There are two schools of thought that currently dominate the strength and conditioning world. The old school thought process being, "no pain no gain." The mindset here is to ramp the intensity up to 100% effort, and live there for as long as possible to get results. The outcome of this approach is that the more resilient, and talented athletes will rise to the top, while the less resilient, but maybe just as talented athletes get left behind....broken or burnt out.
The Second School of thought is creating optimal health to push performance. This deals more with a cautionary approach to pain, shutting athletes down early, and giving them more rest than in the old school approach. The thought is that if the athlete isn't healthy and pain free, they aren't progressing, or things can turn into longer lasting issues if they aren't addressed immediately. While this does prolong an athlete's career, for the more resilient athlete, we have to question: was there performance left on the table with this approach? The other negative to this approach is it can create a coddled athlete that doesn't have the mental fortitude to push when things get tough.
Inherently there is no correct approach, and there is no one size fits all for every athlete at all times. When looking at how to address an athlete, when a decision has to be made about whether to shut the session/athlete down, a coach has to take into account several different variables. Time of year, severity of pain, location of pain, feeling of pain, recovery status, life stress, athletes psychology, athletes age, and the athletes goals. It becomes more of a balancing act than a simple decision of "Stop being a ***** and go put in the work," OR "Hey let's shut it down and live to fight another day."
Just as program design becomes an art form for coaches, so too does this decision making process. It takes years to fully understand all the variables that go into shutting an athlete down or telling an athlete they need to work through something. Here are a couple questions you can ask listed in no particular order, to help you come to a better decision on what to do.
-Will this session make it worse?
-Is the situation affecting the athletes ability to recover?
-Is the situation disrupting sleep for more than 1 or 2 nights?
-Will training make it worse? By How Much?
-What time of year is it?
-How easy can this situation be remedied?
-Could they need more help than just taking time off? (if you get to this question, time off is a necessity)
-What will this time off do the athletes psychology?
-Can we make adjustments and still benefit from the session?
Using these questions as a guide, will help you to form an opinion, but a discussion still has to be had with the athlete. Some of these questions might weigh heavier than others pending on some of the variables from above. They know their body best, and can give you more insight into what is going on, to better answer these questions and make a decision. Ultimately the athlete will get to the point where they can make the decision for themselves, but younger athletes will need to be guided through this process. These are questions you can also give to your athletes to help better understand the situation and educate them.
Now, most of this conversation was held around the idea that performance is of the utmost importance. If you are exercising for health as a goal, or compete as a hobby, there is almost no need to ever get to the point where you are pushing through pain. When we look at performance, athletes are pushing their bodies to the absolute maximum capabilities possible, oftentimes they are just trying to hold on as long as possible and stave off a total explosion until they reach their destination (end of the season.)
We can imagine this as pushing a car to its absolute limits in a race. Towards the end of the race a hub cap falls off, oil starts leaking, and your dashboard lights up like a Christmas tree. The car can keep going, and pit stops can help, but ultimately the vehicle is getting wrecked pushing it to its limits. The amount of stress an athlete puts into their bodies to get the best possible outcome of their season brings them back to an unhealthy point on the fitness continuum curve.
For health there is no need to get to this point to create adaptation. You need only a little bit of stress in the system to create change. That stress also won't be enough to blow up the whole engine. Imagine cruising through the finish line at 150 MPH in a gradual build up vs going 200MPH starting 1/3rd of the way through the race.
This post is more of a discussion, and largely open to determination, each athlete must be treated as a case by case basis, and ultimately there is no right school of thought when it comes to training all your athletes or even just one athlete. There will be aches and pains along the way to whatever journey you are on, and if you are chasing performance that pain needs to be managed, or ignored for you to get there. Beginning to learn your body and as a coach your athletes bodies, you will better understand when you need to shut things down.