What’s YOUR Achilles heel?

If you’re a geek like me, you no doubt have heard the legend of Achilles.

For those of you that were actually cool in middle and high school (or went out on dates with girls and stuff), here’s a brief recap:

Achilles’ mother, Thetis, wanted to make her son immortal. To do this, she held her baby by his heel and dipped him in the River of Styx. For all intensive purposes he was immortal, except for his heel where she held him.

Achilles was the greatest warrior during the Trojan War, but his downfall came when an arrow shot by Paris struck him in his Achilles tendon and he bled to death.

Now that you’ve gotten your Greek mythology lesson for the week, it’s time to discuss your Achilles heel.

Chances are if you’ve been lifting for any period of time, you have one area that is the most prone to issues and flare-ups.

Using myself as a personal example, my knees are my Achilles heel. My left knee underwent minor surgery back in 2005, and I’ve had several bouts of patellar tendinosis on my right side over the years.

But it doesn’t have to be knees – for some people it’s their backs.

Or their shoulders.

Or their elbows.

If you’ve lifted long enough (and heavy enough), you have a problem area that you need to address.

What’s really crazy is that, often, all these can be driven by similar biomechanical inefficiencies!

For example someone with a big anterior tilt and/or lumbar lordosis could present with lower extremity issues, knees issues, hip or low back issues.

Someone with poor t-spine mobility could present with neck pain, shoulder pain, elbow or even wrist pain.

The question then becomes, what is the area on you that tends to hit threshold first?

The one that lets you know something isn’t right?

Once you’ve determined that, there are two things we need to do:

  1. Determine a short-term program to get yourself feeling better and out of pain, and
  2. A long-term program to alleviate the underlying dysfunction.

Let’s use my current situation as an example.

After my last meet I got a little overzealous with the squatting, and ended up with patellar tendinosis in my right knee.

My short-term program has focused on a lot of hip dominant exercises (RDL’s, pull-throughs, hip thrusts, etc.) that don’t tax my quads and irritate my patellar tendon. That part is pretty simple.

The goal here is to try and find things that you can do in the gym, while not exacerbating your symptoms in any way, shape or form.

Remember, pain changes everything. If you’re constantly working through pain, your body is going to compensate and find strategies to move around it.

In my estimation, this is the easy part. When you’re in pain, the lines are really clear as to what feels ok, and what doesn’t.

The bigger question is, why did this happen in the first place?

What biomechanical issues do you have going on that need to be addressed?

What elements will need to become mainstays in your program for you to stay healthy and to continue getting stronger over the long haul?

I started by analyzing my squat carefully. At the risk of sounding vain, I actually used a (gasp!) mirror to watch my squat. I had a tendency to shift to the right, and couldn’t seem to figure out why as it wasn’t the easy answer.

My first thought was a strength imbalance, so I tried using a band RNT method to force my right hip to “push” me back to the left.

This might’ve helped a little bit, but it wasn’t the fix I was looking for.

Next (and in all honesty, what I should’ve checked first) was a mobility deficit. I lack internal rotation on my right hip, so I started working to loosen that up.

What I’ve ended up with is a combination of work to traction work to open up my inferior hip capsule, superset with psoas strengthening exercises. I’m also getting aggressive with the soft-tissue work on my deep hip rotators as well.

When I started piecing all this together, I saw an immediate reduction in not only my knee pain, but in the shift of my squat. There was an immediate change for the better.

Furthermore, I always have a tendency to fall into an anterior pelvic tilt/lumbar lordosis when I’m squatting and deadlifting a lot, so tall and half-kneeling work are also going to be mainstays in my programming going forward.

But enough about me, let’s talk about you.

If you’re in back pain, you can often keep training but through a more limited range of motion and decreased loading. They key is shortening the range and making sure you stay in neutral spine throughout.

The bigger question to ask is, why did your back get injured in the first place? And what can be done to prevent that in the future?

If you have shoulder pain,  dropping open chain pressing exercises, combined with a ton of upper back work, can lead to some productive training sessions while effectively minimizing or negating pain all together.

But again, why did this happen in the first place?

Do you lack thoracic spine extension? Rotation?

Are your scapulae unstable? Or unable to get into the appropriate position?

Is your rotator cuff doing its job?

The goal of this post isn’t to give you hard-and-fast, black and white answers. In fact, if I gave you the answers here, I’m really good – because that isn’t the goal.

The goal, instead, is to get you thinking critically about your training.

What your personal limiting factors are, and what you can to do address them now before they start slowing your training down.

As the saying goes, you’re only as strong as yuour weakest link.

Figure out what your weaknesses are now, so that you can start implementing a program to get you right sooner than later.

All the best

MR

BTW – chances are regardless of what your personal Achilles heel is, I’ve written or produced a product. If it’s knee or back related, check out our Products page. If it’s shoulder or upper extremity pain click this link.

3 Comments

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  1. Great post…. my achilles heel is my biceps tendons. Currently, battling some tendinosis in my left shoulder. This article insightfully gets you to ask why is this happening and what can I do to correct it? I know I need to focus on more upper back work and scapular stability. I think too much pressing, sitting, driving, punching, etc. has me in internal rotation and closing the space around the tendons. Might be time for another watch of Assess and Correct! 😉

    • Brandon –

      That was EXACTLY the purpose of this post. It’s not always easy to ask the tough questions, but we get rewarded when we do!

      Good luck man
      MR

  2. Thank you! Thank you for reminding me to do RDLs more often. They straighten up my back, fix my lazy core and cure my stupid knees.

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