Pain and Injury

By David Cohn, RKC, PhD
It happens in the course of training. It happens in the course of normal daily activity. Sooner or later, it is going to happen to you, and it is quite frustrating as it will affect EVERYTHING you do. I am talking about pain of some kind, and we all have experienced it, and, if we keep on living, we will experience it again. My focus here is to describe the various kinds of pain and how we can work with it to get back to a healthy lifestyle.


Several years ago, I was helping load a tractor onto a trailer. While lifting the heavy steel ramps that one uses to get the tractor off the ground onto the trailer, I felt an immediate sharp pain in my lower back. It got my attention, and I was more careful with it the rest of the day. It wasn’t until the next morning that I knew something was wrong. This is pain.

I was very stiff for several days, but eventually got better. The reason it wasn’t worse was because my kb training prevented me from seriously injuring myself while not thinking about proper lifting mechanics. Having done it a thousand times, I paid no attention to how I lifted the steel girders. I got away with one.
To fix the pain, I simply rested, took ibuprofen with every meal, and “borrowed” a neighbor’s hot tub. I took a few days off from training, and was good as new after a week.

Recently, I was getting a bit obsessive with my KB training. I had gone past my 12 week cycle, but the gains kept coming, even though I was showing signs that my central nervous system was starting to suffer (form miscues under heavy loads). At week 16, I had charted it to be my last week on this program. I was going to take a week off and begin a different cycle. The protocal called for 15 sets of 5 swings, with two 40KG kbs.
I didn’t have my mojo that day (another clue), but thought I would “gut it out”. On set 7, the third rep, I thought I had been shot in the back. I felt a loud snap (loud to me, anyway), and it dropped me to my knees, and I could not get up. So, I lay in the grass like a cockroach. It was an AHA moment. This is injury.

I have broken all kinds of bones, torn all kinds of ligaments that one does from playing football from 5th grade to Division I football. So, I knew the difference, and had avoided it for years. Disregarding the end of my cycle, pushing on when I knew my form was not crisp and perfect, I was ASKING for this. OK. So, he is not the sharpest tool in the shed, we got it. How does one recover?


The first thing we have to do is stop the pain. It may take a visit to the doctor to do this. Do not be afraid to make that journey. Whatever hurts, stop doing it. Take your favorite anti-inflammatory (aspirin, ibuprofen, motrin, etc.) ALWAYS with food, at bedtime, and, if it doesn’t make you drowsy during the day, then too. Rotating a ice bag or cold compress on during the first 24 hours will accelerate the healing. After that, hot tubs, ice packs, combinations thereof, will help. Most importantly, and often the most difficult thing to do, is to stay away from the kettlebell. If you have access to deep tissue massage, that will also accelerate the process as it brings nutrition via circulation to help heal the affliction. You need to keep eating a healthy diet as your body is under stress and you need your minerals and proteins to facilitate healing.
When you start feeling better, pain free (or nearly so), begin with a weightless Turkish Get Up. If you can make your way through that for 5 minutes, try it with a very light weight for 5 minutes, AND THEN QUIT. You may feel great, but don’t be fooled. Simply because your body isn’t screaming at you like a 5 alarm fire does not mean you are healed. Your body needs more time, and the TGU helps facilitate circulation, range of motion, etc. It is also a fabulous way to see where your aches are. Listen to your body. Maybe you can’t do the full get up. Execute the exercise to the point where you start to feel something and back off, and use that as your limit for the day. In time, you will slowly go further and further through the exercise. You are healing.

I like to use the TGU as my diagnostic tool because virtually every muscle is tasked during the course of that exercise. Some people will use the swing, some will do both.
I recommend a steady progression from TGU to swing. One mistake with a swing can mean another week of not training (I know from experience), so I recommend going from the swing to the Sumo Dead lift, to the swing, in a most disciplined and conservative fashion.

With patience, you will find that the time off will not necessarily be bad. Your body will get rest it needs and heal not only from the major injury, but from all kinds of small microtears that take place during training. Most often, they heal without notice, but sometimes, without extended rest, these microtears can be stubborn. We need them to build strength. They need a break every 8 – 12 weeks to completely heal. Ask me. I know. In my situation, I missed three weeks of training. I came back with a small deficit in endurance, but I was actually stronger than before the injury. Thank goodness somebody else designed this magical machine we call the body.

To summarize: As long as you are living, you will experience pain. Manage it accordingly. It is never good and is a indicator that you need some rest in the afflicted area. Every once in a while, you will get injured. Take these steps to heart. They will not only help you heal, but help you feel confident that the missed training is not detrimental to you, and that by being patient and positive, you will come back stronger than before.