Symptom Chasing


Symptom Chasing

Tom Morrison

If someone has a problem and they only address the specific site of pain as it happens, refusing to think about the bigger picture of why it happened or how to prevent it, then they are a symptom chaser.


The conversation you will have will a symptom chaser goes like this:

Them: My elbow hurts

Coach: Ok, we’ll need to check your shoulder mobility and check your technique with pulling exercises then!

Them: No, it’s my elbow, it’s definitely tennis elbow *constantly rubs with lacrosse ball*

Coach: It might be, but it could be just that you are straining your bicep a little too much with a couple of movements….

Them: Must be tendonitis, I’m gonna book an ice bath

Coach: Look, I am trying to be nice about it but you don’t put enough effort into your lats and supplementary work! This is going to keep happening if you don’t listen to me!

Them: Is there any of that voodoo tape about? Need to restrict the blood flow and then get a rush of nutrients going through it!

*coach quietly returns to coffee addiction to block out the internal screams*

Some people literally get so obsessed with the issue that they won’t believe that it is anything that can be fixed or that it was most likely caused by something that they were doing wrong.

I’m going to go through a few different scenarios around this topic, but there is one group of people who are particularly vulnerable to this sort of conversation. After a few years of training, some (not all) people go through a phase of thinking they know everything. This is understandable, usually after a few years they’ve reaped all the benefits of beginner gains, pushed through multiple plateaus, dealt with various injuries, and still seen their numbers go up – surely by now they know how it’s done, know their body, and know what’s best for them rather than their coach, right? This is not the case. You can always learn a little more about everything. Athletes who have trained for 10+ years know this. They’ve emerged out of the other side of this self-absorbed bubble and realized that despite their experience, they can never have all the answers. The more knowledge you have will determine how fast you can get through your next plateau… and trust me, the next one is coming.

So let’s talk about the newbie that has been training for a year or two and keeps getting injured. What could be happening there? They’ve probably jumped in to just lifting weights too quickly – most likely off the advice of a more experienced person; “Stronglifts 5×5!” “Wendler 5/3/1!!”. A complete beginner may not have any kind of sporting background or not move naturally very well, my first piece of advice is always to learn about muscle engagement and posture when lifting – you have your entire life to do programs and get strong! Learn how to lift properly first and if you can’t afford a coach or trainer then you could make use of a birthday or Christmas to get a few sessions of instruction.

You should master all elements of bodyweight exercises before trying to load anything up. Push ups, planks (all variations) lunges, sit ups, pull ups, jumping, single leg balance – if you are firing the plates on the bar for heavy back squats and can barely do a bodyweight lunge you are going to hurt something. Which very nicely brings us back to the main issue:

“QUICK! I’ve hurt my knee! Where’s the foam roller! That’s what the big guys use when they hurt themselves isn’t it?”

A beginner lifter/crossfitter/bodybuilder/runner/anything that puts demand on your body is very susceptible to picking up bad mobility habits right off the bat. At this point, they wouldn’t know any better, and why should they? They’re beginners! Watching more experienced people is a good way to learn, especially if you don’t have a coach of your own. However, what’s easy to miss is that those experienced athletes move better. They probably do their mobility work, work on weaknesses, reverse compensations and aim for body symmetry… with foam rolling simply being a nice extra addition.


This is how bad judgements then formed: “Squats are bad for your knees!” “CrossFit is dangerous!” “Deadlifts are bad for your back!” – a lack of understanding of proper movement and a focus on the symptoms of pain at the time of injury rather than discovering the true cause; which is usually an issue with the way you move, not an exercise.

One of the most common things I hear about The Simplistic Mobility Method is that people say “It’s really like a workout!” and while yes, it’s not as easy sitting down and doing nothing, it really shouldn’t be difficult. It’s built of fundamental exercises that challenge your joints, core stability and balance at the same time – anyone with a good training background and no injuries will be able to do all of the movements with zero issues at all, and that should be everyone’s goal.

So how about the intermediate athlete who’s been going a few years, their weights have been going up, they’re definitely not a beginner anymore.. but they always feel stiff and sore, and keep having bouts of lower back tightness causing them to rest every few months? This was me! I couldn’t do an empty bar overhead squat to save my life, but I had the biggest deadlift in the gym so that meant I was strong, right?

The problem when we get good at a few things, or been doing something for a few years is that we seem to think we can’t ask for help anymore, or be seen to be struggling with something. By the time you’re an intermediate, you know what you’re bad at and you’ll either face it head on…. Or more commonly, choose to avoid it completely.

It is kind of funny, I meet some crazy strong people, like, waay stronger than myself, yet many are in bits after I get them to perform a few simple tests. They really REALLY struggle or can’t do them at all. It’s freaky how much the body can adapt in an incorrect way. Throughout most programs, you spend a lot of time building up around the 70-85% range, which is quite low risk and relatively easy to control even with bad form, meaning you have time to really dial in these compensations and asymmetries – that is why I love stability tests. You can’t hide from the drills in End Range Training.

Despite not being beginners, these people will jump on the rollers or lacrosse balls to try and rub away their problems, possibly just continuing bad habits they picked up as a beginner. Some may even care enough to go and get really good deep tissue massages (which I do love getting by the way, they just don’t teach you how to move better). The simple fact is, if you are only training 3-4 times per week for an hour or so you should not need 15 minutes on a roller to recover. IF you are a full time professional athlete that trains twice a day, works on their movement and still has the time to sit on a roller then that’s acceptable, but for most of us that aren’t going to the Olympics and have jobs and families? Catching up on fundamental exercises is more important than trying to poke away every little ache and pain you get.

Oh, you keep leaning into that hip when pressing? Ok, stand on one leg. Oh, you can’t even stand on one leg….. tell me again why you are even holding a barbell??

It is very easy to develop stability, people just don’t seem to find it fun or think it is too simple and they need a fancy program with 20 different dumbbell/barbell/standing on a bosu ball variations in it…. nope! Trust me, I have been through so many and you only need a small handful of exercises to get good at to improve your movement, the more you do the less return you actually get.

Principles are the key.

The advanced athlete, you’ve moved well, you’ve lifted well, you’ve dominated many weight classes and competitions and now your body hates you. (This is something that I personally will never experience, way too short of an attention span to become advanced at one particular sport!)

They are just DONE chasing the symptoms and trying to keep on top of past injuries, and even though it saddens them to their bones, they feel like giving up. So they are willing to try anything, when we work through their issues; which are sometimes super subtle; they take a new lease on training and actually enjoy feeling more stable and not sore that they are happier.

Only problem is that by waiting until this stage to stop chasing symptoms and start retraining their body, they can still do their chosen sport… but they are lacking the years of strength in their new & improved positions so won’t be near the numbers they’re used to, but they feel happier with their body.

Or, if they’re quick of adapt, they feel so good that they go for another program and get a few more competitive years out of their training – all because they took that step back for a few months and discovered how to actually address their movement issues. This is the best case scenario, and is something I love to see. I can’t imagine how it must feel being so passionate about one sport and you have to just stop because of things you feel are out of your control, I would much rather see anyone go out on a high and choose their own last competition, rather than being forced to stop.

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