Is Your Workout Worth the Risk?

Risk assessment Almost everyone I know has a chronic injury of some sort. Maybe it’s a lower back that needs extra warming up before a long day, a knee that gets stiff on cold nights, or a tweaked shoulder that prevents good overhead positioning. They’re usually not crippling, debilitating, or otherwise serious infirmities, but they are injuries that limit quality of life and performance. And all those people, to a person, got their injuries from training. My understanding is that this is true for most people who exercise regularly. Injuries happen to everyone.

It’s possible that I’m experiencing selection bias. Perhaps the injury history of the general exercising public isn’t anything like the history of my circle of ex and current endurance athletes, serious fitness buffs, Ultimate Frisbee enthusiasts, and otherwise active individuals. But I’d wager that most people who step foot into a gym have a nagging injury of some sort. The research suggests injuries happen quite frequently.

A recent survey of CrossFit athletes found that 73.5% had experienced an injury during training, 7% of which required surgery. But before the anti-CrossFit crowd starts gloating, realize that this injury rate is similar to Olympic lifting, powerlifting, and gymnastics and lower than contact sports like rugby. Similar polls in runners find that in a given year, 13% of runners experience knee injuries, 8% get Achilles tendinitis, 7% suffer hamstring pulls, 10% deal with plantar fasciitis, 10% have shin splints, 14% report iliotibial band syndrome, and 6% get stress fractures. There’s no way around it: engaging in non-essential, extracurricular bouts of physical exertion, also known as working out, carries some risk. Not working out carries its own set of (greater) risks, but that’s beside the point. As many a lauded strength coach has said, injuries are a matter of when, not if. And many of these injuries become chronic injuries that stay with you for the rest of your life.

But why single out workout injuries when painters are falling from ladders, people are getting into car accidents, high school basketball players are tearing their ACLs, and desk jockeys are getting carpal tunnel syndrome? Those are unavoidable. Painters have to work on ladders and software developers have to type to eat. High school kids are going to play high school sports. People drive to get to work, pick up their kids, run errands. Accidents will happenWith training injuries, we make our bed and choose to fall out of it. We try for that extra rep when we know we probably shouldn’t. We attempt the CrossFit WOD as Rx’d even though we’re completely gassed. We choose to train for a marathon.

There are also regulations in place to protect people as they go about their days supporting the machine of civilization. We want people driving to work safely, so we have road signs, traffic signals, and lane dividers. We have workplace safety legislation to prevent excessive maiming of employee limbs. High school sports have referees and rulebooks. But once you step under the bar or strap on those running shoes, you’re on your own. Whatever happens is up to you alone.

We’re going to work out. We’re going to stay active and move our bodies and challenge our limits, but we don’t want to get injured. How do we limit these injuries? How do we make good choices?

Barring discussion of specific exercise techniques, like “keep your weight on your heels” or “break at the hips, not the back” or “land on the mid-to-forefoot when running” (because those are beyond the scope of this post and would turn it into a book), what can we do? What should we watch out for? What shouldn’t we ignore? What should we ignore?

Trust your gut.

Most of my injuries were preceded by a gut feeling that I should stop the workout. It’s not always a physical signal, and actual pain isn’t necessarily involved. It’s a subtle sensation that something is amiss and proceeding would be a poor choice.

What’s odd is that I can’t remember an instance where ignoring that feeling turned out well. As far as I can remember, it always ends with a tweak, sprain, pull, twinge, failed rep, or worse. It’s never been worth it, and yet I’ve done it so many times. I bet you have, too.

So stop it. Heed those hints we get from our subconscious.

Train the deadlift, maintain the squat.

That’s what human movement expert Gray Cook recommends. Not everyone needs to place a heavy bar on their back, squat down, and stand up. But everyone should be able to squat unassisted and unweighted, whether it’s to poop while abroad, play blocks with your kid, or perform a nice morning Grok stretch. The comfortable squat is a good barometer for being human.

Determine why you’re doing what you’re doing and whether it’s worth the risk.

That triple set of 20 kipping pullups performed at the end of a long stressful work week would make a sweet Facebook post. But is it really worth it, or would a few sets of strict chinups achieve similar things while drastically reducing the risk you incur with the kips?

Do you really need to deadlift 500 pounds? Some people, yes. Most, no. Most would be more than strong enough with a double bodyweight deadlift.

Are you chasing big numbers or fast times or that marathon for a good reason? Get down deep into the nitty gritty and expose your true motivation. You may find that it’s still worth pursuing, but at least you’ll know for sure.

Move around a little every day.

Don’t train every day (or even most). Move. This keeps you limber, loose, and out of stasis. Doing a light movement session every single morning (perhaps as a part of your morning routine) gets this out of the way early.

Don’t dread your training.

Mortal fear on the eve of a Tuesday workout is a bad sign, folks. You can certainly approach your training with a bit of apprehension, but all-out existential dread? You might want to reevaluate why you’re doing what you’re doing.

Leave some in the tank.

Not every training session has to be a breakthrough workout. Not every training session can be a breakthrough workout. You can’t go to failure every time.

Just back off. Don’t get the extra rep. Leave one, two, maybe even three in the tank.

Develop a bone broth habit.

Get into the rhythm of making bone broth on a regular basis. Or, make a bunch at once and freeze it for later. But even if bone broth isn’t a strong source of bone-relevant minerals, the collagen alone is important for keeping joints pliable, lubed up, and resilient, and the glycine in the gelatin can make your sleep more restorative and counter any potential inflammatory effects of specific muscle meat amino acids. Drink about a cup a day.

If you can’t do the movement unweighted, don’t do it with weight.

This is a pretty simple concept that many people ignore because adding weight can help you force your joints past a difficult spot. That’s just gravity exerting greater pull on you; it’s not evidence of improved mobility, and it’s probably not all that safe.

Learn the difference between pain and soreness.

Training can hurt. It can “burn” during the session. It can lead to extreme soreness for days after as the microtears in your muscle fibers repair themselves. But it shouldn’t cause pain. Pain indicates malfunction. It means danger. It suggests your tissues are rupturing, are about to rupture, or have already ruptured. Get to know pain so you know when to hold back and when to push through.

Don’t train through pain.

Once you’ve encountered and known pain, don’t ignore it. If you get a sharp stabbing pain in the back of your left knee during passive knee flexion, skip squats today. It simply isn’t worth it. There’s always tomorrow (or next month, if the pain’s bad enough).

Incorporate single arm and leg training.

Squats and deadlifts and overhead presses are great, but have you tried lunges, single leg deadlifts, and dumbbell presses? They work many of the same muscles as the bilateral movements while being a bit safer and forcing you to develop balance, mobility, and stronger stabilizer muscles.

Do a variety of exercises.

Repetitive motion breeds injury, whether you’re working at a mouse and keyboard for 8 hours a day, throwing fastballs, jogging the same route at the same pace, or doing the same four exercises for years on end. If all you’ve ever done is pullups, the occasional chinup won’t kill you. And it may even help.

If you’re at all hesitant about your technique, get evaluated by a professional.

Even though I said I wouldn’t discuss technique or form, this is more of a general recommendation. Chances are you’ve spent a lot of your life sitting in chairs, standing in heeled shoes, and doing other activities that impair your tissue’s ability to move freely and fluidly. You may need an expert’s eye before you can expose those tissues to training stressors in a safe way.

Want to do a basic 5×5 barbell program but your squat feels off? Don’t just power through it. Get a pro to look at your form and give you some tips.

Want to train for a marathon while wearing Vibrams? Don’t just launch into a training program. Check out a POSE running workshop, or look for a barefoot/minimalist running group or coach in your area.

Today, I want you to take a good long look at the way you’re training. Be honest with yourself: is it worth the risk? Do the rewards justify the threat of injury?

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TAGS:  prevention

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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81 thoughts on “Is Your Workout Worth the Risk?”

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    I’ve been on a cycle of getting strong then getting injured and getting out of shape for years.

  2. I find that starting my day with 15-20 minutes of yoga and ending the day with 10-15 minutes of yoga improves my daily strength workouts. I feel more alert, limber, and in tune with my body. As you said, if I get a “feeling” that a workout is heading south, I’ll stop. It isn’t worth the risk. I’d rather take a couple of days off to heal instead of 4-6 weeks to nurse an injury.

  3. I used to run 50+ miles a week but never felt …. great. I had ongoing shin/knee/IT band pain, was bloated and lethargic, etc. I cut the mileage in 1/2 (really almost in 1/3), still eat the same amount, haven’t gained a pound and feel 100x better.

  4. After digging through nutritional information extensively I’ve darn near cured my carpal tunnel by supplementing some (lots of ) minerals that play a role in such injuries. Who knew… but now I do and suspect maximal mineral status plays a bigger part in other injuries as well. So, thanks, Mark, and maybe add a look see at the role mineral deficiencies may play in injury prone-ness!

  5. Great post Mark but sometimes training to failure isn’t that bad! “If you can’t do the movement unweighted, don’t do it with weight” –> this is a big one. Always make sure you train using the right form before adding extra weights. Thanks for the post!

  6. right on..
    it’s the naturalness of the everyday life that needs to be emulated..
    groksters never gave it their all .. all of the time..
    that would be too frenetic..
    there is only so much flight or fight that occured
    there were times to relax or take it easier also..
    the squat one got me.. being a desk jockey, sitting too much and trying to do even a light weight caused strain on the hipjoint.. form is ultimate..
    now I only squat without weight.. works much better..

  7. Timely article and a good one! An old nagging back injury started bothering me on Sunday and here I am half way through the 21 Day challenge and wondering how to complete my exercises. Well, I know what I’m able to do so lots of walking and stretching. Thanks Mark! You’ve shown me I don’t need to push myself as hard as I thought.

  8. The best source I know about safe strength training is Bill Desimone. Check out his books, especially Congruent Exercise, and his YouTube videos. (He would not approve of Mark’s suggestion of unilateral conventional deadlifts or squats.) After his own major injury (biceps rupture), Bill studied biomechanics and attempted to apply it systematically to strength training. Great stuff.

    1. One-legged squats with significant weight added forces the body to strongly center the weight by angling the femur (from hip to knee) medially. This creates terrible imbalances in time which can cause the femur to actually move medially and stay there. Then the patella eventually will not line up with the femur – clicking of the knee can happen. It can also lead to pronation of the feet.

      1. I felt that happening to me with one-legged squats on Monday and I stopped. Great advice!

  9. That was awesome! I plan to share your words of wisdom with others!Thank you for another great article!!

  10. Years ago, when my family was going through a particularly stressful time, a friend invited me to go to they gym with her. I had already been working out for years, but I wasn’t primal. I should have realized that my body was exhausted & in no state to work out, but I told myself that I was finally doing something for ME.
    So I went to the gym & jumped on the hack-squat machine. I “knew” that something was not right on my first squat. But there was no pain so I did all my reps anyway. I got off the machine, took a step, and my knee collapsed. Then I felt the pain!
    In tears & frustration (and with an ice pack), I left the gym.
    After doctors, an MRI & physical therapy, I still don’t have my old knee back. Sometimes I don’t have any pain, and sometimes it creeps back.
    But since that day, when I get a twinge of pain in my knee or that little nagging feeling that “something” is not right (anywhere in my body), I stop what I’m doing. I do something else. Or nothing at all. It hasn’t been easy because I like to push myself, but I think it’s smarter than injuring myself again.

    1. Hi Beth
      Check out the book from Kelly Starrett?”How to become a supple leopard”
      For years I had a “delicate” knee, I fixed it with the voodoo wraps (google voodoo wraps, Kelly Starrett?, etc).

  11. Perfect timing for me (like a previous poster said)

    Today I broke my sprints record by a big chunk (like a 5%), following a previous week record.

    Feeling energized I had the plan to try today at noon to check my mile (it’s been some time since I try it)

    And you know what? Will not do it today, will leave it for some other day
    I don’t need to get another bout of plantar fasciitis.

    So for today I continue with my glow of my new sprints record and the usual stretches, ending the day at 6pm with a Zumba class!

  12. I’m 51 and I have honestly never gotten injured yet. Running in minimalist shoes, working on balance and core and not getting competitive helps. I exercise for enjoyment only.

  13. Love the idea of really getting down to what our motivation for the workout is. It shouldn’t be to sound cool, get some glory, or anything besides reaching optimal health!

  14. The biggest benefit of going primal for me has been not having to work out so much, simply more effectively. I have a few nagging injuries from my years in the Service and being a personal trainer but I have found following these principles I tend to feel better most of the time. I get the cycle part of it though, I have been feeling really strong for quite a few months now and rather then stick with what has been working I decided to push it again and now I am in recovery mode as I tweaked my shoulder again.

  15. This is why I do CrossFit, but remove ridiculous things that cause injuries (that I see daily in my clinic) such as 1RM deadlift, toes to bar, GHD, etc.

    1. I agree. The CrossFit concept is great, but some of the movements are purely for show, dangerous and serve no real purpose. Those crazy kippling pullups are a prime example.

    2. What kind of injury results from toes to bar? (not that I can do any but just curious!)

      1. Repetitive flexion of the low back leads to posterior disc herniations. Then this being paired with other movements where you need to resist low back flexion (dead lifts). Have probably seen about 12-15 directly from this loading in the last two years.

        1. Would I be correct in guessing that toes-to-the-bar injuries partially result from not enough flexibility in shoulders, handstands, back, etc.? There’s a definite difference between a gymnast with pointed toes and straight legs doing a leg lift and the all-too-common bent-kneed semi-planched person doing one.

        2. “There’s a definite difference between a gymnast with pointed toes and straight legs doing a leg lift and the all-too-common bent-kneed semi-planched person doing one.”

          The bent-kneed version is more natural. Most of the now-standard gymnastics techniques are unnatural movements and ridiculously hard on the body. By the time she hits twenty, a high-level gymnast will have wear-and-tear to her spine like that of an average 50-year-old. Strains, sprains, fractures, concussions, herniated discs, and eventually hip replacements are the prices gymnasts pay. Olga Korbut claims her famous backwards somersault on the uneven bars “took five years and three head injuries to perfect.”

    3. Dr Anthony,
      What aspects of the GHD do you find problematic? it was my understanding that it was a useful / safe piece of equipment. I’ve just viewed a 9 minute Crossfit video, where several exercises were demonstrated on it. Are there any exercises that can be done on it that you view as less / more safe than others (I guess sit ups on the piece are a definite no no…well not guess, I’m sure, but what about the lower back / hamstring exercises?) , or do you have negative feelings towards this piece of equipment in general? If so why?

      1. A GHD when done with true hip extension isolation movement at the hip joint is fine. It is the way CrossFitters generally use it for sit-ups, cranking on their joints at end range, under load, repetitively that I have a problem with. I recently wrote a post addressing this at my website (

        1. Thanks for taking the time to reply Dr Anthony. Much appreciated.

  16. Great article! I’ve been reminder myself to listen to my gut instinct more lately…sometimes things just feel off, and any times that I’ve kept going after a gut warning, I get hurt. The biggest was tearing ligaments in my back deadlifting after noticing some dull pains before the lifts.

    This reminds me of an article I wrote about how the chronic exhaustion and increased risk of injury made me realize that there are diminishing returns to strength training, and plenty of health benefits come before you are super-advanced, so for most people it’s not worth pursuing elite level strength (again, most people). If anyone’s interested, I share my experiences here:

    Thanks Mark!

  17. Good article on do’s and don’ts of training. I would add a few things:
    1. Rehabilitation of injured joints and muscles is critical. My goal is to rehab the injury so that area is stronger than it was before. Finding a good PT (physical therapist) and maintaining a good relationship with them is critical as well. It can be a PT or DC or sports massage or Osteopath – whatever works for you.

    2. Backs seem to an issue for most people sooner or later. Personally, I know more people with messed up backs from doing yoga so be careful if yoga is your thing. Foundation Training developed by Dr Eric Goodman has proven itself with my wife, son and myself.

    3. An excellent joint mobility program is call R-phase by Eric Cobb.

    4. Egoscue Training was recommended to me by my Tai Chi teacher. I have done some of the online videos to help me through a knee tweak from skiing and the exercises are simple and seem to work.

    The bottom line is that a workout regimen needs to have a preventative group of movements like Pilates, Foundation Training, R-Phase, etc. Though I have done Tai Chi for 20+ years I hesitate to recommend it or Yoga because there is definitely a risk of injury if done incorrectly and in my experience there are not a lot of good teachers who know how to limit students egos to push and then get hurt. For example, Upward Dog done with the legs off the ground is very high risk for lower back injury. Most people should be doing Cobra with no weight on the lower back muscles. Upward Dog done by someone who knows the technique and has a good teacher who can spot slight form issues is safe, but, is it worth the risk.

    In summary, think about breaking your training into two parts. For every workout day (a run, crossfit, kettlebells, weight training, etc), have a core/preventative day like Pilates, Foundation Training, joint mobility, balance, etc. And, get on good terms with a good PT and rehab all your injuries back to making the injured component better than it was before. Invest time in finding a PT, ART specialist, ROLF’ing, Osteopath, etc that you trust and has a record of success helping you.

    And, last by not least, have a goal for how long you want to live and treat your body as if it has to last that long. If your goal is 100 and you want to be active that long, look at good examples like Jack LaLanne or others of what they did to be active and healthy to the end.

    1. “Backs seem to (be) an issue for most people sooner or later.”

      If you keep your hips strong and flexible, you can avoid most back and knee problems. It’s surprising how many athletes suffer through chronic injuries because they can’t be bothered to work on their hips.

      One of my newer students is a former dancer who had back surgery about a decade ago and still suffers from back pain. Now when she feels her back starting to get sore she does some SumoFit hip exercises and the pain goes away. I would love to take the credit, but those exercises I taught her are centuries old.

    2. “For every workout day (a run, crossfit, kettlebells, weight training, etc), have a core/preventative day like Pilates, Foundation Training, joint mobility, balance, etc”

      I love that advice! Thanks! I bought the Foundation Training DVD and haven’t even opened it yet. I did a 5 mile hike today. Foundation training tomorrow.

      When I injured my lower back, I used Gary Kraftsow’s “Viniyogatherapy” DVD for low back, sacrum, and hips. It worked great.

      1. “Prevention” doesn’t stop the wear and tear that takes place and creates issues like bone spurs, break down of the meniscus or ACL and other issues. Programs like distance running, Crossfit, heavy weight training along with high impact training such as plyometrics simply accelerate things.

        When you’re in your 20s or 30s, the cumulative affects of your training hasn’t happened yet. Stretching, acupuncture and other techniques don’t address the root issue, which is the damage to the soft tissue and ensuing compromise to the the integrity of the your biomechanics when you compensate.

        1. True, but we experience wear-and-tear no matter what, merely by breathing and having a pulse.

          What we’re talking about here is stretching, strengthening and stabilising specific areas so they don’t get injured PRIOR to the onset of wear-and-tear symptoms.

  18. Acupuncture has been my savior. Hook up with a good one and you really can eliminate chronic injuries that go back even decades. My acupuncturist has given back movement to a man who was paralyzed from a stroke, eliminated back and feet pain in people that had been suffering for over decade, cured tendonitis for those on disability, and cured migraines permanently. He even induced labor in my partner when her amniotic fluid was dangerously low and also increased contractions during labor so we could forgo drugs. The doctors were shocked at the efectiveness.

    I’ve been seeing him since 1998, when I went to him when I was on disability. He’s a primary reason I’m back in the water much faster than my friends after an injury and why after nearly 30 years of surfing I’m about the only one in my group who hasn’t had to have surgery on my shoulders, knees or elbows.

    It’s really true that your body can heal itself, but a lot of times it needs help to do so because your body is mainly concerned with being “good enough” so you can continue to reproduce. So it will often be happy with just building up some scare tissue and locking up the area to keep you from moving it around too much. Acupuncture gets your body past that sticking point of “good enough”.

    1. I may need to give acupuncture a try. I’ve overcome double shoulder impingement going to a chiropractor and relearning proper posture and learning to own my body in space, etc., but I’m still not 100%. I still feel a dull 5-15% “roar” in my shoulders on a daily basis, most likely from sitting at a desk all day. I don’t have pain, just a nagging. This might be the ticket for me, thanks!

      1. I highly recommend reading the published works of Dr John Sarno. I am an advocate due to my own recovery, which was astonishing. No medication, no rehabilitation and no surgery. Keep an open mind would be my only advice.

  19. The first rule of investing is, don’t lose money. The first rule of training is don’t injure yourself. A low impact machine like a C2 rower is great for cardio and sprints. And a set of TRX straps are a great way to modify body weight training. Mastering and implementing Marks primal movements on a habitual basis is really all one needs to be fit and minimize the potential for injury.

    1. I have some TRX straps that aren’t very equal.
      Where did you get yours?

      1. I was introduced to TRX by a trainer at the gym I go to. To me it seemed primal-like in that it involves core as well as isolates specific muscles. It’s working for me and I am getting great results The straps at the gym are fully adjustable and are marked at at different points. They have cam clips like the ones on strap for roof racks. The anchor point is a short loop that compensates and self adjusts if the straps are not set to the exact length with the cam clips.

  20. Excellent post Mark – thank you! I had that “gut feeling” yesterday working out – just joined the YMCA – and listened to it and stopped. I keep the weights light and do mostly free-weights and body weight stuff and mix up my routine.

  21. It’s a balancing act, for sure, between aspiration and limitation, and awareness is essential in maintaining that balance. One could say the whole human problem is expressed in this simplified dilemma.

    But at the end of the day… entropy wins. Keep your balance!

    : )

  22. A very helpful reminder. I sometimes think as humans we are only meant to move/exercise to certain extent due to the inevitable injuries I’ve seen from fellow team mates my whole life.

    There are those select individuals who seem indestructible but for the average person you don’t need to destroy yourself with exercise, it ultimately will do you and your fitness no good.

    I like to tell personal training clients that you should leave the gym wanting more. Work out to about 80% “full” during a workout to keep you fresh and wanting to return rather than dreading it. After all exercise is supposed to be fun and make you feel good

  23. Thought-provoking post. I’ve battled nagging injuries from time to time while training for marathons. There was a good stretch of time when it was worth it, when I got more out of the exercise than it took out of me. Recently it hasn’t been worth it, so I’ve opted for other exercises. Maybe it will be worth it again someday. Maybe it won’t.

  24. A very timely post, thank you. I have a history of injury whenever I participate in group exercise. I strained a knee ligament about a month ago in a beginning yoga class, and it’s just now healed up enough for me to return to class. This post is a good reminder for me to pay more attention to how it feels than to what anyone else’s expectations are.

  25. Someone finally said it! Thank you! And thanks for the tips on pacing ourselves!

    I’ve been trying to run for more than a year now to no avail because of injuries. I got hurt in Crossfit, and even YOGA training (to the nth degree, of course)! So I’ve scaled down big time and have been trying to find the sweet spot. It’s such an ego trip! And it’s great to give ourselves permission to be where we are, and yet to strive forward in healthy and balanced ways. Not all of us need to be, or are even capable of, being elite athletes! So much for being an over-achiever, aye? And those perfect questions you asked, “Why? Is it worth it?” Bingo! I like to ask myself how I want to feel in my days.

    I appreciate your clear and no-nonsense approach to writing, by the way. This was very refreshing!

    I’m definitely gonna check out the Pose method for running, too! Thanks for the link!

  26. Always so timely, you are. Except I think I needed to hear this last week! I’ve had a nagging knee injury from volleyball, and even though I made an appointment to get it looked at, I still chose to play. Well, Sunday was the breaking point (literally), when I came down from a hit and something in my knee decided enough was a enough. Might be a meniscus tear, which is “good” in comparison with other knee issues, but I knew something felt off that day. Sigh.

    Anyway, in my regular workouts I try to stop one short of “I can do one more!” So basically, when I think I can do just one more, that’s when I stop. It’s not worth it to push that hard when training to stay in shape and to stay healthy. That “rule” seems to work well for me. Well…except when it comes to playing volleyball apparently!

  27. I just saw an orthopedic surgeon yesterday for a bone spur and possible biceps lesion due to the spur from weight lifting; have a bad hip from running and other orthopedic issues. Have friends who are former Army Rangers and SEALs with chronic injuries from overuse whether it be running and/or PT/weights. Others who’ve dropped out of the weight game or Crossfit because of the cumulative injury issues. Even the so-called “safe” bodyweight gurus have members dropping out of programs because of shoulder injuries from high volume pushups or knee problems from bodyweight squats.

    Plain and simple:

    – Few warn or explain the potential issues that can arise later 10, 15 or 20 years after the wear and tear. Ken Hutchins, “Mr SuperSlow”, did in the 1980s to much criticism…others talked about the issues that could arise from cardio going back to the 1970s.

    – Most of us didn’t heed the caution. Too young and dumb, or, we knew better/knew more (at least in my case…)

    I’ve talked to my kids and told them training should be like medicine…just enough is good, too much will cause harm. Just because you can lift “X” or run so many miles doesn’t mean doubling down is better. Hopefully the message gets through so they don’t make the mistakes I made.

    Of course, the damage inflicted by football, boxing, MMA/UFC and the long term suffering is a discussion in and of itself.

    1. wow I can relate to this, looking back years:

      – Most of us didn’t heed the caution. Too young and dumb, or, we knew better/knew more (at least in my case…)

  28. Great post!

    I’m a personal trainer and my body has been broken too many times to count. Looking back I attribute all my injuries to 1) not enough focus on flexibility 2) too much focus on how much I could lift vs. how my body was able to move and 3) not enough variety in my training.

    About 5 years ago I stopped lifting weights (personally and with most of my clients) and started focusing on moving well. I’m proud to say that I haven’t had an injury in those 5 years (aside from a broken bone…unrelated!)

    I post all of my workouts in a video blog you can check out here:

    You’ll find lots of progressions and digressions that make these work for most people. I hope they help others stay injury-free!

  29. One of my ribs has been slightly ‘out’ for months, which causes a bit of pain below my shoulder blade. My chiropractor can’t realign my spine because of the tension in my shoulders so I just push through the pain. Probably not the best thing to do, but I really enjoy exercising. I’ve considered needling, any thoughts?

    1. I highly recommend reading the published works of Dr John Sarno. I am an advocate due to my own recovery, which was astonishing. No medication, no rehabilitation and no surgery. Keep an open mind would be my only advice.

  30. Am I the only person who thinks that “no more dangerous than Olympic powerlifting” is damning with faint praise?
    If the workout routine you have chosen in your pursuit of health has a 7% risk of an injury requiring surgery, and an X% chance of permanently damaging some body part, then maybe you need to think about how you are pursuing your goals.
    If you enjoy rugby, find boxing satisfying, or are doing some dangerous task for money, and the pleasure/cash it gives you outweighs the risk of temporary or permanent disability, then more power to you.
    But it seems to me like the rational thing is to be somewhat more moderate in our pursuit of health. Don’t do the last reps, or the silliest exercises, and you’ll be 80% as “fit” but also 60% more likely to be able to continue being fit, instead of having to take weeks/months off for rehab, or end up with a knee you’ve got to have replaced at 40 if you want to be able to walk more than a block. Why risk your health for your health? I don’t get it!

  31. The most important information to take away from this article, and what might seem like the most obvious, is to listen to your body.

  32. I’ve never liked weights. But ever since hearing Mark talk about body-weight exercises, as well as recommending gym rings, which I bought, exercise has been fun and consistent. Doing dips and pullups on the rings is a great thing,

  33. If, for example, 50 pushups a day is part of your routine, and you’ve been doing it for forty years, you may be upset one day when you pull a pec muscle and “never saw it coming”. It happens to the best of us. ; )

  34. Dear mark,

    How about Qi gong? You can do it everyday. I bet Grok did it!

  35. I highly recommend reading the published works of Dr John Sarno. I am an advocate due to my own recovery, which was astonishing. No medication, no rehabilitation and no surgery. Keep an open mind would be my only advice.

    1. Dr. Sarno’s books/DVDs, unfortunately, don’t address the root cause of injuries. For example, a torn rotator cuff will either a) force the person to stop the activity he or she is doing that caused it, or, b) surgery.

      Other examples:

      – As the person noted above, he was having joint pain from heavy weight lifting.
      He stopped the weight lifting and focused on mobility. The joint pain stopped.

      – A friend was a marathoner and had to stop due to the cumulative knee and hip damage. He’s had both hips replaced and a knee. Pain’s gone, no more running.

      The physics involved in training/exercise/sports, included the wear and tear and/or impact will inevitably take its toll.

      1. Considering Dr Sarno’s clinical studies reveal decreased blood flow to targeted muscle, nerve and tendon. I dare say this would compromise overall function leading to injury vulnerability.

        1. Then a diet focused on the reversal of plaque in the arteries should be one’s goal. Doctors with peer-reviewed programs such as Gundry, Esselstyn and others address this.

  36. My weirdness in the injury department is things like the other day…..bend down to get my daughters 1lb lunch kit and feel an unwelcome twinge in the back….. but I can I squat, lunge, deadlift, leg press and lift with all the other body parts without injury….so, yeah…didn’t see that one coming! lol

  37. Great post! As someone who too suffers with a chronic injury, I’ve learned over the years how to minimize the chances of creating new injuries and not make the chronic one worse. This is great advice on how to achieve that. Thanks!

  38. Great advice that is a nice blend of experience and using the research.

    My dad is 67 and when I was a young wanna be strength coach I used to give him a hard time for not pushing heavy weights enough. Despite the fact that I do think he can go a little heavier in an intelligent way in the weight room (some ways mentioned in this post) – he still lifts 2x a week, he sprints, he mountain bikes, downhill skis, plays softball, volleyball, and walks for an hour every day and he has never sustained a serious injury. He also has that light movement morning routine and lives by “rest today and train another day” if he doesn’t feel quite right.

    He is a great example for living a healthy but active lifestyle void of obsessive training or overly aesthetic based. He trains to move better so he has more fun when he plays.

  39. My first question to myself or to one of my training clients is “why”??
    Why am I doing this..?
    How is this movement going to help me…?
    If it serves a purpose… do it correctly!

    1. Ditto. You have to always ask yourself, “Am I moving, or just thrashing?”
      (Kind of like the old childhood taunt: “Is that a wiggle, or a struggle?”)

  40. I guess you can weigh it up against the other alternative – don’t do any training, and suffer eventual weak and diminished mobility, and a host of nasty diseases and degradations that go along with inactivity (including obesity or “skinny fat”).

    In groks day, I can imagine people died, or were injured by all manner of things related to hunting and day to day life, and tribal battles, etc.

    “When a man stares at death, the best thing he can do is smile back”

    1. The alternative is probably something between inactivity and grinding your joints in calcium dust.

      If you’re trying to be a competitive athlete, then, recognize your window of opportunity is extremely limited and then you’re singing “Glory Days”. Doesn’t matter if you’re a runner or lifter, except for the genetically gifted, the attrition rate is pretty much 100% when you approach your 40s.

      So, why not train for the long term? Instead of pushing for PRs or some esoteric goal which isn’t going to pay the bills, take care of your kids or mow the lawn, train for the enjoyment of it.

      Besides, a lot of us train to look good. But, as the late Vince Gironda once noted, your physique is 80% diet. And you’ve got the new cliche, a six pack starts in the kitchen. Have to agree…you’re not going to train your way lean unless you’re out doing triathlons or ultras and then you’re sacrificing lean body mass.

      I learned long ago I looked just as good with moderate weights and strict form (and a handful of sets) along with walking vs. trying to kill myself in the gym or on the track.

      Have to wonder about these people who are currently busting themselves up with Crossfit, Powerlifting, Marathons and of course football, etc., and 20 or 30 yrs from now they’re going to be turning to Obamacare for their hip and knee replacements? Ugh…

  41. If you want to see a mode of workout guaranteed to cause injuries, just check out a typical cross fit workout – is it just me, or is the form terrible ?

    I approach workouts as “practice”, the objective being to perfect my form, I’m not concerned about volume or pumping out mindless numbers of “bad form” reps, or lifting weights / bodyweight feats beyond my ability.

    1. No it is not you, the form is terrible
      I can’t recommend enough Kelly Starrett’s book “Becoming a Supple Leopard”, it opened my eyes big time and made me change the way I do most (or all) exercises.
      After reading (two times) the book when I see some people exercising in the gym what I see is time bombs waiting to explode
      Like he says in the book (not literally): “you can do deadlifts with a curved back … until one day”

    2. Check out the Ultimate CrossFit Fails Compilation (Fail Army). I know we shouldn’t laugh, but…..

  42. I stopped reading as soon as the article said a 500 deadlift was not imperative.

  43. A friend of mine is friends with a chiropractor who loves Crossfit. He says business has been booming since its creation.

    1. My friend’s brother-in-law says the same thing. I predict that two of the best industries to invest in will be hearing aids and joint replacement.

  44. It may be true that a lot of injuries come from working out but my back issue came from not bailing on a jet ski and taking a wave 20 feet into the air. My lower back has seen better days and I’m only 28. Super lame.

  45. Great post Mark, thanks for sharing!

    I grew up competing in a load of different sports, and the mentality was always to go to failure in training. It worked for a while, but when I hit my early twenties, things started to catch up.

    Instead of busting my gut every single session, I now lean towards what you advice – just moving a little every day, keeping some in the tank, and being a bit more careful. There’s still a time and a place for pushing the boundary, but it’s not everyday!

  46. I make bone broth once every ten days or so with a free-range chicken…the secret for great bone broth is to take the meat off the bones at about the 90 minute mark and set it aside. You don’t want overcooked, mushy chicken. I freeze the meat in serving-size packs. Return EVERYTHING ELSE back into the pot…all the bones, skin, fat, cartilage…cover it and simmer for another 24 hours, until the bones are “mush”. Once it’s finished cooking, strain the broth and freeze in batches. What great broth! This recipe was given to me by a farm woman at our farmers’ market. It actually helped to heal up my torn rotator cuff, and a tendon that was partially detached from my hip…after five years of pain.

    1. And I’m back in the gym, doing sensible things. Concept II rower, inline skate machine, weights, etc. Can’t wait to be back out on my Specialized Ruby Pro! ????