strength training

Three tips for training around injuries

Though I’m not old, (40 is the new 30, right?), I am confronted on a daily basis with chronic aches and pains that come from nowhere.

This is Anne. She works out even when she's wearing a boot. 

This is Anne. She works out even when she's wearing a boot. 

It's like my body is now cashing in all of the checks I wrote in my teens and twenties. One day my achilles hurts, the next day it's my achilles and my knees, and by Wednesday, I don't know what the hell I did to my shoulder but that's messed up too.

Who's kidding?  

As it turns out, just Father Time.

I'm not sure that anything is more discouraging than feeling like you can no longer do the activities that you want to do. Suddenly you do feel old and worse yet, incapable. For awhile you grind through the pain and depending on the issue, that might be okay for a time. But eventually that will catch up with you too. 

Before long, out of shear frustration you might decide to stop doing anything at all, though as a friend once told me "my aunt stopped working out because her back hurt and that was 40 years ago."

Once you stop doing anything, it's difficult to start up again. 

So if you're looking for the number one tip for training around an injury, it's gotta be this one:

1. Don't stop training

Since working at my current gym, I've seen a number of clients who work through and around pain and injury on a daily basis. In the photo above, you see Anne planking with a boot on her foot. She works around her aches and pains. In her mind, that's just part of what you do. In many other folks minds, that's when you take time off. Depending on the specific injury, some time off may be in your best interest, but in many cases, there is still something that you can do. 

If you have knee pain, you can still focus on your upper body. If you have shoulder pain, you can still focus on your lower body. If you have both, no worries - there's still core work and other, regressed exercises you can likely do.    

Below is a photo of Andrea, who is 54 year’s old, planking with 60 pounds worth of chains on her back. She held the plank for close to a minute (or eight slow breaths) and did four sets. Combined with some other core work. 

I would have given her more chains, but she was already using them all. 

I would have given her more chains, but she was already using them all. 

Aside from the fact that Andrea is ridiculously strong and this picture is diesel, she is a client who often reminds me of how much you can still do, even when you have restrictions.

At 54 years old, Andrea is less than three years removed from a double knee replacement. Since that surgery, she has dropped 20 pounds and has maintained her fat loss. With the knee replacement came certain restrictions - there is plenty that she cannot do - and like many other folks adjusting to their bodies with age - probably plenty of days she'd like to take off.

But she consistently shows up for her workouts three times per week. And does plenty on her own in between. 

When I asked what advice she might have for folks trying to work out around injury, she offered this next tip. 

2. Be willing to do a different routine than you used to do

A little while back I wrote a post about training for the past, which is a difficult habit to break, especially for those who have been training for many years. It's so easy to focus on "getting back to an 8-minute mile or 2x bodyweight deadlift" instead of training for who and where you are now. ust because you can't do the same exercises in the same way you used to doesn't mean you need to quit training - but it might mean you need to make some adjustments for the long game. 

Andrea can squat - but not to parallel - and because of that knee replacement, she can no longer do any exercises from her knees. I've also seen her deal with hip and shoulder pain at times. But what I've come to appreciate most in working with her is her focus on what she can do and the way she takes her ego out of her decision-making. If she can't do an exercise she'll flat out tell you.   

Sometimes, myself included, we do exercises we know I shouldn't be doing. (Like maybe bench pressing only 5 months out of shoulder surgery even though it kind of hurts). I have no good reason for doing that stupid stuff other than letting my ego get in the way. 

Andrea's third piece of advice (she practically wrote this, thanks Andrea) is this:

3. Find a coach

When you are dealing with an injury, find a coach who can program properly for you. In the case of knee pain or a knee injury, which most folks over the age of 35 have in some form or another, there's still plenty that you can do, but there's also a list of exercises that you should probably avoid. Finding a coach to help you navigate those decisions can go a long way in helping you build back your confidence in training, and having some trust in your body again.  

Bonus tip: seek medical advice

As someone who avoids doctors way more than I should, I know this is a tough one. But it's important to know what you're dealing with when it comes to pain, and it's very helpful for your coach. No coach worth her salt is going to guess her way into working out around an injury. 

Have an injury? Or questions about training around an injury? Leave a comment below or shoot me an email at  

Do you know your why?

Motivation is a tricky little devil.

For some people, it lives in the scale. 

For others, it lives in the prescription bottle of blood pressure medication.

My dad's answer to any question that began with why was always the same: to make you ask questions. Works, doesn't it?

My dad's answer to any question that began with why was always the same: to make you ask questions. Works, doesn't it?

And for others, motivation is in the eyes of your four-year-old nephew who wants to do chin ups off of your arm after playing football in the yard for an hour before snowboarding on the X-Box Kinect for two hours.

And you just want to make it to the end of the day in one piece :)

When I was in junior high, I found motivation every time I watched Rocky. The story was cliche, but I thought it was magic. I’d watch the montage of Rocky chasing the chicken and sprinting along the river in Philly and the next thing I knew, I was out running hills in my rural Pennsylvania town.

Thank God my parents didn’t have chickens…

I feel fortunate that I’ve never really struggled with motivation to work out, even through long bouts of depression. For the most part, the high I got from exercise was always enough to get me in to the gym or on a run.  

Until recently. 

With an impending shoulder surgery less than five days away, I found myself re-racking my weights last week and struggling to get through the next set. Tuesday wasn't much better, and by Friday I was walking on the treadmill just to feel like I did something. 

I was, and still am, consumed with an inner dialogue that I can't seem to turn off. All I hear myself saying over and over again is "what's the point?"

I've lost a handle on my "why." 

Why train hard now only to put myself on the shelf for the next six weeks if not longer? I generally strength train and run with the intention to build each workout off of the last. Suddenly last week, I didn't feel like I was building on anything and man did it get harder to put on my workout clothes.

And I WORK in a gym. 

Intellectually, I have plenty of reasons to work out. I know I should be as strong as possible heading into the surgery so that I can heal better afterwards. 

But I am not connected to my why. I'm just not feeling it. 

And that's a difficult place to be. 

If we're not connected to our reasons to do something, the struggle to build and maintain the habit can feel not just difficult, but monumentally so. 

The reason behind your goals. Maybe you work out to lose weight, but what's the "why" behind that? Do you have an emotional connection to that why? What will happen when you lose that weight?

You'll fit into that dress.

And what will happen when you fit into that dress?

There are so many layers to motivation. It's like Shrek says - onions have layers, ogres have layers, and motivation has layers. 

What emotion is tied to the goal?

There's a reason so many people use a high school reunion as motivation to get back into shape or into better shape; high school is often filled with a lot of pain. Teenagers can be cruel - you were made fun of for the way you dressed, the way you looked, or who you hung out with.

If you're busting your hump to get in better shape for the reunion, your motivation is pain. And pain is an incredibly effective motivator.  

As many of you have read, when I first started running, I was battling chronic depression. My why for working out was a desperation to feel better, and quite honestly, try to out run my pain and sadness. 

The transition into strength training came from a similar place. I was struggling so hard with my career, wondering what I was going to do with myself and scared that I'd never find my place in this world - but I gradually came to find my place in the weight room. I got hooked on deadlifting because I needed so much to feel like I was good at something. 

Now I have to re-visit my motivation - so my plan today is to sit down with a pen and paper and act like a toddler. 

And if  you don't know your why either, perhaps you can sit down today and do the same. 



Are you doing this after your workouts?

That headline is total click bait..

But if you clicked on this post because you were curious then…well…:-)

Years ago, my big brother had a roommate who was really into lifting weights and had the massive biceps and limited shoulder range of motion to prove it. I can remember going to visit them and seeing Justin’s tub of what I presumed was steroids, on the kitchen counter.

Kidding. I didn’t think it was steroids. 

I used to think this stuff was some illegal substance that inflated your muscles. Turns out it's just vanilla protein. 

I used to think this stuff was some illegal substance that inflated your muscles. Turns out it's just vanilla protein. 

I just assumed it was something that was inflating his muscles. 

As it turns out, it was "inflating" his muscles. 

It was protein powder. 

And protein promotes muscle growth. 

When I first started lifting weights, I thought protein was a bro thing that guys like Justin used to get swole or jacked or whatever the current lingo is that I don’t know because I’m suddenly old. Somewhere along the way, a coach finally talked me into consuming 15-20 grams of protein within an hour after working out, and I’ve been doing it ever since.

Consuming protein after a strength training workout helps to build lean muscle, which is especially helpful after you’ve spent that past 60 minutes lifting weights and causing those micro tears in your muscles. 

Protein maximizes muscle retention, and especially for those trying to drop some body fat, helps to ensure that most of the weight loss is actually fat and not muscle. And as an added bonus, protein also provides the highest thermogenic effect - i.e. you burn more calories by consuming protein. (Ever heard of the meat sweats?)

Regardless of whether or not you do resistance training, increased protein intake is helpful with fat loss. Of the three macronutrients (Fat, carbohydrates and protein), protein is the most satiating. That shake you drink after your workout is going to keep you fuller longer and cause an overall lower calorie intake. 

Protein doesn’t have to come in the form of a meat head container, though you’ll see in the picture to the right that mine does. You could consume some cottage cheese or greek yogurt after a workout, but protein powder is convenient, and if you find the right kind, is also low in carbs, calories and high in flavor. 


Last minute gift ideas

As I type this, my niece and nephew are taking naps. Not gonna lie, Aunt Kimmie had a nap too.

In fact, I think Aunt Kimmie probably needed the nap more than they did. 

Ho ho ho my goodness. 

Ho ho ho my goodness. 

So far today we've played hot potato, made ginger bread houses (so sticky), and played football in the back yard.

Before I get back to to "Despicable Me," I thought I'd throw out a couple of last minute gift ideas for the fitness enthusiast in your life. Or the person who is planning to become a fitness enthusiast in the new year. 

1. The New Rules of Lifting books

If you can get to your local Barnes and Nobles, pick up one any one of Lou Schuler's New Rules of Lifting books. I got my first start with fitness by using The New Rules of Lifting for Women - it was both an education on lifting and also included six months worth of programming from Alwyn Cosgrove and some great recipes from Cassandra Forsythe. It's the best 15 bucks you can spend.

Though I haven't had a chance to read it yet, Lou and Alwyn recently updated the original book with "Strong," which includes nine workout programs. They have several books in the series, and any one of them would be a great pick up for someone wanting to get fit.

2. A heart rate strap

While there are plenty of fitness devices out there that will track your heart rate, I've found that the straps you wear around your chest work best. To date, I've tried out three different brands, including Polar, Wahoo, and MyZone. The MyZone straps are often sold and used at certain gyms (we use them at Spurling), but both Polar and Wahoo can be found on Amazon or at Best Buy. 

If your recipient is a smart phone user, the Polar H7 Bluetooth Heart Rate Sensor or the Wahoo Tickr Heart Rate Monitor both work with smart phones or Apple Watches. Either option will cost you around 50 bucks. Though I haven't done my own review on this site, I'd rank them, in order of performance, just the way they are here. The MyZone has worked best for me, followed by the Polar and then the Wahoo.

If you'd like to read a more thorough review, check out this recent article from

3. Fitness E-books

If you're looking for something a little more advanced and you don't have time to actually go anywhere, there are some fantastic e-products out there, including Eric Cressey's High Performance Handbook which is the closest thing you can find to working out at Cressey Sports Performance. This program is perfect for anyone who is looking for some guidance on strength training - and Eric has broken the programming down into either two days, three days, or four days. 

You could also hop on over to Nia Shanks website (check it out even if you don't need gifts) and purchase the Lift Like a Girl Fat Loss program, or check out the Modern Women's Guide to Strength Training from the ladies over at Girls Gone Strong. 

Ok, the kids are awake and we're about to get our Minions on. 



Do you have knee pain when you squat?

For some clients, that question is akin to:

Does a bear.....?

Is the pope....?

And I get it. Somewhere along the way, our knees become cranky from years of abuse; playing football, field hockey, or running away from cops at keg parties in the corn field.

Not you? Um...well, there's not a lot to do in Western PA. 

We try squats as part of a workout routine, discover they hurt our knees, and so we quit squatting. 


It’s like the old joke.

Do jumping jacks make you pee your pants?


Then you can be sure they'll be in your next program.

I kid, I kid. Kind of. 

Here's the thing: you can avoid jumping jacks, but you can't avoid squatting. 

Sure you can avoid doing squats with your training, but you can’t avoid them in your day-to-day life. You squat to get into a chair, out of a chair, into your car, into bed etc. etc. etc. 

Squatting is your independence, especially as you age. Incorporating squats into your training helps build strength in the legs and hips, and stronger muscles mean more stable joints. (For those of you reading this who work out with my parents, please tell Rita to start doing them.) 

If squatting is this important to your daily life, why on earth would you not make it a priority in the gym? Well, probably because the movement caused too much pain, you felt like you’d never get back up again if you tried it, or, and I’ve heard this one several times, you’re afraid that actively squatting will make your thighs hyooooge.*(Hint - It won't.)

My dad is 70 years old, golfs every day, and has cranky, arthritic knees. He’s spent the last two weeks doing three sets of 15 bodyweight squats every day, and reported Sunday during our weekly FaceTime chat that, shocker of all shockers, his knees feel better.  

I'm not suggesting that you go all willy nilly with the squatting game here and load 200 pounds on your back, but below are some tips to get your squatting game on and, hopefully, avoid any discomfort in the process.  

1. Limit your range of motion

There is no need to squat ass to grass the way my nephew does when he's looking intently at a bug in the yard. He can do it because he's four years old. For the rest of us, poor ankle mobility, core strength and glute strength make it really difficult to get that low. The good news is unless your competing in a powerlifting competition, there's no need to go below parallel. 

So in the beginning, limit your range of motion and stop before you feel the pain.   


Begin by squatting to a high box. In the video above, I'm using a dumbbell held vertically to load the movement and squatting to an 18 inch box. Start with a 10 or 12 lb weight held tight to your chest, and tap the box, don't sit on it, before standing back up.

If squatting to this level still causes pain, raise the box a little higher with the addition of a plate or a few mats. 

The use of the box helps ensure that you can get to the desired depth, and can also help with technique. Speaking of which...

2. Concentrate on technique

One reason squatting may cause discomfort is that you end up too far over your toes. For a dumbbell goblet squat, think of touching your elbows to the inside of your knees and sitting straight down into your heels. You can also use a kettlebell or, if you have one, a sandbag. Keep your eyes straight forward and imagine putting your shoulder blades into your back pockets. Once you tap the box, push up through your heels to stand up. 

Pay attention to the movement of your knees - if your gym has a mirror, do the squats in front of it and make sure your knees aren't caving in. Think of pushing your knees out throughout the movement. You don't want it to look like this:



Make sure your heels are not coming off of the ground during the movement. For some people with poor ankle mobility, sitting back into the heels can make them feel like they're going to lose their balance and fall, as one client said yesterday, 'ass over teakettle'. If that's the case, try placing the box against a wall, or use a TRX:


Not sure what kind of ankle mobility you have?

Try this trick. Put your arms up over your head, and perform a deep squat. Then, raise your heels up on an inch-high plate or board and perform the same movement. Is it easier to squat with your heels raised? If so, you may have poor mobility in your ankles. 

3. Build the muscles around your knees. 

Strengthening your quadriceps (front of your thigh) and hamstrings (back of your thigh) can help decrease pain and help you better tolerate arthritis. Perform other exercises that will help strengthen these muscles as well.

Some of the exercises that can help with that are split squat, the bowler squat, the step up, or the TRX with knee drive. 

A suspension trainer like the TRX can be a great tool for those who are working on leg strength and balance. In this exercise, use the TRX as little as possible to steady yourself until you can do the movement without any assistance at all.

I could, and probably will, do an entire series on suspension training systems like the one seen in the video above (also called a TRX, which is a brand). These rings are incredibly useful for strengthening a movement - in the video above, I'm lightly holding onto the rings. Use the handles as little as necessary, until you work your way up to performing the exercise without requiring any assistance at all. 

If that movement feels too easy, graduate to using a box step up with a knee drive. (I like to call these Jane Fonda's, because it looks to me like something she would have done in one of her videos.)


In summary:

Squat. It's important. Limit your range of motion, work on your technique, and incorporate other exercises to strengthen those muscles around the legs. 

If you're not sure about your technique, film yourself from the front and the side and send the video to I'd be happy to take a look. 

* Some women are concerned especially that squatting will give them thunder thighs and for the most part, that's not the case. 

**Everyone’s hips sit in the joints differently, so while one person may squat comfortable with a wider stance, others may be more comfortable with a narrower stance. 


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