This has been a rough couple of weeks… About three weeks ago, I was doing my regular 5×5 heavy work day involving barbell squats, standing shoulder presses and deadlifts. The workout was going well, I had moved up in weight in each lift and was feeling like I was moving the iron without much difficulty. I have been using this 5×5 routine three times a week for the past month or so and felt like I was making improvements – really pushing myself and changing up from my usual routine of more movement based and bodyweight training. Only, by the end of the day, my left knee had swollen up like a melon and I felt like all the ligaments were loose, letting my knee joint just wiggle around. So, I gave the heavy leg days a rest for a week, trying to let the swelling go down and see if my mobility improved, but after almost two weeks, there was no change in the swelling. So, I made an appointment with my doctor, who happens to be a Sports Medicine guy as well. He always tells me to “come back when you have something interesting.” Since my yearly checkups are pretty boring. This time, he had a smile on his face when he looked over my knees, put them through some range of motion exercises and poked and prodded each knee. “This is great, your knees are horrible!” Not what I was expecting to hear, and definitely not making me feel any better about my current situation. I was sent for x-rays and the diagnosis was mild-moderate osteoarthritis with some fluid on my left knee (an effusion). I have beat up my knees ever since high school and because I was not concerned with squats and really any leg exercise over my high school career, I had chicken legs and weak knees. Basically, what my doctor told me was I needed to really take it easy and consider some physical therapy to get my knees back in shape. It really made me think about my recent training and what I was doing to myself. Now, I love moving weight, pulling a bar with twice my bodyweight off the ground or squatting almost twice my weight makes me feel like my training is on point, but at some point, you have to look at long-term. I had to really think about how I was not giving my body the rest it needed and strengthening my joints as much as my muscles. What I was experiencing was the phenomenon of overtraining. I was putting too much work on my body, without giving it the proper rest so my body can heal and strengthen itself. Overtraining is something that happens among lifters from novice to seasoned pros. You have to be able to read and listen to your body, and most importantly, give it the rest it needs to be able to keep going.
So, I had to make the difficult decision to take a week off, which I hate to do, but I know it was much-needed. Even after a week there was still swelling in the knee but I felt as if I had better range of motion and minimal pain. This coming week, the weights are off-limits, but I will work on flexibility and conditioning. My plan is 3 days of yoga and 3 days of bodyweight and calisthenic exercises – focusing on range of motion and moving around in space, working my joints at different angles but not putting too much stress on them.
So, take it from me – give your body the rest it needs, get the right amount of sleep at night but also rest and let your body heal up as needed. And most importantly, listen to your body, let it tell you when it’s time to throttle back a bit and not overdo it.