Nearly everyone who has been involved in sports has heard the expression: “No pain, no gain.” The obvious conclusion is that you don’t get fit without pain. But it is wrong! Let’s be honest, fear of pain is one of the reasons why many of us don’t exercise. Exercise is portrayed as more punishment than accomplishment that feels good.
It’s little wonder then that many approach exercise like one would a root canal. It doesn’t have to be that way. You don’t have to hurt to exercise or exercise until you hurt. Exercise is stress, so there will be some discomfort, but the secret to getting the most out of your exercise is to know the difference between pain and discomfort. What everybody wants to know is: How can a smart person stay pain free and ALSO be active?
Junonia has asked some experts for their advice. This is what they’ve told us:
1. Plan Ahead– Learn from Mistakes
Did you go on a hike without knowing how long it would take? Did you help someone move and lift boxes all day? The mistakes here are obvious in retrospect. Know your limits. Don’t lace up running shoes and run for a couple miles your first time out unless you want to be seriously sore the next day. Start by walking with a few bursts of jogging. Gradually build into any exercise. Don’t go too fast. Enjoy the scenery. Monitor your body for signs of stress. Then “cool down” afterwards. Maybe take a dip in the pool, stretch in the whirlpool, do some active recovery to relax and relieve that stress.
Most people hurt themselves by attempting more than they are capable of doing. We are pumped up and pain free – until the next day! Take the easiest class, and then take it easy in that class! You are stressing new muscles, and you can expect that they will complain! Be smarter than most of us. Start slower than you KNOW you can. You can always do more next time. Do not be embarrassed, do not be bullied into doing more, just enjoy yourself.
As your regular exercise regimen progresses, use the 10% rule. Increase Distance, Intensity, OR Frequency by NO MORE than 10% a week—and only increase one of them! It seems slow, but you’ll save yourself a world of pain and get fit faster than your injured friends. Go to www.TheFatChick.com for a 10% calculator and lots more great advice.
2. Pain or Discomfort – Know the Difference
Sharp pain that restricts movement or a dull ache that doesn’t go away as you warm up during the beginning of exercise is telling you that you’ve pushed too hard. Pain is your body’s way of telling you to slow down or stop because you are doing too much or going too fast. As we increase activity, or start new activities, the “discomfort” can seem quite intense. You are finding muscles you never knew you had! The truth: We have to push the body beyond its comfort zone to make it stronger. Stiffness, tenderness, discomfort that goes away within a couple of days with no more than ice and perhaps a little over-the-counter pain reliever is normal. It’s actually essential to building strength and endurance. Learn what it feels like, and learn to NOT be afraid of it. The breakdown and repair of muscle tissues is a normal. A key part of getting fitter and stronger is discovering where that line is between just enough stress and too much. Be conservative. If you are not in pain you will maintain a more consistent exercise routine. If you constantly push yourself too hard, you will get hurt, miss workouts, and have pain. That is not fun. Who needs that? Back off before you reach the “line” between discomfort and pain. It will benefit you in the long run.
Rest and sleep are just as important to improving muscle development and endurance as the activity itself. If you are creating discomfort one day, take it easy the next. Hard /easy is the combination recommended by most coaches. Don’t schedule two tough activities without a rest day in between. A rest day doesn’t necessarily mean no exercise, just light exercise. Active recovery is better than being inactive if you can handle it. Always get your eight hours or more of sleep. Your muscles need their “beauty sleep.”
This is a hard one for most people. So grab a friend, sign up for a class, bike to work, plan a vacation that requires you go get fitter, hire a personal trainer, use a computer program on your phone, teach a fitness class yourself, swap child care so you can do your workout—or do a lot of different things. Consistency is hard even for the pros—that’s why they have coaches, motivators, workout “cheerleaders.” Make staying fit a priority. Without consistency, every time you stop or get hurt and have to re-start, you will have to endure more discomfort. Who wants that? So build consistency into your life. Be active. Be strong. Be fit. You can.
5. VarietyWhile you want consistency in your commitment to being active, some people find it easier to maintain a regular exercise routine by varying their activities. If you walk, get into the pool. If you swim, try biking. If you do yoga, get into the weight room once in awhile. If you train inside, get into the great outdoors. If you use machines, try tennis with a friend. If you are a hiker, a little yoga could be fun. Exercise is just getting acquainted with your body, learning what it can do, what your limits are. The payoff can be fewer “weak links” in your body and easier “active recovery.” Aerobic activity will stress and improve your heart and circulatory system, lungs and overall endurance. Weights help you with strength and power. All these things are necessary. The trick is to find the right balance, the right combinations without over stressing any single element. You’ll be amazed at the improvement in your overall balance and ability to do more things as you vary your workouts. You’ll also have less discomfort by allowing active rest for your “usual” muscles. Remember, variety is “the spice of life.”
Founder and Chair of Junonia