Hiller/ photo)

Ankle/knee injury in 3…2…1…(Sean Hiller/ photo)

I’m sure there is a use for this semi-spherical cousin of the Swiss ball, but every time I see people squat-pressing dumbbells while standing on a Bosu ball, I want to hit something. Hard. I understand the desire to work all those stabilizer muscles, which is what the Bosu ball is all about. But there is a good chance if you’re squatting, or squat-pressing or — God forbid — doing some single-leg movement on a Bosu ball, there is also a high likelihood you are performing the exercise with dreadful form, and likely entrenching said bad form into your muscle memory. You’d be better off doing your bilateral and unilateral exercises on a sold surface, and maybe do some band walks, side lunges or maybe some cone or ladder drills to work all those precious stabilizer muscles you think you’re neglecting. Unless you’re a surfer, the idea of standing on an unstable surface while exercising is more silly than useful, and potentially injurious.

Let’s send the burpee to pasture.


Burpees seem to be the staple metabolic conditioning exercise of boot camps and Crossfit gyms everywhere. Social media is rife with people doing burpee challenges. Yes, they’re hard and will get your heart rate up quickly. But here’s something else: Burpees also reinforce something most exercisers need to de-emphasize — anterior movements. Anterior movements, if you don’t know, are exercises that focus on the front side of your body. Most of us, because of our jobs (white or blue collar), already have tight chests and shoulders and stretched/weak back muscles. This is why so many people have shoulder joint problems, poor posture and hunched backs. The squat and jump of the burpee is fine, but that push-up is just one more exercise working the front side of your upper body, when what you probably need is something that works your back (posterior movements!). A butt-kicking WOD or endless boot camp circuits that rely on burpees are taking you to the fast track of shoulder issues. Need met-con? Do some sprints. And throw some pull-ups in there, chief. Make sure every front-side push is balanced by at least a couple of back-side pulls. If you’re not doing that and you’re loading up on burpees, it’s time to rethink that circuit. Show some imagination!

The training mask. ARRRRGGHHH.

Yes, because not being able to breathe will help you squat better.

Yes, because not being able to breathe will help you squat better.

I can’t decide if this is a residual of Ultimate Fighter wannabes trying to look more legit at the gym or if there is a market for people wanting to look like Bane from Batman. The concept is to mimic altitude, or just make it harder to breathe while pounding out circuits on the treadmill, or lifting weights, or whatever. This is dumb, so please stop. Simulating altitude is a matter of making your conditioning harder. So do that! Ratchet up the intensity — it’s free, and you don’t have to wear that sweaty thing on your face. And wearing one while lifting? Just don’t. You need all the oxygen you can get to lift as much as you can while training. That’s how you get stronger. Making it harder to breathe while you lift will only force you into lifting lighter weights, for fewer reps, and for fewer sets. That’s no way to get stronger. Oh, and let’s dump the snorkel masks, too.

The ab crunch and its angry granddaddy, the sit-up, need to go.


These exercises, even when done right, ain’t too swift for the lower back. Most people also pull on their heads during the upward movement, which also IS. NOT. GOOD. And the payoff? Far less than you’d expect. Replace these exercises with some planks (but don’t be a weirdo and hold planks for five-plus minutes), side planks, and maybe a few other wonderful core exercises (dead bugs and Pallof presses/holds come to mind) that will actually work your core without torqueing your spine. Speaking of that, let’s dump weighted crunch machines, too. All of the yuck of crunches and sit-ups, but with weighted resistance added. Sounds like turd stew to me.

Put a stake in the heart of the run streak.

Man, my knee hurts. But I've got to keep my run streak going!

Man, my knee hurts. But I’ve got to keep my run streak going!

Runners are a funny bunch. Every day not consumed, in part, by a run feels like a wasted opportunity to this crowd. They want to run every damn day. So someone concocted the idea of the run streak, which is a lot like these month-long burpee challenges that annoy me so much. But with run streakers, the party goes on and on and on… and then you get hurt. Runners are particularly vulnerable to overuse injuries, which is why we are often told to program rest days, to taper before races, and even to take occasional breaks from running for a week or two. The run streak negates all this, never giving your body the time it needs to recover from all those miles. Why do this? Pride? Fun? Motivation? OK, do what you want to do. Just tell me how proud you’ll be of being sidelined, how much fun it will be when you can’t run, and how motivational people will find you when you’re in a boot with a stress fracture. One of the most important parts of training is recovery, so if you want to be a runner over the long haul, you’ll blow off all those stupid run streaks. Rest so you can run another day.

Glad I got that off my chest. Cranial pressure is (temporarily) relieved. Do you disagree? Holler and tell me why. Have some more fitness trends you’d like to see sent packing? Comment below.

Bob Doucette

Revisiting speed work: What my workouts have looked like

Well, lookey there. It's me trying to run fast. This one is during a trail race and not in a speed workout.

Well, lookey there. It’s me trying to run fast. This one is during a trail race and not in a speed workout.

Earlier this week, I wrote about doing more — and harder — speed workouts as part of my weekly training. I got a lot of good feedback here on the blog, on Facebook and on Twitter. A lot of you have been putting in the work in terms of speed already, and more of you are interested in trying these types of workouts for yourself.

I’m sure there is a ton of information on the Web about speed workouts, their benefits, and how to do them. I figured I’d share what mine have looked like for the past few weeks. The goal is to include one speed workout per week. Any more than that — especially if you are into doing the longer distances — might be counterproductive.

This isn’t a schedule or a plan, just what I’ve been doing with the able coaching of a trainer at my gym. Also: I’m not fast, but not a total beginner. So the speeds listed are for me, with the goal of breaking 24 minutes in a 5K. So here goes…

Week one

Warm-up (2 minutes, 10-minute pace)

5 x 800 meter intervals at 8-minute pace (one lap walk break in between)

Five-minute cool-down (could be an easy-pace run or, if inside, something low impact such as an elliptical or stationary bike. I can’t believe I just typed that, but there ya go).

We decided that I cruised through that fairly easily, to the next speed workouts were going to be more difficult.

Week two

Warm-up (same as before)

5 x 1,000 meter intervals at 8-minute pace (one-lap walk break between intervals)

This was harder, but still doable. Definitely could feel getting into that anaerobic state on the last couple of intervals. From here, we experimented with faster speeds.

Week three


5 x 400-meter intervals: first two at 7:30 pace; second two at 7-minute pace; last one at 6:40 pace. (one-lap walk break between intervals)


This one was tougher, mostly because of the speeds. But still doable. At the end of the week, we did our two-mile time trials. I did mine in 16:42, and it felt as if I was in an anaerobic state a lot earlier than I expected. But finding myself in that state during the speed workouts allowed me to settle in and gut out the last laps breathing really hard.

Week four


400-meter interval at 7:30 pace, walk a lap.

2 x 800-meter intervals at 7:30 pace, walk a lap between intervals.

400-meter interval at 7:30 pace

Cool down

The 800s at that pace were difficult. But I do believe I can go faster, or do more intervals.

Couple of notes

These training runs are best done in one of two venues: at an outdoor track (it’s easy to measure distance by the lap) or (again, I can’t believe I’m typing this) at the gym/home on a treadmill (easy to track distance and set speeds). It may not be as fun as running free on the road or on the trails, but sometimes this is how you build performance. It can’t all be fun and games.

Eventually the goal is to string together consecutive 1,000-meter stretches at a speed that will break that 24-minute 5K time. This would be a major improvement from my PR (26:08) and would nudge me closer to the front quarter of the pack in most larger races.

I’d like to emphasize that in terms of speed work, these are novice paces — plenty of runners near my age crush longer runs at speeds faster than an 8-minute pace. But this is where I’m at, a guy who does most runs in the 9:30 to 10-minute range. The whole purpose of doing speed work is to break out of a multi-year rut. Scale your speed workouts to your ability.

So what are you doing for speed? What are your goals, and what are you doing to get there? Feel free to share your successes, failures and ideas in the comments.

The dreaded setback: Six things you need to do when you’re injured

This is a tool, one that gives you power. But use it wrong, and it's a source of pain. And setbacks.

This is a tool, one that gives you power. But use it wrong, and it’s a source of pain. And setbacks.

If you’re an active person, there is a good chance you have to deal with the dreaded setback. We push our bodies hard, trying to get in better shape, to sharpen our competitive edge, to get stronger. But then something comes along, and boom – you’re flat on your back, or walking with a limp, or something else that shows you’re not quite right.

Though I try to be athletic, it’s not a natural talent for me. What I lack in natural ability I make up for in effort. Unfortunately, that can land me in trouble. A few knee and ankle sprains from basketball, for example. A series of nasty neck tweaks from jujitsu. A back injury from weight training.

The last of those three is the one that comes back to haunt me the most. A little more than 10 years ago, I was squatting pretty heavy – too heavy, as it turns out, given my actual strength and subpar form. My back seized on me mid-rep, forcing me to drop the weight off my back and crash to the floor. Fortunately, this was in my garage gym, so no one else got hurt or startled by the crash, but the injury was there just the same.

As the years have gone by, I’ve done my best to avoid reinjuring my back. But every now and then, it flares up, most recently about two months ago. Again, I was lifting hard – careful on the squats, but really trying to get after it on my deadlifts. One day at the gym, I was getting under the bar for my first set of back squats, and at the bottom of the lift, that familiar, painful twinge seized me. The workout was pretty much over before it began. I backed off the squats for awhile, but within a week, I felt good enough to resume heavy deadlifts.

A month later, after finishing off a particularly grueling round of deadlifts, it happened again: while doing a set of snatch-grip deadlifts, my back freaked out. This time, I had to stop doing my favorite lift altogether.

It’s frustrating to see progress halted so abruptly by the body you’re working so hard to improve, but it happens. The “down time” – days and weeks following such a setback, when you’re figuring out what you can and should do as you heal – can be really important. For me, this last mishap helped teach me a good number of things, so I’m going to share them with you:

Back off and heal. No pain, no gain, right? Wrong. Soreness is one thing. Injury is another. Pain is not weakness leaving the body. It’s your body trying to tell you something’s amiss. If you’re running hard but battling severe knee pain to the point where your speeds and distances are falling off, maybe you need some time off, or find an alternative for your endurance training for a period of time (swimming or cycling, for example). If you’re bench-pressing like a madman but your shoulder sockets are on fire, perhaps you’re pressing your way to a serious injury. You can’t outwork an injury by going harder. Swallow your pride and heal.

Re-evaluate how you’re training. This is key, as it may reveal what’s causing the injury in the first place. For me, I needed to think hard about how I was doing two different exercises, and I was able to identify what was going wrong. Bad form was to blame in both cases, causing my already janky back to work extra hard to make up for weaknesses elsewhere. Load enough weight on that dicey platform and it’s no wonder I got hurt. My advice: have someone watch you lift and give you feedback. Have that person record you doing some reps, then watch the replay. Be ruthless in critiquing your form and fix it. In the short-term, that probably means backing off the weight for a time until you get your form right. Lifting lighter with good form is far better than lifting heavier with poor form. Same goes with running. Plenty of running shops offer stride analysis, and good coaching can fix bad running form. It may take awhile to get used to the changes, but in the long run you’ll benefit. Ask any reformed heel-striker, they’ll tell you the same.

Find alternative exercises. Back squats may have been out, but I could still do lighter front squats. And I came to love/hate the Bulgarian split squat. These didn’t replace anything, but they kept me working vital muscle groups while I was unable to load up on the back squats.

Embrace the warm-up. I’ve become a fan of corrective exercises and the foam roller. I don’t spend a huge amount of time on either, but enough to make sure I’m ready for the work to come. And before a hard lift (especially on days where I’m doing the big lifts), I do things to warm up before walking up to/getting under the bar. Sumo squats with a 60-pound kettlebell? Dang right. Three sets of them at the beginning of my leg day before I even sniff the squat rack. Smirk if you want to, but neglecting those light warmup sets is a mistake I’ve often regretted.

You may feel like you have to crush it every day. But dude. Take a rest day.

You may feel like you have to crush it every day. But dude. Take a rest day.

Take your rest day. God rested on Day 7, so if it’s good enough for The Almighty, it’s good enough for you. One day a week, you need to chill. Eat right, or course. But spend a day not running, not lifting, not crushing a ride or ballin’ so hard. Enjoy some Netflix or a football game on the tube. Relax. Your body needs it.

Reevaluate periodically. If your workout is working, cool. If it’s not? Maybe it’s time to change things up. And if you’re finding yourself getting too run down, or battling through too many nagging injuries, it’s definitely time to make changes. Don’t get stuck in a training routine that takes you nowhere, or worse, keeps getting you hurt. Embracing change in these situations is a good thing.

Fast-forward to the present, I’m gradually working back into my older routines, with an eye on the lessons I most recently learned. Surprisingly, the gains are coming, and showing up in new ways – faster, more powerful running, for example. Here’s to getting fitter, stronger and faster while staying injury-free.

What injuries have you dealt with? What did you do to get back on track? Let’s hear about it in the comments.

Bob Doucette