How can I avoid hurting myself by doing something stupid while training? Restraint.

This article directly addresses restraint. Restraint? Is this a word that we want to say out loud in this forum? If not, why not? Hear me out. Though the training principle found here applies to everyone, I’d like to capture a specific audience before they obtain (or recall) bad habits in the gym. This article is for those new to lifting, those past their physical peak, those who are injury prone, those who are untrained in all things athletic and those who are deconditioned because they stopped trying. If you want the fast answers without the commentary, see the conclusion. Otherwise, if you’ve ever overtrained (not overreached) or been injured, I offer some food for thought.

I spent my last year adjusting from a spate of injuries, a lack of motivation, new parenting responsibilities, and one more year further from my physical peak. What?! Adjusting? I’m not able to adapt immediately to everything as it occurs and instantly become new and improved? No, I’m not. It’s true. I’m just a normal dude, a mortal coil and all the problems and fun that comes with it. I hope my audience can relate.

After this tidal wave of training derailment, I needed some time to think, heal and regain my focus. It’s OK to get knocked off balance because the toughness isn’t found in how we fall but in whether or not we get back up afterward. I failed forward, and I learned some lessons that I now use daily. Finally, I returned to a place of focus about training. As I started lifting again, the feel of the steel solidified the important lessons I'm about to share with you. For context, my current short-term training goal is to build a basic level of strength and athletic attributes for my next sport (maybe MMA, rodeo, or luge...something safe for 38-year-old guys who have never done those things before) with sustainability and longevity.

Knowing now what I didn’t know then, here is my new approach to training.

1. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

For me, this was the most critical lesson of all. I'm not a world class athlete, I haven't trained my entire life, and I'm way past my physical peak. I need to pay closer attention to what I'm doing than I did several years ago. In my last training cycle, I was able to do things that I had never done before regarding limit strength and high volume. That's how I discovered that just as positive effects of adaptation take time to accumulate and show themselves, the negative effects of injury and fatigue do the same. Hence, the necessity for progression to meet the rigors of those feats…(I have to train to train.)

The moral of this story is that I should think about what I might have to deal with tomorrow if I go for the gusto right now. If I'm prepared and ready for the gusto, then I should get that gusto through all means available. Otherwise, maybe I should leave the last two percent of the gusto on the rack and save some lost training time. Not only is it beneficial to leave some gusto behind because I may avoid injury, but I will leave the session with that burning desire to crush that last two percent next time. If you're also able to leave that last bit of gusto behind, you'll understand the next lesson.

2. Stay hungry.

It’s OK to not accomplish everything in one session. Great work and results take time, sometimes a long years. Trust the process. To stay hungry requires me to not fully satisfy my appetite for something all at once. It’s like Thanksgiving Day, the one day most of us can identify with as becoming completely satisfied to the point of falling asleep. Who wants more food if they’re asleep? I treat training the same way. I adhere to the programming and look forward to the next training session.

(Just an FYI about Thanksgiving Day—that isn't the tryptophan in the turkey making you tired. It’s the gallon of beer, pound of potatoes, pint of gravy, three pieces of pie, and box of stuffing you consumed in two hours. You don't have any scientific grounds to consume all that and then blame turkey for making you sleepy.)

As I mentioned before about leaving some gusto on the rack, when I feel like I could have done more and I'm not satisfied, I'll come back in my next session and grab that gusto then. By then, I will have adapted and will be less likely to injure myself. Also, it will likely be programmed in to perform this feat. This isn’t an issue of fear. It's an issue of restraint (and following the program) to ensure training continuity.

Staying hungry also means keeping your goals current. You'll meet certain goals quickly, so you must keep an eye on the future and be ready to update your goals. If you have goals, you’ll stay hungry and you’ll keep putting in the effort.

Here we arrive at two good reasons to program and periodize your training: injury prevention and goal management. Both of these elements are essential to staying hungry. Am I linking staying hungry to periodization? Yes. Is it true? I don’t know. Ask an Olympian on a four-year training program who won’t eat until 2016.

3. Find the sweet spot.

Dan Inosanto, Bruce Lee’s protege, once made a great point. He said, “How we trained five years ago is not how we train now and is not how we will train in five years.” For longevity, I found that understanding where I was on that continuum helped me gauge the maximum beneficial intensity of my training, the sweet spot where I would progress without injury.

When I was 18, I could do whatever I wanted without stretching and wake up improved. At 28, I was a bit slower and things started to hurt. At 38, I need to warm up before training, visit an orthopedist, and use anti-inflammatories. My use of programming changed over time also. I didn’t use programming until my thirties. Why would I program? No matter what I did, I got better in my teens and twenties. Damn you youth!

I discovered that for longevity in training, meaning for me personally to train and adapt without injury, I need to train at about 50–85 percent intensity. That is for all activities. At the low end, I build motor skills and mobility. At the higher end, I build strength and conditioning. Occasionally, I venture beyond the 85 percent and it feels awesome.

The point is that we must train for where we are now and where we are going. You have to plan to get better, but also remember that your body grows and heals differently the further from your peak you get.


The question beneath the BS is, “How can I avoid hurting myself from doing something stupid while training?” This article offers these bits of advice:

  1. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.
  2. Stay hungry.
  3. Find the sweet spot.

To execute this advice properly, do the following:

  • Follow a well thought out program.
  • Listen to a wise coach.
  • Use common sense.

This article was difficult to write because it addresses the conflicting goals of improving performance and staying safe. I want to impart important information but, at the same time, make sure the audience understands that throttling back in the turn isn't the same as being lazy or tentative. The takeaway is that you can avoid pushing too hard and injuring yourself if you are untrained, deconditioned or past your prime.

In all sport, high performance is conducted at the cusp of control and injury. To reiterate, the take away lesson is that sometimes the benefit is actually less than the risk, but only you (or your coach) can determine when that is.

Cain Morano is a normal guy who likes to pick things up and put them down. Sometimes he dabbles in sports like Olympic weightlifting, stick fighting, skiing, and kickboxing. He lifts and trains in his garage gym in Sandy, Utah, focusing on GPP and building a solid base for his next cycle.